Migration for Sustainable Development

Click on a development sector or a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and scroll down to explore its migration linkages, relevant Global Compact for Migration (GCM) Objectives, data and measuring tools, case studies and resources. 

Human mobility affects and is affected by all development areas: for example, healthy and educated migrants and displaced persons can more easily participate in and contribute to society and migrants with regular status have improved access to decent and safe work. Migration is a global phenomenon affecting all countries and its effective governance needs global partnerships.

To create the future we want and need, we must empower migrants to fulfil their development potential, which can, in turn, have positive ripple effects for communities locally, regionally and globally. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent our global effort to progress towards prosperous and healthy societies. Migrants have a critical role to help fulfil the promises of these Goals; indeed, SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) calls for the promotion of safe, orderly and regular migration. The Global Compact for Migration (GCM) sets out a roadmap to help us do exactly this. Read more about M4D and our approach.


The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on food security; around 150 million more people faced hunger in 2021 compared to 2019. Projections estimate that by 2030, around 670 million people will be facing hunger. This is 8% of the world’s population. 

The impacts of hunger on migration are multidimensional. Food security can constitute a barrier and a driver of migration. Some studies show that food-insecure households have a higher probability to migrate compared to food-secure households. Migration can reduce pressure on households to provide for many family members, meaning fewer mouths to feed, and women may have more decision-making power over family nutrition as men migrate abroad. Remittances may also increase household resilience to economic shocks, keeping those most at risk from going hungry. 

On the other hand, poverty and food-insecurity may constrain mobility as they reduce resources and opportunities to migrate. Displaced people including, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), those living in slums or refugee camps, and other mobile people in vulnerable situations may also have less and unequal access to healthy food. For example, in 2019, 4 in 5 displaced persons lived in a country with high levels of acute food insecurity and malnutrition, and 9 in 10 countries with the largest number of IDPs experienced a major food crisis (IOM).  

Migrants are often key agricultural workers throughout the world, getting food on our tables. Migrants make up a disproportionate share of seasonal farm and agricultural workers, fruit pickers, store owners and food stall operators, food transporters and warehouse operatives, etc. In Italy alone, 27% of the documented agricultural workforce are migrants (European Parliament). Many countries have specific employment visas for these key sectors, and food chains rely on mobility.  

But the links between hunger and migration don’t stop there. They are context-specific but often cross-cutting with other sectoral areas such as: 

  • Environment and climate change: Rural communities are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change which can cause crop failure and famines. Climate impacts exacerbate economic, political and social instability and may increase the risk of hunger, causing people to migrate out of necessity. However, when enabling conditions exist, migrants’ skills and social and financial capital can support sustainable land management practices, disaster preparedness and remittances to combat food insecurity. (In line with SDGs 1, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14 and 15) 

  • Health: Hunger and malnutrition are fundamentally a health problem and can lead to long-term health consequences, especially for children. Vulnerable communities, including the displaced, are most at risk. Migration can increase the work burden of the family members who remain behind, reduce the time and quality of childcare and ultimately affect nutrition. (In line with SDGs 3, 5, 8 and 10) 

  • Rural Development: Rural communities and livelihoods are food-producing centers for large parts of our world. Disasters in rural environments can cause a rapid decrease in our food supply, and globalization means that food shortages in one community can have consequences in another. Rural development may be facilitated by channelling skills, innovation and remittances gained from mobility into climate-adaptive and sustainable farming, protecting food security. (In line with SDGs 1, 8, 10, 13 and 15) 

  • Employment: Many migrants and displaced persons contribute directly to food systems by filling labor shortages. But hunger, unemployment and underemployment may drive migration, particularly of youth. These employment areas are also rife with exploitation, trafficking and other protection concerns. (In line with SDGs 5, 8, 9 and 10) 

  • Urban Development: As a large proportion of migrants live in urban areas, often in underdeveloped, remote, unsafe and unclean parts of the city, it is important to assess the extent to which migrants can access and afford nutritious food. Urban services can ensure that unaccompanied minors, migrants experiencing homelessness, people in slums and other parts of the underserved urban population are not going hungry. (In line with SDGs 11, 12 and 17) 

