Sustaining Food Security. Urban Agriculture and Survival Alternatives for Emigrants in Bishoftu City, Ethiopia

The Seperate Worlds of Migration and Food Security

Academic Paper, 2019

30 Pages


Table of content



Literature review and key concepts


Research Findings



The issue of food security is strikingly absent from current debates about the relationship between migration and development. The current international food security agenda displays a similar disregard for migration. There appears to be a massive disconnect between these two global development agendas. The reasons are hard to understand since the connections between migration and food security seem obvious. The paper devotes to discuss the concept of ‘Sustaining food security: Urban agriculture and survival alternatives for migrants in Bishoftu city ‘and factors that help initiate the process and addresses possible reasons for the disconnect and then presents and discusses the implications for linking migration and food security. The methodology consisted of two data collection techniques: questionnaire survey and in-depth, semi-structured case-study interviews. These two data collection methods complement each other by providing generalized information through the survey and more fine-grained information through the in-depth interviews. The study used 58 representatives (sample). The results show a consistent pattern of difference between urban migrant and non-migrant households in relation to levels of food insecurity, sources of income, food procurement strategies, and participation in urban agriculture. This paper therefore seeks to initiate a conversation between the separate worlds of migration and development on the one side, and food security on the other.

Key words: migration, sustaining food security, urban-rural food transfer


Bishoftu is a large, lake- abundant town situated in south-east of Addis Ababa, on the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. It has a population of more than 120,000(CSA,2010). Bishoftu, as the principal of Ada’a Woreda, is the predominant economic, service, manufacturing and Air -force centre of the country. The population of Bishoftu has been growing at an annual rate of 5.36% in recent years.

Most of the population growth is taking place in Sunshine area, previously designated Ada’a teff production areas located to the northwest of the town. About 45 percent of the urban area's population lives in Sunshine areas, on about 20 per cent of the town's land. By 2010, it was estimated that the population of Bishoftu will have doubled over the decade 2000–2020. As a result of this projected growth and limited formal housing stock available, it is estimated that in future 40 per cent of the town's housing may be shanties (CSA, 2010).

The recent and projected population growth of Bishoftu, fuelled by rural–urban migration and natural increase, represents a significant challenge to meeting the future demand for social and physical infrastructure, as well as employment, in the town (CSA, 2010).

Although employment opportunities broadened with expansion of industries in 2000, the sheer volume of urban growth appears to negate the potential benefits (employment, superior payment and other services) for the urban poor (Hansohm, 2000; Pendleton, 1998). A survey undertaken in the town reports an unemployment rate of 30 per cent among household heads (Magarsa, 2013). The growth in the informal economy is largely occurring in response to constraints employment that existing in the formal sector.

This tension between migration, urbanization and urban poverty has often been described as an urban crisis and has been conceptualized as a transfer of rural poverty to the urban context. Moreover, vulnerability and deprivation of food security are increasingly viewed as urban problems, which is more severe than the situation in the rural areas.

At face value, this line of argument appears to be supported by different data. For example, in 2012, 37 per cent of migrants reported lack of employment as a 'serious problem' they faced in Bishoftu city (Magarsa, 2013). In the same survey, 63 per cent of the sample reported food shortages as a serious problem.

Although consistently high unemployment rates have been reported among households in Bishoftu city and migrants face the highest levels of unemployment in the town, data also show that, on aggregate, poor urban residents are not as vulnerable as they were before 2000. In a comparison of household data collected from Bishoftu between 2012 and 2013, Gadissa (2013) reported a decline from 70 per cent to 30 per cent in the proportion of households that considered food a serious problem. In addition, similar declines have been reported in problems associated with debt and health (Table 1).

Table 1: Changes in reported problems in Bishoftu, 2012–2013

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Adapted from Gaddisa (2013)

Looking further at health data, I find that WHO’s work in the country throws an interesting light on the argument that levels of rural poverty are increasingly transferred to urban situations (Cogill and Kiugu, 1990). Moreover, the majority of respondents in my study stated that hunger was not a serious problem in their households.

