Population and Environment

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 113–141 | Cite as

The use of survey data to study migration–environment relationships in developing countries: alternative approaches to data collection

  • Richard E. BilsborrowEmail author
  • Sabine J. F. Henry
Original Paper


Growing interest in the environmental aspects of migration is not matched by research on their interrelationships, due partly to the lack of adequate data sets on the two together. Focusing on the microlevel, we describe the data required to effectively investigate these interrelationships. Data sources are discussed, including information that should be collected, focusing on household surveys and remote sensing. The main section of the paper describes three alternative approaches to data collection: (a) using existing population and environmental data from different sources, illustrated by Burkina Faso; (b) adding questions to a survey developed for another purpose, illustrated for Guatemala using a DHS survey; and (c) designing a new survey specifically to collect both migration and environmental data to investigate interrelationships, illustrated by Ecuador. Methods used and summary findings are described, followed by a discussion of their advantages and limitations. We conclude with recommendations as to effective use of each approach as research on migration–environment linkages moves forward.


Migration Rural environment Household survey Remote sensing Land use Climate change Burkina Faso Guatemala Ecuador 



For Burkina Faso, we are grateful to the Institut Superieur des Sciences de la Population (Burkina Faso), the Université de Montréal (Canada), and the Program Majeur en Population et Développement (Mali) for access to the demographic and community data, and to the Climatic Research Unit (UK) for rainfall data. For Guatemala, the data and questionnaire are publicly available. Funding for the original Ecuador data collection in 2008 and the preliminary analysis was provided by the US National Institutes of Health (R21-HD052092). Data were collected by the Centro de Estudios de Población y Desarrollo Social (Quito). Brian Frizzelle of the Spatial Analysis Unit of the UNC Carolina Population Center obtained and analyzed the satellite imagery. Finally, we are grateful for useful comments on a previous draft from Clark Gray and two anonymous referees.


