Migration networks, agricultural production and food networks

with contributions by Luca Di Bartolomei, Fabrizio Maronta and Luca Raineri

Throughout history, the Mediterranean emerged as a space of connectivity between civilizations, involving trade of people, ideas and goods, including the establishment of a series of food routes. The Roman Empire provides an example of this Mediterranean food infrastructure. In the current globalization of food markets, a key issue linking the two shores of the Mediterranean is the exploitation of cheap. The current experience with illegal employment and exploitation of agriculture workers (“caporalato”) is illustrated as a case study of this phenomenon.

Food networks and migration networks

In this section, we will offer a view of the Mediterranean as a space of connectivity for food and migration, offering insights based on three heterogeneous examples; the infrastructure and food network of the Roman Empire, a case study on the exploitation of agricultural labourers, an analysis on the enduring economic relevance of remittances.

Across history, the specificities of the agriculture carried out in the broader Mediterranean basin have been inextricably connected to major patterns of human mobility. The agro-biological micro-niches of the connective space from the Sahel to the Alps (through the Sahara and the Mediterranean) have in fact represented a structural incentive to the establishment of a trans-regional trading system. Meanwhile, labour intensive productions have prompted a demand for workers from across state borders, and fostered the hybridisation of social, cultural and food traditions.

The Roman Empire made the Mediterranean Sea a space of interconnected trading hubs where people, ideas and goods – especially agricultural ones – flew relatively smoothly. The Arab conquest of the southern Mediterranean and Saharan spaces was accompanied by the creation of artificial oases, planned to perform the role of productive sites, trading facilities, and centres of cultural and religious propagation. Sub-Saharan Africans were increasingly pulled, more or less coercively, to work in these areas and grow foodstuffs. The network thus created stretched from the Mediterranean shores to the Sahel, and made the Sahara Desert “the other face of the Mediterranean”, as the historian Fernand Braudel suggested (on the Sahara network, see also Brachet et al. 2011).

BOX - The Roman Empire and Food Routes

by Luca Di Bartolomei

With the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire, in 27 BC, the food condition of the Romans radically changed. While previously, in the Italian peninsula, agriculture and sheep farming, at least until the imperial age of the Roman Empire (27BC/395AC), were conducted by small landowners, the Battle of Anzio (31 BC) marked the start of business contacts with Egypt, and thus with the East and Asia.

Therefore, at its peak, “the Roman Empire ruled a quarter of humanity through complex networks of political power, military domination and economic exchange. These extensive connections were sustained by pre-modern transportation and communication technologies that relied on energy generated by human and animal bodies, winds, and currents” (Scheidel et al. 2012). From August to Constantine (27 BC - 337 AD), Rome reached one million inhabitants, controlling 50/60 million people. “Feeding Rome” (Parisi Presicce, Rossini, 2015) became a necessity for the emperor: male, adult, and resident citizens received freely from the State every month five modii of wheat (about 35 kilograms).

Free grain distribution involved the import of wheat in amounts ranging from 9 to 12 million cubic meters per year (up to 84,000 tonnes). Considering the supply of food to the entire city of Rome, the quantity of imported grain (see Parisi Presicce, Rossini 2015; on grain in Rome see also Garnsey 1983) rose to about 50/60 million modii (350,000 to 420,000 tonnes). At the end of the Republican Era, wheat consumed in Rome came from Africa, Sicily and Sardinia. During the High Roman Empire (the part of Roman political history dating from the end of civil war in 31 BC to Diocletian’s rise to power in 284 AD), wheat was produced for 1/3 from Egypt and the remaining 2/3 from other regions of Africa (corresponding to today’s Tunisia, Algeria and Libya).

Control of the grain traffic also had a geopolitical meaning in imperial disputes. As Abulafia recalls, “in AD 68–9, following the suicide of Nero, Emperor Otho recruited thousands of sailors to block the threat posed by his rival, and eventual supplanter, Vitellius. Otho could count on the support of the two Italian navies, based at Ravenna and at Misenum, very close to Puteoli. The final victor in 69, Vespasian, also used naval power, but differently; from his base in Egypt he first blocked the grain traffic to Rome, and then, as he approached Rome, he showed generosity by releasing these food supplies to the Roman People, fatally undermining Vitellius” (Abulafia 2011).