How, is this apparent contradiction explained: unemployment is high, rural–urban migration is growing, and yet respondents report that levels of hunger are lower than only ten years ago? On the basis of the evidence, I argue that an alternative source of income have been introduced since 2000 and that it is one that is not generally reported in surveys (as they are not designed to retrieve this hidden income source). This improvement in the food situation from 1991 to 2000 leads one to the hypothesis that this hidden income is most likely in the form of food. In addition, the primary source of migrants is the rural, where land continues to be used productively. Although food transfers from rural households to migrants during the migration period have not been documented, Gadissa’s study (2013) and Pendleton’s (1991, 1996) work confirm that this is a new factor among both migrant and non-migrant households.

Since 2000 migrants have become a highly mobile group, making frequent visits to the rural areas each year (Frayne, 2001, Frayne and Pendleton, 2001, Pendleton, 1996). Social linkages between the rural and urban areas thus appear to underpin the greater mobility and potential for the transport of goods between households. Therefore, this might be best explained by the increasing fluidity of rural–urban links in Ethiopia. This, in turn, has been made possible by the deregulation of the labour market and the freedom of movement now possible under the current government.

This study how poor urban households in Bishoftu city ensure adequate food supplies in the context of high rates of rural–urban migration. The study is the first of its kind in Ethiopia to systematically conduct research in both the places of origin and destination of rural and urban migrants and their families. It aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of how rural and urban households cooperate to survive under economic hardship and sustaining food security. In particular, the research identifies the contribution that food transfers from the rural areas to families living in Bishoftu to food security for poor urban households.

In addition to its contribution to theories of migration, this research contributes to the recent shift in the theoretical debate away from aggregate measures of urban food security to household and individual measures of vulnerability and access to food sources. The findings of this research are of critical importance to policy makers, planners and scholars in the country and, more broadly, in eastern Africa, where similar socioeconomic and demographic processes may be apparent. This chapter proceeds by situating the research within its scholarly context. The methodology is outlined, and followed by a summary of key research findings and reflections on future research.


The general objective of the study concerned with how migrant poor urban households in Bishoftu city ensure adequate food supplies in the context of high rates of rural–urban migration.

Specific objectives aim to:

- develop a comprehensive understanding of how rural and urban households cooperate to survive under economic hardship and poverty
- identify the contribution food transfers from the rural areas to families living in Bishoftu
- contribute critical importance to policy makers, planners and scholars

Literature review and key concepts

Particularly, in the developing world, poverty and hunger have long been regarded as rural problems. This no longer applies between 1990 and 2025 the number of urban dwellers in the world is expected to double, reaching more than 5 billion, and 90 per cent of these people will be live in the Global-South (UNCHS, 1996). In sub- Saharan Africa alone, the number of city dwellers is expected to triple over the same period (Smith et al, 1996). Precipitating factors include environmental stress, declining agricultural yields, structural adjustment and trade liberalization (including export-oriented agricultural policies and reductions in wage employment and in welfare), as well as war and natural disasters (Mougeot, 1994; IDRC, 1997; Potter and Lloyd-Evans, 1998). How do poor households survive these pressures and the effects of growing urban poverty?

The literature indicates that urban food security measures and strategies have generally been considered at the city scale, rather than at household level. However, it is well documented that urban poverty is often most acutely felt at the household level (Moser, 1996,et al). Moreover, the most direct and possibly most threatening consequences of poverty are limited or threatened food security and consequent hunger, despite adequate levels of food security being reported at the city scale. Urban poverty reduction strategies generally aim to increase productivity within the manufacturing and retail sectors (that is, increase employment opportunities). Yet with persistently high levels of urbanization and limited economic opportunity, vulnerability to hunger and the associated problems are not adequately addressed in the majority of the urban centers of the developing world (Drakakis-Smith, 1990, 1991, 1995, 1997; Koc et al, 1999, Moser, 1996, 1998; Todaro, 1997; UNICEF, 1998). Recognizing the failure of the formal economic and urban sectors to provide adequate services and employment to address the increasing poverty in much of the developing world, the international and local development and research communities have drawn into their field the question of how urban populations feed themselves under constrained and difficult conditions (IDRC,1997).