  1. Antoine, P., Bry, X., & Diouf, P. (1987). La fiche AGEVEN: Un outil pour la collecte des données rétrospectives. Techniques d’enquêtes, 13(2), 173–181.Google Scholar
  2. Arguello, O. (1981). Estrategias de supervivencia: un concepto en busca de su contenido. Demografia y Economia 15(2).Google Scholar
  3. Axinn, W., Barber, J., & Ghimire, D. (1997). The neighborhood history calendar: A data collection method designed for dynamic multilevel modelling. Sociological Methodology, 27, 355–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bardsley, D., & Hugo, G. (2010). Migration and climate change: Examining thresholds of change to guide effective adaptation decision-making. Population and Environment, 32, 238–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bates, D. C. (2002). Environmental refugees? Classifying human migrations caused by environmental change. Population and Environment, 23(5), 465–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beckett, M., Davanzo, J., Sastry, N., Panis, C., & Peterson, C. (2001). The quality of retrospective data. Journal of Human Resources, 36(3), 593–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bie Lilleør, H., & Van den Broeck, K. (2011). Economic drivers of migration and climate change in LDCs. Global Environmental Change, special issue Global Environmental Migration, 21S, S70–S80.Google Scholar
  8. Bilsborrow, R. (1987). Population pressures and agricultural development in developing countries: A conceptual framework and recent evidence. World Development, 15(2), 183–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bilsborrow, R. E. (2009). Collecting data on the migration-environment nexus. In F. Laczko & C. Aghazarm (Eds.), Migration and the environment: Assessing the evidence (pp. 113–196). Geneva: International Organization for Migration.Google Scholar
  10. Bilsborrow, R. E., & Hogan, D. (Eds.). (1999). Population and deforestation in the humid tropics (p. 291). Liege: International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.Google Scholar
  11. Bilsborrow, R., Oberai, A., & Standing, G. (1984). Migration surveys in low-income countries: Guidelines for survey and questionnaire design. London: Croom-Helm.Google Scholar
  12. Bilsborrow, R., & Stupp, P. (1997). Demographic processes, land and the environment in Guatemala. In A. Pebley & L. Rosero-Bixby (Eds.), Demographic diversity and change in the Central American Isthmus (pp. 581–623). Santa Monica, CA: The Rand Corporation.Google Scholar
  13. Black, R. (2001). Environmental refugees: Myth or reality? Working Paper 34, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Geneva.Google Scholar
  14. Blaikie, P., & Brookfield, H. (1986). Land degradation and society. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  15. Blossfeld, H.-P., & Rohwer, G. (2001). Techniques of event-history modelling: New approaches to causal analysis. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  16. Boserup, E. (1965). The conditions of agricultural growth: The economics of agrarian change under population pressure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  17. Bot, A., Nachtergaele, F., & Young, A. (2000). Land resource potential and constraints at regional and country levels. FAO world soil resources reports. Rome: UN Food and Agricultural Organization.Google Scholar
  18. Carr, D. (2008). Migration to the maya biosphere reserve, Guatemala: Why place matters. Human Organization, 67, 37–48.Google Scholar
  19. Charnley, S. (1997). Environmentally- displaced peoples and the cascade effect: Lesons from Tanzania. Human Ecology, 2(4), 593–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chayanov, A. V. (1966). In: D. Thorner, B. Kerblay, & R. E. F. Smith (Eds.), Theory of the peasant economy. Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin, Inc.Google Scholar
  21. Davis, K. (1963). The theory of change and response in modern demographic history. Population Index, 294, 345–366.Google Scholar
  22. De Jong, G., & Gardner, R. (Eds.). (1981). Migration decision making: Multidisciplinary approaches to micro-level studies in developed and developing countries. Oxford: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  23. De Vera, D. (2007). Indigenous people in the Philippines, 18 p. (
  24. El-Hinnawi, E. (1985). Environmental Refugees. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme.Google Scholar
  25. Ellis, F. (2000). Rural livelihoods and diversity in developing countries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Entwisle, B., & Stern, P. (Eds.). (2005). Population, land use, and the environment. Washington, DC: National Research Council, National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  27. FAO. (2010). Global forest resources assessment: Main report. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.Google Scholar
  28. Findley, S. (1994). Does drought increase migration? A study of migration from rural Mali during the 1983–1985 drought. International Migration Review, 28(3), 539–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Foresight: Migration and Global Environmental Change (2011). Final project report. London: The Government Office for Science.Google Scholar
  30. Frankenberg, E. (2000). Community and price data. In designing household survey questionnaires for developing countries. In M. Grosh & P. Glewwe (Eds.), Lessons from 15 years of the living standard measurement study (pp. 315–338). Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  31. Geist, H. J., & Lambin, E. F. (2001). What drives tropical deforestation? A meta-analysis of proximate and underlying causes of deforestation based on sub-national case study evidence (p. 1116). Belgium: LUCC International Project Office, Louvain-la-Neuve.Google Scholar
  32. Gemenne, F. (2010). Introduction. Hommes & Migrations, 1284, 6–9.Google Scholar
  33. Grandia, L., Schwartz, N., Corzo, A., Obando, O., & Ochoa, L. (2001). Petén: Salud, Migración y Recursos Naturales: Resultados del Módulo Ambiental en la Encuesta de Salud materno Infantil, 1999. Guatemala: Instituto Nacional de Estadística, USAID, and Measure/DHS Macro International.Google Scholar