In short, with the Pax Romana in the Mediterranean basin, an early “globalization of consumption” was born, with its relocation of production based on specialized monocultures: grain, oil and wine. All of this was possible thanks to an efficient administrative structure. For instance, thanks to the amphorae manufactured where goods were produced, it was possible to trace trade relations in the Mediterranean area. The amphorae had to certify not only the genus, the amount, the property and the conveyor, but also the quality of the cargo. The Prefect of the Annona needed a global structure that would have control over the whole chain, with two foreign “offices” in Alexandria, Egypt and Numidia, and a host of collaborators, including an attorney at Annona in Ostia, where the grain tax was flowing. According to the ORBIS project of Stanford University, the model of Roman transport system (at its own peak) was built on 632 sites, and covered nearly 10 million square kilometers (~4 million square miles) of terrestrial and maritime space. The baseline road network encompassed 84,631 kilometres (52,587 miles) of road or desert tracks, complemented by 28,272 kilometres (17,567 miles) of navigable rivers and canals, while 301 sites served as sea ports.

Interdependence, food markets globalization and Mediterranean migration

A closer look at the Trans-Mediterranean network of consumption in more recent times provides further insights on the relationship between the routes for foodstuffs and the routes of migratory flows. By the end of colonialism, the adoption of contradictory fiscal policies among newly independent states nourished a thriving illegal economy based on the smuggling of subsidised goods towards the Sahelian countries, and of livestock northbound. The revenues of these activities were typically reinvested in farmland and livestock. The severe droughts and famines that hit the Sahel in the 1970s and 1980s triggered major migratory flows from Sahelian countries to North Africa and the Mediterranean. Migrations represented a resilience strategy to cope with environmental insecurity. Tens of thousands of people from Mali and Niger thus settled in Algeria and Libya, spreading family networks across state-borders (OECD/SWAC 2014).

Routes and infrastructures developed for the trade of foodstuffs progressively overlapped and intermingled with those of migratory flows, both seasonal and long-term. Migrants often found employment opportunities in the gardens of the very same smugglers that facilitated their journeys, establishing long-term partnerships (on the concept of gardens, adopted by local seasonal migrants, see Scheele 2012; Kohl 2013). Indeed, up-to-date seasonal trans-Saharan migration represents a crucial asset for local food systems, and should be interpreted more as a development opportunity than as the consequence of underdevelopment: during the dry season, thousands of people from the Sahel engage in seasonal migratory patterns to work in north Africa. While contributing to local agricultural activities, they also ensure the resilience of their families and dependents at home. Hence, across the Mediterranean region, agricultural production and migratory flows have grown increasingly interlinked along the supply lines of the food markets.

The current context of food markets globalisation presents no exception. From Cyprus to Sicily, from Greece to Andalusia, Southern Europe’s finest agricultural products require low levels of mechanization to preserve the quality of the yield. Growing and – most notably – picking fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, citrus, grapes, olives and the like, is still a labour-intensive activity. It is also often highly seasonal, and depends on unpredictable productive variables, such as climatic conditions and rapidly changing market demands, which mean that scheduling is not always possible.

These structural conditions have prompted, in southern Europe, a demand for flexible, versatile, efficient and low-qualified workforce, ready to accept the harsh working conditions in the fields. A gap that, in the last few decades, migrant workers have been increasingly filling.

A combination of growing deregulation of the job markets in Europe, multiplying restrictions to the legal avenues for regular migration towards Europe, and unchecked liberalisation of food markets worldwide, has produced disturbing consequences. The exploitation of migrant workforces is widespread across Europe’s Mediterranean countries, and significant patterns have been documented, for instance, in rural areas in Cyprus, or in greenhouses in Southern Spain. The analysis presented in the following box focuses in particular on the case of Italy’s Southern regions and agricultural districts, such as the plains of Foggia in Apulia, Metaponto in Basilicata, Gioia Tauro in Calabria, Ragusa in Sicily and the Pontine area, 70km south of Rome.