Research on issues of food security has tended to focus on rural areas and communities, and a strong body of literature and theory has developed around the theme of economic entitlement (Sen, 1981; Devereux and Næraa, 1996; Young, 1996; Potts, 2000). However, little complementary work has been done on food security in urban areas, where hunger, malnutrition and other ailments associated with poverty are widespread and worsening as urbanization proceeds apace (1998; Todaro, 1997; UNICEF, 1998). The emphasis of urban studies has been on the informal sector and more recently on urban agriculture (UA) (May and Rogerson, 1995; IDRC, 1997; Binns and Lynch, 1998; Koc et al, 1999). Much less attention has been paid to linkages and food chains between rural and urban areas and their embeddedness in systems of migration. In their research on the migration experience in Africa, Baker and Aina (1995, p25) asked what 'kinds of coping and survival mechanisms are employed and [whether] households [are] becoming more multi-active and multi-spatial in order to survive and/or maintain living standards.' Clearly, survival is a serious issue in the African context of poverty, and migration is one coping mechanism recognized as important (McDonald, 2000; Sharp, 2001).

The limited but current research on urban livelihoods indicates that urban households in sub-Saharan Africa do rely to varying degrees on a supply of food from the rural areas to survive within hostile urban environments (Smith, 1998; Tacoli, 1998; Potts, 2000; Frayne and Pendleton, 2001). What is not known is the prevalence of these urban–rural linkages, their dynamics and their current or potential contribution to urban food security for poor urban households (IDRC, 1997).

The above literatures did not see the junction of the migration, survival and sustaining food security. This study therefore situated at the intersection of three bodies of scholarship: urbanization and survival, migration and food security. It contributes to an emerging theory of urban entitlement and links into the growing body of theoretical and empirical work on migration and survival.


The methodology consisted of two data collection techniques: structured-questionnaire and in-depth, semi-structured case-study interviews. These two data collection methods complement each other by providing generalized information through the survey and more imperative information through the in-depth interviews. Given the importance of the migrant-destination areas in the research, the methodology was extended to include in-depth interviews in the rural areas.

The methodology is innovative for two reasons. First, by combining quantitative and qualitative approaches to the question of migration, it creates the methodological synergy needed to uncover the multidimensional nature of 'the household' as a unit of analysis (an important consideration in this context, where households are fluid and may extend across time and geographic space). Second, the rural homes (places of origin) of migrants interviewed in the urban centers are identified, and rural household members are selected for in-depth interviews in the rural areas. This approach helps to provide data and information on the migration and reciprocity process from both the urban and the rural perspectives. To evaluate possible changes over time, use was made of secondary survey data from a variety of sources available.

Given that Bishoftu is big town in its size like any other urban in the eastern Shawa and that, as the capital, it provides a destination for all sectors of society; this city was selected as the research locale for the quantitative survey and urban-household case studies. Because most of the growth in the country occurs within the eastern corridors, the urban component of the research was undertaken there.

Bishoftu is the primary destination of migrants to the city and appears to have the strongest urban–rural linkages evident in eastern corridor. Furthermore, Bishoftu is home to the city's entire population and contains the poorest (and most vulnerable) sectors of society.

Within each of the various residential areas of town selected for the survey the number of housing sites was counted. The number of surveys allocated to a particular area was then divided into the number of dwelling sites to arrive at a sample interval. An arbitrary point within each residential section was selected as the starting point. Although the head of the household was considered the primary decision-maker, the need to gain insights on intricate dynamics within and between urban households and their rural components required interviews with other members of the household as well. For example, migration in recent years has achieved closer gender parity than under the contract-labour system, which was male dominated. This change, together with the fact that social, political and economic conditions vary according to gender in Bishoftu, made it crucial that the methodology be designed to make a gender analysis of the data possible. Therefore, it was decided that adult respondents within each household would be selected in a systematic fashion (those 18 years of age and older).

A total of 305 interviews were conducted through a standardized survey, of which 95 are mostly- closed-ended questions. A systematic random sampling technique was used for sample selection. Questions were designed to collect information at the household and individual levels. The questions were divided into five categories, depending on the nature of the information sought: demography and socio-economic characteristics; migration and household arrangements; food and commodity transfers and remittances between rural and urban households; and social linkages. Data were collected by local interviewers fluent in local language (Afan Oromo).


Excerpt out of 30 pages


Sustaining Food Security. Urban Agriculture and Survival Alternatives for Emigrants in Bishoftu City, Ethiopia
The Seperate Worlds of Migration and Food Security
Haramaya University
Urban Development
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
sustaining, worlds, seperate, ethiopia, city, bishoftu, emigrants, alternatives, survival, agriculture, urban, security, food, migration
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Megersa Tolera (Author), 2019, Sustaining Food Security. Urban Agriculture and Survival Alternatives for Emigrants in Bishoftu City, Ethiopia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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