  34. Gray, C. (2011). Soil quality and human migration in Kenya and Uganda. Global Environmental Change, 21, 421–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gray, C., & Bilsborrow, R. (2010). Environmental influences on out-migration in rural ecuador. Presented at the annual meeting of the population association of America, Dallas, April 15–17.Google Scholar
  36. Gray, C., & Mueller, V. (2011). Drought and population mobility in Rural Ethiopia. World Development (in press).Google Scholar
  37. Groenewold, G., & Bilsborrow, R. (2008). Design of samples for international migration surveys: Methodological considerations and lessons learned from a multi-country study in Africa and Europe. In C. Bonifazi, M. Okolski, J. Schoorl, & P. Simon (Eds.), International migration in Europe: New trends and new methods of analysis (pp. 293–312). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162, 1243–1248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Henry, S., & Bilsborrow, R. (2009). Migrant destination choice: A place utility approach in Burkina Faso, International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, XXVI international population conference, Marrakech, 27 Sept–3 Oct 2009.Google Scholar
  40. Henry, S., Boyle, P., & Lambin, E. F. (2003). Modeling inter-provincial migration in Burkina Faso, West Africa: The role of socio-demographic and environmental factors. Applied Geography, 23, 115–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Henry, S., Schoumaker, B., & Beauchemin, C. (2004). The impact of rainfall on the first out-migration: A multi-level event-history analysis in Burkina Faso. Population and Environment, 25(5), 423–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hijmans, R., Cameron, S., Parra, J., Jones, P., & Jarvis, A. (2005). Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas. International Journal of Climatology, 25(15), 1965–1978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hogan, D. J. (1991). Crescimento Demográfico e Meio Ambiente. Revista Brasileira de Estudos de População (Impresso). ABEP 8(1/2): 61–71.Google Scholar
  44. Hogan, D. J. (1995). Population and environment in Brazil: A changing Agenda. In J. I. Clarke & L. Tabah (Eds.), Population–environment–development interactions (pp. 245–252). Paris: CICRED-Paris.Google Scholar
  45. Hogan, D. J. (2001). Demographic dynamics and environmental change in Brazil. Revista Ambiente e Sociedade, 4(9), 43–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hogan, D. J. (2007). Human dimensions of global environmental change. Ambiente e Sociedade, 10, 56–72.Google Scholar
  47. Hogan, D. J., & Marandola, E, Jr. (2005). Towards an interdisciplinary conceptualisation of vulnerability. Population, Space and Place, 11(6), 455–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hogan, D. J., & Marandola, Jr., E. (Eds.) (2009). População e Mudança Climática: dimensões humanas das mudanças ambientais globais (Vol 1, 1st edn.). Campinas: Nepo/UNFPA, 290 p.Google Scholar
  49. Hugo, G. (2008). Migration, development and environment. Paper submitted to the PERN Cyberseminar,
  50. Ibrahim, F., & Ruppert, H. (1991). The role of rural–rural migration as a survival strategy in the Sahelian zone of the Sudan: A case study in Burush, N. Darfur. GeoJournal, 25(1), 31–38.Google Scholar
  51. INE. (2003). Censo de Poblacion y Vivienda de 2002. Guatemala: Instituto de Estadistica.Google Scholar
  52. INSD. (1991). Recensement Général de la Population, Décembre 1985, Volume II: Les Données Provinciales, Résultats Définitifs. Ouagadougou: Direction de la Démographie.Google Scholar
  53. IOM (2007). Expert SEMINAR: Migration and the environment, international dialogue on migration, No. 10. Geneva: International Organization for Migration.Google Scholar
  54. Keller, M., Bustamante, M., Gash, J., & Silva Dias, P. (Eds.). (2009). Amazonia and global change. Geophysical monograph 186 (p. 563). Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union.Google Scholar
  55. Kibreab, G. (1997). Environmental causes and impact of refugee movements: A critique of the current debate. Disasters, 21(1), 20–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Kliot, N. (2004). Environmentally induced population movements: Their complex sources and consequences. In J. D. Unruh, M. S. Krol, & K. Nurit (Eds.), Environmental change and its implications for population migration. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  57. Kniveton, D., Schmidt-Verkerk, K., Smith, C., & Black, R. (2008). Climate change and migration: Improving methodologies to estimate flows (International Organization for Migration, Migration Research Series 33). Geneva: International Organization for Migration.Google Scholar
  58. Kniveton, D., Smith, C., Black, R., & Schmidt-Verkerk, K. (2009). Challenges and approaches to measuring the migration-environment nexus. In F. Laczko & C. Aghazarm (Eds.), Migration, environment and climate change. Geneva: International Organization for Migration.Google Scholar
  59. Laurian, L., Bilsborrow, R., & Murphy, L. (1998). Migration decisions among settler families in the Ecuadorian Amazon: The second generation. Research in Rural Sociology and Development, 7, 169–195.Google Scholar
  60. Leighton, M. (2009). Migration and slow-onset disasters: Desertification and drought. In F. Laczko & C. Aghazarm (Eds.), Migration, environment and climate change (pp. 319–351). Geneva: International Organization for Migration.Google Scholar
  61. Leonard, H. (1987). Natural resources and economic development in Central America: A regional environmental profile. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.Google Scholar
  62. Liu, J., An, L., Batie, S., Groop, R., Liang, Z., Linderman, M., et al. (2003). Human impacts on land cover and panda habitat in Wolong Nature Reserve: Linking ecological, socioeconomic, demographic, and behavioral data. In J. Fox, R. Rindfuss, S. Walsh, & V. Mishra (Eds.), People and the environment: Approaches for linking household and community surveys to remote sensing and GIS (pp. 241–263). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  63. Lonergan, S. (1998). The role of environmental degradation in population displacement. Environmental Change and Security Report, 4, 5–15.Google Scholar
