Migration: A Mechanism to Manage Agricultural Risk

As we increasingly recognize the far reaching impacts of climate change, research has turned greater attention to the concept of environmentally-induced migration. Vulnerable populations such as the poor and landless are more likely to migrate as a result of environmental shocks, such as drought or excessive rainfall. Recent studies of climate-related migration in northern Nigeria and rural Ethiopian highlands enhance understanding of additional factors that interact with the environment to affect population mobility.

Due to a lack of formal institutions to reduce household vulnerability in Nigeria, internal migration is a strategy commonly employed to diversify income sources, which mitigates agricultural risk. Because weather-related variability such as rainfall and temperature fluctuation will rise with climate change, intensifying agricultural risk has led to a concern about a potential rural exodus into urban areas, which would strain limited resources in Nigerian cities.

Panel data examining migration patterns in Ethiopia reveal that during periods of drought men are more likely to migrate, while women are more likely to remain at home. Data drawn from the Ethiopia Rural Household Survey demonstrate that men from households that own little or no land have especially high labor mobility during times of drought, indicating that poor and landless populations are more vulnerable to environment-induced migration. Interestingly, women are less mobile in response to environmental shocks, which negatively impact wedding finances and heighten the value of female labor in the home.

Understanding how migration is used as a strategy to manage risk to agriculture can illuminate the various social and economic dimensions in a household’s ability to adapt to weather-related shocks. This will inform the design of public services and resource allocation in order to best respond to policy challenges arising from climate change and trends towards urbanization.