Poverty in Africa: Migration can help

Migration plays an important role in poverty alleviation. Moving within Africa (continental migration) is a long-established practice in response to drought and low agricultural productivity. Wouterse's research revealed that households with continental migrants are poorer than those with migrants to destinations outside of Africa. Continental migration yields little money in the form of bank transfers and leads to less income from labour-intensive activities. The welfare position of the household does however improve, mainly due to migration reducing the size of the household.

In recent decades intercontinental migration, mainly to Western Europe, has become important. Households with intercontinental migrants have more capital and can therefore make use of opportunities to obtain income in Europe. The households receive a relatively large amount of money in the form of bank transfers, which are partly invested in capital intensive activities. This strongly improves the welfare position of the households. There are also advantages for the countries of destination. Low-skilled migrants form a source of cheap labour for the receiving country. Immigration can therefore help to relieve the increasing pressure on the welfare state resulting from the ageing population in much of Western Europe.

Win-win situation

The creation of a win-win situation for migration from Africa to Europe is strongly dependent on policy and agreements. If the policy of the migrant-sending countries focuses on improving public facilities and infrastructure this can, for example, increase the chances of the money transferred being invested productively. A system of labour exchange between Europe and Africa can work well, if the disadvantages of previous and existing guest worker programmes are avoided. However, this will only be the case if the positive consequences of migration for the migrant-sending and migrant-receiving economies are recognised at a European level.

The Ph.D. thesis 'Survival or Accumulation: migration and rural households in Burkina Faso' was written at Wageningen University & Research Centre and was financed by the NWO Stimulation Programme Environment & Economics.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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