BOX - Migrants, agriculture and human rights.
A case study on “caporalato”

by Luca Raineri

By setting entry quotas for different types of non-EU workers, and by making the issuance of a residence permit dependent on the existence of a written contract of employment, the Italian legislative framework has proved ill-suited to balance the demand and supply of labour in Southern Italy’s fragile agricultural sector. As a result, local employers have not disdained to recruit non-EU workers who arrived in Italy irregularly, or on a visa other than the one for contracted employment. According to a report by Doctors Without Borders (Medici Senza Frontiere 2008), between two thirds and three quarters of interviewed seasonal migrant workers in agriculture lacked a legal residence permit and/or worked illegally. Indeed, while official statistics report that migrants make-up about half of the workforce employed in Southern Italy’s agricultural sector, independent reports (Palumbo, Sciurba 2015) suggest that this figure would climb up to 80%, accounting undeclared and irregular migrants.

The lack of adequate legal protection makes these categories of migrant workers completely dependent on informal schemes of negotiations, and therefore vulnerable to different sorts of exploitative practices. As a result, an alarming number of abuses has been documented in the last decade by journalists, NGOs, human rights activists, and migrant workers themselves. Among them, Amnesty International (2012) recognizes that the bargaining power of migrant workers, whatever their migration status, is virtually non-existent, and as a result many sites of agricultural production in Southern Italy are characterized by systematic violations of human rights.

In many cases, seasonal migrant workers are employed for 12-14 working hours daily for a salary ranging between 15 and 35 euros, in spite of the seasonal farming contracts officially foreseeing a daily salary of approximately 50-60 euros, for 6 days of 6.5 working hours each. In some cases, employers avoid existing regulations by declaring a significantly reduced amount of working hours and days than those actually performed by their employees, and migrant workers refrain from complaining for fear of losing their hard-won opportunity. In the past, migrants in transit accepted these exploitative working conditions for a maximum of a couple of years, or seasons, while waiting to secure a more permanent job in the formal sector. In recent years, however, a longstanding economic crisis in Europe, and in Italy in particular, has reversed the trajectory, and migrants who lose jobs in the north end up in the fields in the south, thereby increasing competition with those who have just arrived.

Authorities have not tackled these problems vigorously, because migrants do not vote, but national stakeholders of the food supply line do. Businesspeople in the agricultural sector complain that current market prices make the national contracts for agricultural labour hardly applicable. According to activist Yvan Sagnet, “farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs are also victims, to a certain extent. If you do not want to shut down shop, you are forced to exploit. It is a perverse system, because it is the buyer who makes the price. Yet prices are unsustainable, and small farmers don’t have the power to resist. At the top of the pyramid, one finds the responsibility of some large-scale retailers, who stay away from the dirt of the fields, and are the real beneficiaries of the ultra-liberalization of food supply lines”. Buyers, in fact, can purchase 1kg of tomato for 8-9 cents, 1kg of oranges for 6 cents, and with the prices of fuel, fertilizers and seedlings rising, labour cost remains the only source of marginal gains for farmers.

Often, informal mediators – the so-called “caporali” – step in to secure cheap and flexible labour supply for employers and provide seasonal job opportunities for migrant workers. On top of their remuneration as head-hunters, the caporali take a significant cut of day labourers’ meagre salaries in exchange for the provision of a number of “services” linked to the work in the fields, such as access to water, sanitation, food, transport, electricity, etc., where coercion and extortion go hand in hand. While vulnerable EU-citizens have been victims of caporalato, too, the social, economic and cultural segregation of non-European migrants, especially undocumented ones, contributes to reinforcing this lucrative business model.

