Atlas on rural migration in sub-Saharan Africa

This report aims to offer a better understanding of complex rural migration patterns in sub-Saharan Africa and highlights the important role rural areas will continue to play in shaping the continent’s migration for decades to come.

The atlas Rural Africa in motion. Dynamics and drivers of migration south of the Sahara was published in November 2017. It is the result of a partnership between the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO), with technical support from the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) in South Africa.

Through a series of maps and in- depth case studies, the 20 authors of the atlas, representing different research institutions, think tanks and international organisations from Africa and outside, explore the complexity of the interrelated causes that drive people in Africa to leave their homes. They shed light on regional migration dynamics and perspectives, and foster understanding of rural migration.

Most Africans are migrating within Africa

The atlas notes that the vast majority of Africans (75 percent) are migrating within Africa, whilst the overwhelming majority of North Africans (about 90 percent) migrate to Europe. Hence, sub-Sharan Africa "is in motion", but mainly within the limits of the continent.

Western and Eastern Africa are the most dynamic regions with about 5.7 and 3.6 million intra-regional migrants in 2015. Evidence also suggests that in most sub-Saharan Africa countries, internal migration is the dominant migration pattern.

Rural migrants are mostly young people, and the majority come from farming families. Around 60 per cent of rural migrants are between 15 and 34 years old. Most migrants are men; however, in some countries like Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo or Burkina, women form the majority of those who are migrating.

Rural people have generally lower school attainments than their urban counterparts, and rural migrants are no exception. Migrants tend, however, to spend more years in school than non-migrants do.

Unlike in other parts of the world, sub-Saharan Africa has become more urban but without becoming more industrialised. Cities are characterised by a precarious urban informal sector, often persistent poverty and limited formal employment opportunities. More so than elsewhere, Africans move not only into towns, but also out of them and between rural areas.

The drivers of migration are manifold

The atlas reflects on the complex link between climate change and rural migration. Although environmental challenges can influence migration, the decision to migrate is also determined by social, economic and political factors.

While the complexity of interrelated factors driving migration makes it impossible to exactly predict migration dynamics in the future, the atlas draws attention to crucial variables - such as size of rural population; location and occurrence of extreme weather events; poverty and hunger levels; job opportunities; quality of governance - to identify possible migration scenarios for the future.

The atlas notes that managing the future of migration should involve: safe, orderly and regular migration channels; the development of sustainable large cities; a stronger investment in intermediary cities; and the development of smaller rural habitats with provision of quality services.

The authors of the atlas state that it is necessary to invest in agriculture and rural development and to adopt a territorial perspective, fostering rural-urban linkages that will help to transform Africa's rural areas into «safe havens» offering a better life.

Download the atlas Rural Africa in motion. Dynamics and drivers of migration south of the Sahara

(FAO/ile)