Food Remittances: Rural-Urban Linkages and Food Security in Africa

2017. Report for International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London.

Globally, the transfer of funds by migrants to their home countries or areas (cash remittances) is at an all-time high. By 2017, it is predicted to rise to US$500 billion – and there is a growing policy consensus that cash remittances can be mainstreamed into development. Equally, food remitting also has a role to play in urban and rural food security. Yet despite its importance, researchers and policymakers tend to ignore food remitting.

The growing literature on rural-urban linkages highlights their complex, dynamic nature in the context of rapid urbanisation and growing rural-urban migration in Africa. Food remitting cannot be treated in isolation from the ‘complex web of relations and connections incorporating rural and urban dimensions and all that is in between’ (Tacoli, 2007). Yet the remitting of goods, and especially foodstuffs, across international boundaries and within countries has received little attention, particularly in Africa, where it seems that ‘transfers of food are invisible in the sense that they run within the family and outside market channels’ (Andersson Djurfeldt 2015a: 540).

This report is aimed at researchers and policymakers interested in transforming rural-urban linkages and the implications for food security of rural and urban residents. The current rural-urban binary is arbitrary, outdated and unhelpful. At a time of rapid urbanisation in the South, a wider lens is needed: focusing on rural-urban linkages and moving beyond cash-based, market transactions to consider the bidirectional flows of goods – including food – and their impact on food security. This report contributes to the study of changing rural-urban linkages by:

Expanding the geographic and thematic scope of research,
Demonstrating the value of examining the links between informal food transfers and urban-based household food security, and
Arguing for a new research and policy agenda focused on food remitting.
Using case studies from Zimbabwe and Namibia, this report also demonstrates how lessons related to food remitting can be applied in other African contexts – and highlights the urgent need for a new research agenda. The report concludes with recommendations for policymakers and researchers.

Jonathan Crush, Mary Caesar