Housing is a case in point. Every year, seasonal workers move across different Italian regions following the harvesting schedule of local yields: Apulia’s tomatoes from June to September; Calabria’s olives and citrus from November to February; Sicily’s greenhouse-grown vegetables in early spring, and so on. Lacking the economic resources and legal status to access adequate housing facilities, migrant workers set up provisional informal settlements close to the productive sites, which have become known as ghettoes. As the nickname indicates, people face grave distress there, and according Doctors Without Borders the poor living conditions of the ghettoes are comparable to those of a humanitarian emergency: two-thirds of ghetto-dwellers sleep on the ground or share a rented mattress, with no access to electricity, water or sanitation. According to Yvan Sagnet, “ghettos are the consequence of the lack of accountability of agricultural enterprises for workers’ accommodation. In the province of Foggia alone we have documented about twenty of them, usually located at the fringes of rural municipalities. Ghettoes are isolated, and their invisibility fosters dependency on the caporali and is conducive to exploitation. For example, at Rignano Garganico, more than 5,000 migrant workers lived in houses made out of plastic, cardboard and sheet metal. It is probably the largest ghetto in Europe. However, the mere dismantlement of the ghettoes and the eviction of the dwellers is purposeless. In the absence of a redeployment program, people will simply come back”.

Grave abuses may occur even where housing conditions are less precarious. In the plains of Ragusa, in Sicily, and of Pontine, Lazio, the prevalence of greenhouse farming stabilizes the agricultural production across the year and weakens the dependence on seasonal labour. Migrant workers, however, are forced to suffer different forms of exploitation and humiliating treatment as a bargaining chip to secure their jobs and dwellings. The sexual exploitation of women workers of migrant origin, especially from Romania, is on the rise in Sicily. In the Pontine plain, instead, non-national workers, especially of Sikh faith and originating from the Indian state of Punjab, have been suffering systematic patterns of human-trafficking and labour exploitation since the 1980s, as recent investigations demonstrated. According to sociologist Marco Omizzolo, co-founder of the NGO In Migrazione, “Italian employers hire informal intermediaries to purchase ‘cheap labour’ in their countries of origin. Human trafficking networks then request 12 to 15,000 euros to Punjabi prospective migrants, with the (false) promise to provide permanent and well-paid contracts in the agricultural sector. Punjabis then come to Italy, often times with a regular (provisional) residence permit granted by their employers. But once they get to work, the situation they find is completely different: backbreaking working hours, and miserable salaries, paid irregularly”. In many cases, temporary contracts, declaring a minute amount of the hours actually worked, provide the fig-leaf to cover the actual exploitation, while ensuring at the same time the blackmailing of migrant workers who, on that basis, cannot claim the right to a permanent residence permit. “However, Punjabi migrant workers rarely complain, by fear of dishonouring their families who got indebted to provide them with the opportunity to work abroad. Moreover, we notice an alarming increase of intimidations, threats and attacks against those who protest. Violence against those who claim their rights is becoming systematic”, Omizzolo contends.

And this is where organized crime kicks-in. Mafia-styled vigilantes, both Italians and foreigners, have been responsible for threats, violence and killings aimed at quelling the embryonic protests of migrants. In some cases, criminal organizations have managed to infiltrate the whole supply line of food systems: the proceeds of criminal profits are laundered to buy agricultural land; manpower is supplied by mafia-owned fake cooperatives, colluded caporali, or transnational networks of human trafficking; armed vigilantes make sure that exploitative working conditions, akin to enslavement, proceed undisturbed; companies owned by different criminal organisations also intervene heavily in the logistics, distribution, marketing, wholesale and retail of the final products. Not far from Rome, the fruit and vegetable market of Fondi, the fourth largest in Europe, is a case in point. According to a report by the NGO Legambiente, the turnover of agro-mafias has increased by 30% in the last years.

