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Small fortunes: How effective migration policies will benefit landscapes

Highlighting the need for more effective data on migration and remittances

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In an effort to pay off debt, Sita Paryar’s husband borrowed money to move to Qatar for a job. However, after he relocated from rural Nepal, his employer did not give him any work or pay him for several months.

Sita remained at home with their two children. She tends the goats and earns a small income working on a local farm. She does not have time to plant crops to supplement her income on her own land. She worries that she will not be able to continue to pay the children’s school tuition.

“All the able bodied men would like to migrate overseas,” she said. “With them being away it is only those who are incapacitated or elderly who are left behind. It is very difficult to find people who can plow land.”

The Paryars are confronting challenges and trying to solve problems like many millions of people worldwide who turn to migrant work.

Despite inherent difficulties involved with relocation, earned remittance money sent home can help improve livelihoods, and create economic stability at a national level, preventing entire families from becoming refugees.



By understanding the root causes and patterns of human migration, experts can craft effective land management strategies, ensuring that international development and climate restoration goals are met, said Kartika Sari Juniwaty, a lecturer of development economics at the University of Indonesia, and a Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Associate.

While aspects of migration and remittance targets are sprinkled throughout the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they are specifically addressed in the social dimensions of SDGs 10 and 17. SDG 10 aims to reduce inequalities within and among countries. SDG 17 aims to strengthen implementation and revitalization of global partnerships.

However, critics point out there is a disconnection between these goals and environmental targets, said Juniwaty, who moderated a panel discussion at the recent Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) conference in Bonn, Germany.

During the session, panellists discussed the need for more effective data on migration and remittances to aid the adaptive transformation of policies to protect landscapes, ensure human wellbeing and climate resilience.


“In spite of the well-justified academic and media interest in the refugee crisis and displacement, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the vast majority of global migration is for labor,” said Fraser Sugden, senior lecturer in human geography at Britain’s University of Birmingham.

Patterns of internal migration have undergone profound changes since the upheavals during the 19th century industrial revolution in Britain when migrants – mostly male laborers – abandoned the land and moved to cities with families in tow, seeking secure and stable employment.

“They created new lives in the cities and the upshot of this is that wages began to rise and welfare systems emerged to support this new laboring population, which needed to reproduce itself,” Sugden said.

Nowadays, due to the high cost of urban living, it is more typical for migrants seeking work to travel alone, sending home earnings to their relatives, returning to land left under management of women, older relatives between jobs or retirees, according to Sugden.

“Farmers aren’t making a complete break from the land, they are increasingly moving into a dual livelihood strategy because neither agriculture nor migrant labor can support an entire family,” he said. “Agriculture is subsidizing many low-waged economies in the global south.”

Most migration occurs internally as people move from one part of a country to another looking for work, he said. In terms of international migration, most occurs within the global south, rather than to the global north, he added. Between 2000 and 2015, international migration has increased 63 percent.

Much of this increase is related to a complex fusion of biophysical, climate, economic and cultural changes.

“Remittance-based economies are emblematic of structural underdevelopment in a neoliberal global economy,” Sugden said, adding that policymakers should implement changes under SDG 13 on climate action, taking both climate action and the role of agriculture into consideration as they redefine socioeconomic strategies to support migration.

Remittance payments sent home can also play a big role in national economies, boosting gross domestic product, stabilizing economies and halting further migration.


Understanding the impact of migratory communities on the land is a vital part of protecting the Amazon rainforest in Peru, said Peter Cronkleton, an anthropologist with CIFOR, Policymakers should make SDG 15, Life on Land, a central part of planning, he said.

The government often states that approximately 80 percent of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon is driven by “migratory agriculture” from the high Andes, but research shows that these are dubious and vague claims, he said, adding that the phenomenon reveals a weak foundation on which to define strategies to address deforestation in the Amazon.

“Our results showed that the majority of migrants were Amazonians and for those born in the Andes, most had spent a significant part of their lives in the Amazon – 23 years on average.”

These findings demonstrate that the government needs a better understanding of the factors driving decisions by migrants, and how migration patterns are related to land use change in the Amazon.

Cronkleton observed that migrants moved into land they perceived as being unused and available for settlement. These lands were usually forests the settlers cleared for agriculture. Gradually, state agencies moved in to provide services, build schools, roads and bridges. They also began formalizing property rights, but only in places where the land had been deforested.

“Spontaneous migration into forests, followed by the construction of government-supported infrastructure and property rights for settlers that cleared forest, reveal how cross-sectoral policies have a greater impact on deforestation than the people occupying the landscape,” Cronkleton said.

His research focused on four multi-village landscapes in the central Peruvian Amazon, two of which were accessible by road and two accessible only by water.

