For decades now, researchers have noticed a new trend in migration. While 100 years ago, about 85% of all people were living in the countryside, today only 50% of people are living in rural areas. And, as the number of rural inhabitants decreases (with about 180000 people each day), so does the number of people going into agriculture. As I have stated in several previous blog posts, the number of young people going into agriculture is decreasing and we face an ageing population. As an example, in Europe only 6% of all farmers are under 35 years old, while more than 80% are over 55 years old.
The world is now trying to confront this problem. Organizations such as YPARD and CEJA are trying to make agriculture more attractive to youth in order to increase the number of young agriculturalists. Bigger farmers unions such as Copa Cogeca are trying to push forward legislative proposals that would support young people to start their own farm (although if the field is not attractive to youth…). Large agribusiness companies such as Syngenta are saying that we should encourage a rural-urban dialogue … in order to create the necessary support for modern agriculture.
They are all right and they are all wrong. The UN forecasts say that by 2050 70% of the world`s population will live in urban areas. This is a trend that cannot be reversed. The UN (through the FAO) also says that by 2050 we need to increase the yields by 70% in order to ensure food for the 9 billion people (that are forecasted for that period).
When I first wrote about rural – urban interactions and I started my research on this subject a few years ago, no one was interested on the subject. Now, my most accessed scientific paper on my Academia.edu profile is one that I wrote in 2009 on the rural-urban interactions encountered in a development region of Romania and how can these be used to develop local communities.
I wrote then that through the different types of flows that exist between rural and urban communities any process can be used to the benefit of both communities involved in the process.
As an example: while people are migrating from rural to urban areas, they are still linked to those rural areas through the families that they left behind (the social flow). Between the people that are leaving and those staying in rural communities there is a continuous exchange of information (the information flow), that can lead to the modernization of the household (-> and, through this, of the local community), and an exchange of financial resources (from urban to rural: the financial flow). In terms of other flow involved in these rural urban interactions in which we can tap into, I can mention the work flow (specialized work force retiring to rural areas and non specialized work force moving towards urban areas for better wages) and the cultural flow (rural <-> urban: ensures a two way transfer of cultural information).
Coming to the issue of Food Security, these flows (together with others that I have not mentioned) can be used to ensure a continuous access to food in urban areas, while rural areas are properly supplied with the resources needed to produce and distribute these (at the same time ensuring the well-being of the rural inhabitants).
In terms of Food Security, we can also say that rural inhabitants can give urban agricultural practices (roof top agriculture, vertical farming) a new impulse by bringing with them tested knowledge and technologies that may be unavailable to the mainstream.
Tapping into the rural – urban interactions in order to ensure Food Security may be the newest challenge in both the research and policy agenda, but when researchers and policy makers will succeed in developing “the right way” to do this, we will no longer be talking about ensuring food security, but about nutrition.