Environmental migration is shaping up to be one of this century’s biggest policy challenges. At present, there are an estimated 50 million environmental migrants worldwide, many of whom have been forced to leave their homes due to food and water insecurity or lack of employment opportunities, often as a direct result of degrading natural resources.

West Africa is one of the regions most affected by migration. Desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) undermines the wellbeing and resilience of local communities, playing a major role as a cause and consequence of migration flows within and outside West Africa with the largest absolute international immigrant stock in the whole of the Continent. Not only is this leading to the break-up of communities through forced resettlement, it is fueling unplanned and excessive urbanization, which in itself is causing overcrowding and further migration, including internationally.

Policy measures have been taken at the sub-regional and national levels, in order to mitigate the negative effects of DLDD and migration on the socio-economic development and the sustainable use of natural resources in West Africa. However, these measures often have tended not to take into due consideration the existing interlinkages between migration and land degradation and consequent impact on food security and social stability.

A new three-year project, to be implemented by the Global Mechanism (GM) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), promises to step up efforts to tackle the twin challenge of land degradation and environmental migration in West Africa.

Funded by the Government of Italy, this first-time collaboration between the GM and IOM aims to trigger increased investments into drought-stricken areas prone to migration and promote sustainable development and food security at the local, national and sub-regional levels.

The project will help improve land and water management in migration prone areas of West Africa, through the use of innovative financing mechanisms, including payment for ecosystem services and remittances.

These mechanisms will be channelled towards investing in existing initiatives relevant to landscape restoration, adaptation to climate change, and sustainable land management (SLM). In this regard, an innovative scheme will be established whereby pilot projects will be proposed by diaspora networks to be implemented in target areas of the countries of origin, in particular in Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal.

Rather than simply presenting migration as a threat to development in the region, the project will place a strong emphasis on the positive potentials. Indeed, migration can bring substantial macroeconomic benefits to destination countries by filling gaps in the workforce, enriching human capital and creating employment and earning opportunities in immigrants’ own enterprises. These factors can enhance economic flexibility and productivity, thereby contributing to growth.

Remittances hold a particularly interesting yet currently untapped potential to inject new financial resources into SLM projects and programmes in the region. A core part of the project will therefore be focused on raising awareness and building capacities of diaspora associations on issues related to SLM and its development benefits in West African countries with a view to triggering long-term investment.

The project will complement on-going work of the GM, IOM and other partners on SLM and migration, including in the context of FLEUVE, an initiative that promotes local African communities as key protagonists in decision-making processes on sustainable natural resource management. It will capitalize on existing knowledge management platforms and networks and will engage with a wide range of stakeholders at all levels, including national governmental and non-governmental institutions, sub-regional entities as well as regional and global initiatives.

For more information:

Mr Sven Walter, Programme Coordinator, West and Central Africa

+39 06 5459 2150 (at)


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