“These areas were remote and inaccessible into the late 20th century with most rural settlements along rivers or abandoned logging roads,” Cronkleton said. “Conditions changed as violent unrest and coca production drove shifts in rural population, followed by pacification, drug eradication and crop substitutions.”

Subsequently, smallholder farmers moved into the area.

A survey of over 300 households in the area indicated that 71 percent were migrant households. Remote sensing by Temple University in the United States estimated deforestation rates in the landscapes around these villages, by measuring land use at two-year intervals from 1985 to 2015. They found that two landscapes inaccessible by roads, but accessible only by river, had almost no change in forest cover during this time. In comparison, sites accessible by road had lost 20 to 40 percent of forest cover.

Closer to the river, forested areas were more intact due to subsistence agricultural practices. Further away from the river, in sites accessible by road, scientists observed that greater investment in commercial agriculture, including cacao, oil palm and cattle ranching, was supplanting forests.

“Effective policy strategies for sustainable land management require a better understanding of how existing policy frameworks create context, how agendas and actions of different agencies compete in these landscapes and how the absence of clear government policies and goals can lead to unintended consequences,” Cronkleton said.



The underlying causes of migration are policy related, said Charles Martin-Shields, a researcher with the German Development Institute. The same person may move from place to place for different reasons.

“You could very well find that someone left one place because there was violence, then they left the second place because the work went away,” Martin-Shields said. “They’re facing a lack of rights, they’re facing a lack of economic opportunities, they’re facing a lack of social services. It becomes a policy question whether someone is a refugee or an economic migrant.”

International cooperation on development initiatives influence patterns of power, patterns of access to resources and patterns of violence. Forced migration and environmental change are a multi-dimensional challenge feeding into a lack of security, violence and increased economic degradation.

Fragility of nation states is also important to consider as a driver of forced migration and displacement, Martin-Shields said. Over time, concepts and definitions of state fragility have changed.

About 20 years ago, a state was considered fragile if it was poor and engaged in conflict. The concept has evolved and now the nature of the state is defined by authority, the ability to keep the space within national borders safe, the ability to deliver public services, and to deliver collective goods. Fragility is also defined by whether the population views the government as legitimate and respects rights.

“A migrant might move initially because they are fleeing violence, then they keep moving because they cannot find a job,” Martin-Shields said. “They may or may not be treated as a refugee. You could very well say they’re an economic migrant and that’s that. On the other side, was this not a person fleeing violence initially who deserves some kind of protection?”

The legal space around emerging patterns of forced displacement has created some very challenging legal gray areas. Basing policies on development cooperation on the premise that migration will end is probably the worst direction to go with discussions, he said.

“You can’t stop migration. People are going to move. The empirical evidence for as far as I can look back is that mobility is just what happens in our world, and it’s just going to happen more. On the flip side, you can’t really just throw open borders. I don’t think we can move to a borderless world.”

A receiving state has a responsibility to provide protection, services and ensure that human rights are met- which means some kind of migration management strategy is required.

The SDGs provide a framework for managing the causes of forced displacement and target 17 offers a vehicle for developing global partnerships.


Taking a territorial approach to managing migration in the face of climate change is crucial, said Paola Agostini, lead for landscapes in Europe and Central Asia at the World Bank. “If we don’t consider climate change, internal migrants can become a major issue,” she said. “Between now and 2050, in three regions of the world we will have more than 140 million internal migrants – in South Africa, South Asia and Latin America.”

Major climate change related causes of migration include lower crop productivity, water shortages and sea level rise.

“The good news is that we can take actions and really strongly reduce this kind of impact.”

As nomads, we realize we live in a landscape that is very fragile and faces severe drought, said Lampat Parashina, Maasai leader and rangelands practitioner from Southern Kenya, the South Rift Association of Land Owners.

“We need partnerships not patronage,” Parashina said. We need communities to be taken as serious stakeholders and we need to focus on bringing solutions at the livelihood level so that people want to stay on the land.

Migration is a complex issue, but if we add to this the ethnic element and talk about the migration of indigenous peoples, the situation becomes even more complicated, said Eileen Mairena-Cunningham from the Indigenous Peoples Major Group on Sustainable Development.

“Regardless of the cause that drives the migration of indigenous men, women, youth and children, the effect is the same: the territorial uprooting and therefore the loss of indigenous knowledge and culture itself,” she said.

“Before talking about the effects of such processes on natural landscapes and forests, we have to remember that indigenous peoples have a deep spiritual connection with our lands, territories and natural resources. For others, the land has an economic condition, for us the land and territories are our mother, the space of cultural reproduction and Laman Laka (wellbeing).”

For more information on this topic, please contact Peter Cronkleton at p.cronkleton@cgiar.org.
This research was supported by Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany
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Topic(s) :   Food security Landscapes Rights Restoration SDGs