MARIS is a policy community sharing a common interest in putting migration at the forefront of global agricultural research.
The role outmigration plays in shaping agricultural livelihoods and food security is often overlooked. Out-migration and the movement of young people out of agriculture has huge significance in shaping the trajectory of agricultural development, and the implications for policy and practice are unprecedented. The MARIS network will work to play a catalyzing role in developing a research agenda on migration, agriculture and resilience. This includes fostering research collaboration to unpack the dynamic relationship between climatic, ecological and water stress and migration, while identifying development outcomes for those who stay behind. Read the full MARIS concept note here.
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Remittances and agricultureClimate change and agrarian stressAgricultural knowledge systemsInequality
While the ‘positive’ economic impact of remittances has been widely cited in migration literature, there are unanswered questions regarding the degree to which they can be a positive driver of change in agriculture. Past research has shown a preponderance for funds to be allocated in the non-productive sphere, to meet basic subsistence needs. How does one understand investment decisions, under conditions are remittances re-invested in irrigation, equipment and other inputs necessary for sustainable intensification? How are remittance flows mediating shifts in local agrarian inequalities, such as those rooted in land tenure and access to water? While migration can induce significant labour shortages, can remittances be used to purchase labour saving equipment to offset these stresses?
Climate change and the associated water scarcity is an important driver of migration, although it is necessary to move beyond functionalist explanations whereby migration is a direct consequence of climate change and its impact on agrarian livelihoods and take a more nuanced approach. This was a key finding of a UK Government Office for Science commissioned report in 2011. IWMI research from South Asia has shown how migration is driven by a combination of climatic and political-economic stress including rising costs of living and farm inputs, an energy crisis in irrigation and a poor terms of trade for agriculture. Understanding the nuances behind the decision to leave agriculture is a key priority. It is also useful to understand what migration means for adaptation to climate change or other environmental stresses. For example, in the context of feminization of agriculture due to migration, it is useful to develop a link between migration research and established work on the gendered barriers to adopting climate smart technologies. Migration can cause new vulnerabilities for those who stay behind.
Migration and the associated change in gender and generational roles can result in a shift in the knowledge landscape within farming communities. The reduced labour contributions of young people can result in declines in agro-ecological knowledge acquired through work. How does this affect agriculture and natural resource management when and if they return to the land? Conversely, can migrants bring new knowledge and skills which can be mobilized productively in agriculture and natural resource management? Who are the appropriate actors for agricultural line agencies to target at a local level concerning agro-ecological knowledge development? There has been an important shift in gender and generational roles, and does this create a need to reorient agricultural extension services? In a similar vein, the desire to pursue a formal education is often interconnected with patterns of migration. Youth may migrate to study and work part time; or migrants may use remittances to invest in their children’s education, in the hope that when they migrate they can receive better work. Are there ways in which formal education can be made more relevant for agrarian livelihoods when and if they return?
It is not well understood as to whether migration reduces or intensifies inequalities. There are several issues at play. Firstly, while migration of family members may increase the bargaining power of marginalized farmers and enhance their access to cash, it can also intensify the divergence in the distribution of assets between less and more successful families with migrants. Questions include, what new forms of differentiation emerge between different sizes of farmers and social groups as a result of migration? What does migration mean for pre-existing, power laden agrarian relations such as that between landlords and tenants, creditors and debtors, rich farmers and poor farmers. Secondly, the feminisation of agriculture can also create new patterns of vulnerability for women who stay behind, even if it increases their decision making power and control over assets within the household. Finally, there are questions related to whether migration causes changes in land use, including access and rights regimes for common property resources.