Yvan Sagnet, however, observes that “one should not confuse labour exploitation and organised crime. Exploitation is larger, stronger, and more structural, because it nestles in the grey area of informality, and is fuelled by the widespread tolerance for illegality. The experience of being a slave has changed my life. You realise that, below the surface, another world exists, an underworld of exploitation that cannot be ignored. Many people have only a superficial understanding of mafia, but I have had a first-hand experience. And when you go through all this everything changes, and you only want to make it known, move on and get rid of it. I probably wouldn’t do it again, if I could go back. I wanted to be an engineer, and now my life is threatened and I barely escaped being killed. Sometimes the pressure is unbearable. But I cannot go back, and pretend that I haven’t seen what I have seen”.

In the last years, migrant workers in Southern Italy have increasingly undertaken bold initiatives, sometimes shouldering major risks, and have sparked mobilisations and protests to tackle these shameful situations. Amidst intimidations and threats, the brave strikes of migrant workers in Apulia in 2011, and in the Pontine in 2016, have led to important changes, with the potential to benefit foreign and Italian workers, as well as the agricultural sector as a whole. Italy has adopted in 2011 a law criminalising the “caporalato”, i.e. the “illegal mediation and exploitation of labour”, further expanded in 2016. And in July 2017, 12 individuals were sentenced on the basis of this legislation. Similarly, in the last few years the legislation against human trafficking, including the prevention of the phenomenon and the protection of victims, has been expanded and harmonised.

Sagnet and Omizzolo recognise that addressing criminality, albeit important, is not enough. More proactive steps need to be taken in order to tackle the root causes of this phenomenon, raise public awareness, and advance sustainable solutions. Inclusion is key, and the contribution of all the actors along the supply line is needed to ensure that new, subtler forms of exploitation do not resurface under the pressure of market constraints. To this end, local NGOs and activists are increasingly promoting projects aimed at fostering access to healthy, eco-friendly, fair and exploitation-free certified food. NoCap, SOS Rosarno, and Filiera Sporca represent cases in point. In Migrazione is greatly enhancing the documentation and dissemination of good practices. A UN agency - the International Organization of Migration - has recently launched the Terra Munda project, aimed at strengthening job opportunities for migrants formerly victims of labour exploitation in Italy’s agricultural sector.

Networks of exploitation and networks of inclusion

As the Milan Center for Food Law and Policy (MCFLP 2017) has shown, starting from data provided by the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions, illegal work in agriculture affects significantly a number of EU countries. In Romania, Portugal and Bulgaria the rate of illegal work is estimated to be higher than 40 per cent, while in Italy, Poland, Spain and Greece it is estimated to be higher than 20 per cent. The MCFLP has highlighted that a multi-faceted strategy is needed to tackle these issues, including not only joint efforts in the agro-food chain and public authorities (including further monitoring activities), but also advocacy campaigns and the promotion of a new cultural paradigm, which includes the collection of best practices in the sector (MCFLP 2017).

While awareness and public action is key to break criminal networks and invest in sustainable development, historical examples could shed further light on the opportunities of the Mediterranean trading infrastructure of food and ideas.

All the geopolitical challenges we have presented in the study, particularly concerning Sub-Saharan Africa, require a response in terms of awareness, education and inclusion. Harvard professor Calestous Juma repeatedly called for a joint effort on agriculture in Africa, emphasizing that “Africa can feed itself in a generation” (Juma 2011; Juma 2015). This requires an investment of science, technology, and engineering for the creation of regional markets. It also requires a new pool of leaders, both African and European, both in the public and in the private sectors, willing to cooperate to support Africa’s improvement in agriculture and food. But all this has also to do with the empowerment of vulnerable individuals, starting from women and children.

The following box will offer an analysis on a specific nexus between migrants and home countries, those of remittances. Understanding the scale and the role of remittances could be key to address the challenge of sustainable development. Moreover, in the following sections we will focus on the role of innovation in Food Value Chains for sustainable development, showing how agro-food systems and rural development can contribute to mitigate migration pressures. We will also address the issue of food and integration, by analysing Europe’s nutritional transition through the lens of the consumption of ethnic food and by providing a series of best practices on food and integration in countries of origin, transit and destination of migrants.