GCM Objectives

SDG 2 and its important role in migration governance is recognized primarily in Objective 2: Minimize Adverse Drivers and Objective 7: Address and Reduce Vulnerabilities in Migration, but also has strong relevance in other objectives. For a full list of Objectives relevant to SDG 2, please see the icons below, and learn more about SDG 2 and the GCM from the UN Network on Migration's GCM Booklet and Migration Network Hub.

gcm 2

Migration may be an adaptation and survival mechanism for those experiencing hunger, but the most vulnerable may also not be able to move. Enhancing rural livelihoods, food security and environmental sustainability may make migration more of a choice. 

gcm 7

It is important to include migrants at all stages of the migration lifecycle in efforts to improve food security and nutrition, as they can be more vulnerable in this context.

gcm 10

Human trafficking in the agricultural and food system is a serious challenge. Women, men and children migrant and seasonal workers may be victims of trafficking; UK data suggests that 1 in 5 survivors are in the agricultural sector.

GCM 15

Food is a basic human right. Migrants and vulnerable families experiencing hunger should be included in local and national safety net systems and basic services to help eradicate malnutrition and hunger. 

GCM 19

Innovative agricultural technologies and harnessing knowledge and capital investments from seasonal and other forms of migration can promote sustainable agriculture, boost livelihoods, strengthen incomes and improve nutrition.

GCM 20

Remittances can generate positive effects on food security by providing households with funds for more nutritious food, especially during food related shocks. 

Data & Measuring Results

For the latest data on migration and SDG 2, check out:


Developed under the Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development (MMICD) initiative, the Toolkit on Integrating Migration into Rural Development Interventions helps integrate migration into any stage of the Intervention Cycle. The toolkit includes practical tools for practitioners including for measuring results, such as a Theory of Change and Indicator Bank.

What SDG 2 targets are relevant for migration?

  • 2.3 By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment 
    • Increasing income and productivity of smallscale food producers, insofar as they can be potential drivers of migration.
  • 2.4 By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality
    • Strengthening climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disaster adaptation strategies for agricultural communities to promote productivity and production, to boost their livelihoods and help prevent forced environmental migration. 
Case Studies

How do migrants facilitate communities’ access to food? Garry is a migrant worker who is now the packhouse manager on a farm in South Africa, helping move bananas and tomatoes to tables across the world. Since migrating from Zimbabwe, over time, Garry’s skills and eagerness to grow professionally led to new opportunities. Garry now oversees 200 employees in the packhouse and has gained enough resources to provide for his family back home.

This video is a part of a #MigrationConnection series that have been produced by IOM through the “Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development” (MMICD) initiative funded by the EU.


Key resources on migration and SDG 2:

  • The Linkages between Migration, Agriculture, Food Security, and Rural Development (FAO/IFAD/IOM/WHO): This report examines the existing literature and provides evidence from both developed and developing countries, focusing on why people from rural areas decide to migrate. 
  • Towards Sustainable Food Systems: The Critical Role of Migrants (UN Network for Migration): On the occasion of the UN Food Systems Summit, the United Nations Network on Migration calls on States to recognize safe, orderly and regular migration and empowered migrants as levers of positive change for sustainable food systems.
  • Populations at Risk: Implications of COVID-19 for Hunger, Migration and Displacement (IOM/WFP): The report highlights the close interconnection between hunger, conflict, migration and displacement, which has been further aggravated by COVID-19.
  • UNHCR Nutrition and Food Security (UNHCR): This global platform collects essential information, field case studies, programmatic guidance, data and more on nutrition, food security and refugees.
  • What is the Link Between Hunger and Migration (IISD/IFPRI): This brief explores whether investments to reduce hunger have any impact on migration levels, assessing how international migration is affected by economic growth, hunger and increased agricultural productivity.
  • Integrating Migration into Rural Development Interventions (IOM/FAO): This toolkit was developed under the EU-funded Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development (MMICD) Initiative to provide operational and user-friendly tools to help international cooperation and development actors to integrate migration into rural development-related interventions. Its topics include: Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods; Food and Nutrition Security; Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience.
    • See how this was piloted in Madagascar here.
    • See how this was piloted in Nepal here