Impacts of out-migration on land management in mountain areas

Schwilch, Gudrun; Jaquet, Stéphanie; Liniger, Hanspeter; Sudmeier-Rieux, K.; Penna, I.; Jaboyedoff, M.; Kaenzig, R. (2013). Impacts of out-migration on land management in mountain areas (Unpublished). In: Linking sustainable development, global migration, climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction – Identifying emerging issues. Lausanne, Schweiz. 02.-04.12.2013.

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Out-migration from mountain areas is leaving behind half families and elderly to deal with managing the land alongside daily life challenges. A potential reduction of labour force as well as expertise on cropping practices, maintenance of terraces and irrigation canals, slope stabilization, grazing, forest and other land management practices are further challenged by changing climate conditions and increased environmental threats. An understanding of the resilience of managed land resources in order to enhance adaptation to environmental and socio-economic variability, and evidence of the impact of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) on the mitigation of environmental threats have so far not sufficiently been tackled. The study presented here aims to find out how land management in mountains is being affected by migration in the context of natural hazards and climate change in two study sites, namely Quillacollo District of Bolivia and Panchase area of Western Nepal, and which measures are needed to increase resilience of livelihoods and land management practices. The presentation includes draft results from first field work periods in both sites.
A context of high vulnerability
According to UNISDR, vulnerability is defined as “the characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard”.Hazards are another threat affecting people’s livelihood in mountainous area. They can be either natural or human induced. Landslides, debris flow and flood are affecting peopleGood land management can significantly reduce occurrence of hazards. In the opposite bad land management or land abandonment can lead to negative consequences on the land, and thus again increase vulnerability of people’s livelihoods.


The study integrates bio-physical and socio-economic data through a case study as well as a mapping approach. From the social sciences, well-tested participatory qualitative methodologies, typically used in Vulnerability and Capacity Analyses, such as semi-structured interviews with so-called ‘key informants’, transect walks, participatory risk and social resource mapping are applied. The bio-physical analysis of the current environmental conditions determining hazards and structural vulnerability are obtained from remote sensing analysis, field work studies, and GIS analysis
The assessment of the consequences of migration in the area of origin is linked with a mapping and appraisal of land management practices (, Schwilch et al., 2011). The WOCAT mapping tool (WOCAT/LADA/DESIRE 2008) allows capturing the major land management practices / technologies, their spread, effectiveness and impact within a selected area. Data drawn from a variety of sources are compiled and harmonised by a team of experts, consisting of land degradation and conservation specialists working in consultation with land users from various backgrounds. The specialists’ and land users’ knowledge is combined with existing datasets and documents (maps, GIS layers, high-resolution satellite images, etc.) in workshops that are designed to build consensus regarding the variables used to assess land degradation and SLM. This process is also referred to as participatory expert assessment or consensus mapping.
The WOCAT mapping and SLM documentation methodologies are used together with participatory mapping and other socio-economic data collection (interviews, questionnaires, focus group discussions, expert consultation) to combine information about migration types and land management issues. GIS and other spatial visualization tools (e.g. Google maps) will help to represent and understand these links.


In Nepal, migration is a common strategy to improve the livelihoods. Migrants are mostly men and they migrate to other Asian countries, first to India and then to the Gulf countries. Only a few women are migrating abroad. Women migrate essentially to main Nepali cities when they can afford it. Remittances are used primarily for food and education; however they are hardly used for agricultural purposes. Besides traditional agriculture being maintained, only few new practices are emerging, such as vegetable farming or agroforestry. The land abandonment is a growing consequence of outmigration, resulting in the spreading of invasive species. However, most impacts of migration on land management are not yet clear. Moreover, education is a major concern for the respondents; they want their children having a better education and get better opportunities. Linked to this, unemployment is another major concern of the respondents, which in turn is “solved” through outmigration.
Migration is a common livelihood strategy in Bolivia. In the area of study, whole families are migrating downward to the cities of the valleys or to other departments of Bolivia, especially to Chapare (tropics) for the coca production and to Santa Cruz. Some young people are migrating abroad, mostly to Argentina. There are few remittances and if those are sent to the families in the mountain areas, then they are mainly used for agriculture purpose. The impacts of migration on land management practices are not clear although there are some important aspects to be underlined. The people who move downward are still using their land and coming back during part of the week to work on it. As a consequence of this multi-residency, there is a tendency to reduce land management work or to change the way the land is used.
As in Nepal, education is a very important issue in this area. There is no secondary school, and only one community has a primary school. After the 6th grade students have therefore to go down into the valley towns to study. The lack of basic education is pushing more and more people to move down and to leave the mountains.


This study is on-going, more data have to be collected to clearly assess the impacts of out-migration on land management in mountain areas. The first results of the study allow us to present a few interesting findings. The two case studies are very different, however in both areas, young people are not staying anymore in the mountains and leave behind half families and elderly to manage the land. Additionally in both cases education is a major reason for moving out, even though the causes are not always the same. More specifically, in the case of Nepal, the use of remittances underlines the fact that investment in agriculture is not the first choice of a family. In the case of Bolivia, some interesting findings showed that people continue to work on their lands even if they move downward. The further steps of the study will help to explore these interesting issues in more detail.


Schwilch G., Bestelmeyer B., Bunning S., Critchley W., Herrick J., Kellner K., Liniger H.P., Nachtergaele F., Ritsema C.J., Schuster B., Tabo R., van Lynden G., Winslow M. 2011. Experiences in Monitoring and Assessment of Sustainable Land Management. Land Degradation & Development 22 (2), 214-225. Doi 10.1002/ldr.1040
WOCAT/LADA/DESIRE 2008. A Questionnaire for Mapping Land Degradation and Sustainable Land Management. Liniger H.P., van Lynden G., Nachtergaele F., Schwilch G. (eds), Centre for Development and Environment, Institute of Geography, University of Berne, Berne

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > NCCR North-South Management Centre [discontinued]
10 Strategic Research Centers > Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)

UniBE Contributor:

Schwilch, Gudrun; Jaquet, Stéphanie and Liniger, Hanspeter


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 330 Economics




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Date Deposited:

14 Oct 2014 16:18

Last Modified:

09 Sep 2017 21:47




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