View of deforestation around Ethiopia's Lake Lagano area, where 20 years ago migration, agricultural expansion and charcoal production cleared the forests in this area. CIFOR/Ollivier Girard

U.N. migration compact: An opportunity for agricultural researchers to address displacement?

Connecting cause and effect

By Jack Durrell, a regular contributor to Landscape News.

The Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the first intergovernmental agreement at the U.N. level to address migration comprehensively, marks a significant milestone in the governance of international migration.

Speaking after its launch in July, William Lacy Swing, director general of the International Office of Migration, lauded the Compact as the “beginning of a new historic effort to shape the global agenda on migration for decades to come.”

The compact’s objectives are far-reaching and — alongside commitments to protecting the rights of migrants, providing safe passage, and promoting migration as a form of development — it also explicitly connects migration to climate change and environmental degradation, encouraging member countries to minimize the adverse environmental drivers of displacement.

In so doing, the compact provides an opportunity for agricultural researchers to more effectively contribute to the management of this global challenge – particularly in the Global South where the rural poor rely so heavily on natural resources and climate-vulnerable agricultural sectors.


While some people continue to debate the importance of environmental factors on population movements – suggesting they may be less significant than alternative political and socio-economic drivers – it is generally accepted that environmental degradation could become a more important “push” factor over the coming decades as climate change intensifies.

To avoid many of the challenges associated with mass displacements it therefore makes sense to invest time and efforts now to strengthen the resilience of agricultural systems, enhance their adaptation to climate change, and pursue sustainable development through inclusive and sustainable economic growth, entrepreneurship, capacity strengthening and job creation — all actions recommended in the compact.

These efforts are unlikely to stop migration altogether, but as Elwyn Grainger-Jones, executive director of the CGIAR group of agricultural researchers, recently pointed out in an article for the Financial Times, agricultural development can be an important stabilizing force: “Directing development aid to reduce pressures on fragile states impacted by unemployment, hunger and climate change can help build greater stability so nations are less dramatically affected by the political, social or environmental shocks that drive displacement.”


For maximum impact, investments in agricultural research and development must be made strategically — targeting migration-sensitive sectors, population groups, and regions.

Unfortunately, a clear understanding of the environmental drivers of migration is held back by a lack of comprehensive data, which tends to be patchy, unreliable, and rarely disaggregated by sex, age or other indicators. There are also few comparative studies across countries.

In response, the Global Compact prioritizes the collection and use of accurate migration-related data. Its first objective is to encourage member states to develop comprehensive strategies for improving migration data at local, regional and global levels, including efforts to build national capacities.

Additional recommendations include integrating migration-related data into national censuses and household surveys; improving the international comparability and compatibility of migration statistics; and developing a global knowledge platform that will serve as a repository of existing evidence.


Effectively addressing the adverse causes of migration will also depend on sustained financial and political support. The fact that climate-induced displacement is acknowledged in the Global Compact suggests that at least some political will exists.

But financial support may be less forthcoming: donor investments in agricultural research are falling or levelling off and funds targeting migration-related initiatives tend not to be sufficient enough to have any impact on population movements. As Michael Clemens and Hannah Postel of the Center for Global Development have argued: “Aid would need to act in unprecedented ways, at much higher levels of funding and over generations to sufficiently affect the drivers of migration.”

The compact does reference a start-up fund to provide initial financing for new projects, financed by the voluntary contributions of member states, the United Nations, international financial institutions, and other stakeholders, but no additional information is provided on the fund’s scale or its operations (although details may emerge after the compact’s implementation meeting in Morocco later this year).

Therefore, while agricultural research offers insights that could help address the drivers of displacement, the strategic application of these insights may depend on the mobilization of additional funding and resources – and at a time of financial uncertainty in the development sector this is not guaranteed.

Article tags

agricultureCGIARclimateclimate changeecosystem degradationenvironmentenvironmental degradationGlobal Compact for Safe Orderly and Regular MigrationmigrationUnited Nations



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