BOX - Remittances still matter

by Fabrizio Maronta

Given all the environmental, social and economic fragilities highlighted in the previous sections, it is no wonder that external financial flows – foreign direct investment (FDI), aid and, crucially, remittances – remain of utmost importance for most of Africa.

While FDI from Europe and North America is decreasing, Far and Middle East countries are increasingly investing in Africa. In particular, Chinese investment continues to rise, despite the country’s slowing economy. Chinese investment in Africa in 2016 increased 1,400% compared to 2015. The leading investors after China were the United Arab Emirates (USD 14.9 billion), Italy (USD 11.6 billion), the United States (USD 10.4 billion), France (USD 7.7 billion) and the United Kingdom (USD 7.5 billion). (AfDB/OECD/UNDP 2017; fDi Markets 2016; OECD/ATAF/AUC 2016).

Almost equally important are migrant remittances, which can be defined as the funds sent by migrants to their country of origin via wire, mail, or online transfer. Remittance flows have grown substantially and steadily over the last years, accounting for 51% of private flows in 2016, compared to 42% in 2010. They rose from USD 11 billion in 2000 to USD 64.6 billion in 2016. Between 2015 and 2030, an estimated USD 6.5 trillion in remittances will be sent to low and middle-income countries. As foreseen by a recent study by IFAD presented during the 2017 Global Forum on Remittances, Investment and Development, most of these resources will be used by remittance-receiving families to increase their income, achieve better health and nutrition, foster their education, improve their housing and sanitation, and pursue entrepreneurial projects. (World Bank 2016a; IFAD 2017).

Being less volatile than development aid and FDI, remittances represent a lifeline that sustains household consumption and increases foreign currency reserves. They also allow for investments, including in small businesses and basic social services. In addition, migrant remittances have the advantage of increasing inversely with the economic situation of recipients. Migrants are likely to send more money when the situation gets tough in their home country, thus functioning as a counter-cyclical mechanism.

In 2016, the remittances-to-GDP ratio was 10% or more in seven countries, including Gambia, Lesotho, Liberia and Senegal (countries with large diasporas), while remittances per capita were higher than USD 100 in nine African countries. (World Bank 2016b).

The relative stability of remittance inflows hides important territorial differences. West and North Africa remain the biggest recipients of remittances. In 2016, they accounted for 90% of inflows in the continent. This is mainly thanks to Nigeria and Egypt, by far the largest recipients of remittances: USD 20 billion and 18.7 billion respectively. Together, they accounted for 75% of Africa’s total and they are likely to retain this position in the future. They were followed by Morocco (USD 7.1 billion), Ghana (USD 2.2 billion), Algeria (USD 2.1 billion), Tunisia (2 billion) and Senegal (1.9 billion). Kenya and Uganda were the only countries in East Africa to exceed the USD 1 billion threshold, while in the South the largest recipient was South Africa (USD 0.8 billion). (AfDB/OECD/UNDP 2017; World Bank 2016b)

The contributions of diasporas go beyond financial investment. They encompass technology transfer, knowledge exchange and improved access to international capital markets for home countries. Furthermore, migrants can return home as entrepreneurs and can play an important role for the country’s development. Therefore, along with migration routes, we always need to put remittances in the food and migration framework, as a key and constant economic flow that could be channelled also in the support of projects regarding agricultural development in countries of origin.

External financial flows to africa, 2015-17
External financial flows to africa, 2015-17

Note: ODA estimates (e) and projections (p) are based on real increase in Country Programmable Aid (CPA) in OECD (2016). The forecast for remittances is based on the projected rate of growth according to the World Bank. (This graph excludes loans from commercial banks, o cial loans and trade credits.) Sources: Adapted from African Economic Outlook data, IMF (2016a), OECD (2016) and World Bank (2016b).
Statlink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933474975

Remittances: fifteen largest recipient countries in africa (ranked by % of gdp), 2016
Remittances: fifteen largest recipient countries in africa (ranked by % of gdp), 2016

Sources: Adapted from IMF (2016a) and World Bank (2016b).