Do migrant remittances contribute to a decline in the level of malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Feb 18, 2019

Despite efforts by international organizations, governments and NGOs, malnutrition is still a major concern in most Sub-Saharan African countries. According to FAO statistics, 25% of the region's population is under-nourished, that is, one in four people. Though there are many factors responsible for this situation, poverty however remains the main determining factor.

Faced with this situation, more and more Sub-Saharan African households are adopting migration as a survival strategy. In this regard, a member of a household will therefore agree with other members of the household to migrate to a country or locality that has better employment prospects. In return, the migrant will remit funds and / or goods to the household, which will decide to either spend the remittances for consumption purposes, children's education, healthcare, or on creating a business.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the use of migrant remittances differs from one country to another. However, studies in several countries in the region show that most households spend money on consumption, which includes purchases of food and other goods, as well as payment for services (rent, transportation, etc.). According to a study conducted by the BCEAO in 2010, more than half of the remittances received in the WAEMU zone were spent on consumption, compared with 21% for investment, and only 3.4% on education and 6.4% on health. For example, in Senegal, 70% of migrant remittances were for consumption. In the same year, the World Bank conducted a study in three East African countries - Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. While in Uganda and Kenya, households use a large portion of the remittances to invest in small businesses, in Ethiopia, the remittances are destined for consumption.

If greater part of migrant remittances are devoted to consumption in most Sub-Saharan African countries, do they contribute significantly to a decrease in malnutrition in the region?

The answer to this question is more complex than it seems. Migrant remittances help to improve nutrition in most receiving countries. However, the number of households who see their food situation improve remains very limited. Several reasons account for this low impact.

Migration is not for everyone. Indeed, because of the costs involved in migration (costs related to access to information, visas, transport...), people from poor families are less likely to migrate compared to those whose families belong to the middle class. As a result, poor families do not only have few migrants, they also receive less migrant remittances compared to middle-class families, whereas, it is the poor who suffer the most from malnutrition. It therefore emerges that the overall decline in malnutrition in the countries as a result of migrant remittances is limited.

It all depends on what is consumed. While studies show that in most Sub-Saharan African countries the remittances are for purchases, some households prefer to buy luxury goods or goods for weddings and ceremonies. The fact that food expenditure accounts for only part of overall purchases also limits the overall impact of remittances on the level of malnutrition. In addition, the foods provided are, for the most part, those with a better taste. These foods are purchased at the expense of foods rich in nutrients, which has the effect of further reducing the impact of remittances on food.

Cultural habits also constitute a constraint. In some localities, it is rather the cultural habits that prevent the population from getting rid of foods whose nutritional value is low. Remittances therefore have little or no impact on the diet of receiving families in these localities because they hardly change their feeding habits.

About the Author

Hamed Sambo is currently a PhD Researcher at the University of Paris 13. His main research topics are migration, remittances, and food security in developing countries. During the first year of his PhD, he completed an internship at the African Development Bank (AfDB) during which he worked on gender issues. Hamed holds a statistics engineer’s degree at National School of Statistics and Applied Economics (ENSEA) of Abidjan, and a Master’s degree in Economics and international finance at the University of Paris 13 – Sorbonne Paris Cité.

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