  64. Lonergan, S., & Swain, A. (1999). Environmental degradation and population displacemùent. Aviso 2.
  65. Malthus, T. R. (1960). On population (first essay on population, 1798, and second essay on population, 1803), Modern Library, for Random House, New York.Google Scholar
  66. Marandola, E, Jr, & Hogan, D. J. (2007). Vulnerabilities and risks in population and environment studies. Population and Environment, 28, 83–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Marquette, C. (1998). Land use patterns among small farmer settlers in the northeastern Ecuadorian Amazon. Human Ecology, 26(4), 573–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Marquette, C., & Bilsborrow, R. E. (1998). Population and environment relationships in developing countries: Recent approaches and methods. In B. B. Baudot & W. Moomaw (Eds.), People and their planet: Searching for balance (pp. 29–44). St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  69. Massey, D., Axinn, W., & Ghimire, D. (2010). Environmental change and out-migration: Evidence from Nepal. Population and Environment, 32(2–3), 109–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Mathieu, P. (1993). Population, environnement Et Enjeux Fonciers Des Politiques Agricoles: Le Cas Des Pays Du Sahel. In Intégrer Population Et Développement (Eds.), C. CIDEP, Chaire Quetelet 1990 (pp. 433–448). Louvain-la- Neuve/Paris:Academia/l’Harmattan.Google Scholar
  71. Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. J., Randers, J., & Behrens, W, I. I. I. (1972). Limits to growth. New York: New American Library.Google Scholar
  72. Meze-Hausken, E. (2000). Migration caused by climate change: How vulnerable are people in dryland areas? A case-study in Northern Ethiopia. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 5, 379–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Myers, N. (1993). Environmental refugees in a globally warmed world. BioScience, 43(11), 752–761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Myers, N. (2002). Environmental refugees: A growing phenomenon of the 21st century. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B Biological Sciences, 357(1420): 609–613.Google Scholar
  75. New, M., Hulme, M., & Jones, P. (2000). Representing 20th century space-time climate variability. II: Development of 1901–1996 monthly terrestrial climate fields. Journal of Climate, 13, 2217–2238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Newland, K. (2011). Climate change and migration dynamics. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  77. Oglethorpe, J., Ericson, J., Bilsborrow, R., & Edmond, J. (2007). People on the move: Reducing the impacts of human migration on biodiversity. Washington, DC: Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund.Google Scholar
  78. Pan, W., Walsh, S., Bilsborrow, R., Frizzelle, B., & Erlien, C. (2004). Farm-level models of spatial patterns of land use and land cover dynamics in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 101, 117–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Pebley, A. (1998). Demography and the environment. Demography, 35(4), 377–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Petit, C. (2001). Detection and reconstruction of land-use and land-cover changes from multi-source cartographic and remote sensing data. PhD dissertation, Geography Department, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium.Google Scholar
  81. Pichler, M. (2011). Agrocarburants en Indonésie: logiques, structures, conflits et consequences. In Agrocarburants: impacts au Sud? Atnertives Sud, CETRI, Syllepse (Eds.), Paris, Louvain-la-Neuve, pp. 57–75.Google Scholar
  82. Poirier, J., Piché, V., Le Jeune, G., Dabiré, B., & Wane, H. R. (2001). Projet D’étude Des Stratégies De Reproduction Des Populations Sahéliennes À Partir De L’enquête Dynamique Migratoire, Insertion Urbaine Et Environnement Au Burkina Faso. Cahiers québécois de démographie, 30(2), 289–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Read, J., & Lam, N. (2002). Spatial methods for characterizing land cover and detecting land-cover change for the tropics. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 23(12), 2457–2474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Renaud, F., Bogardi, J., Dun, O., & Warner, K. (2007). Control, adapt or flee: How to face environmental migration (Paper 5/2007, Interdisciplinary Security Connections), Bonn: United Nations University Institute for Environmental and Human Security,
  85. Robinson, W. (1950). Ecological correlations and the behavior of individuals. American Sociological Review, 15(3), 351–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Santo Tomas, P., Summers, L., & Clemens, M. (2009). Décompte des migrants: cinq mesures pour de meilleures données sur la migration. Rapport de la Commission sur les données relatives à la migration internationale pour la recherche et la politique de dévelopment. Centrer for Global Development. 28p.
  87. Schoumaker, B., Dabire, B., & Gnoumou-Thiombiano, B. (2006). Collecting community histories to study the determinants of demographic behaviour. A survey in Burkina Faso. Population, 61(1–2), 81–107.Google Scholar
  88. Siegel, J., & Swanson, D. (Eds.). (2004). The methods and materials of demography (2nd ed.). London: Elsevier Academic Press.Google Scholar
  89. Som, R. (1973). Recall lapse in demographic enquiries. New York: Asia Publishing House.Google Scholar
  90. Stern, N. (2007). The economics of climate change: The stern review. London: HM Treasury.Google Scholar
  91. United Nations (1998). Recommendations on statistics of international migration: Revision 1. Statistical papers series M, No. 58, Rev. 1. New York: Statistics Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.Google Scholar
  92. United Nations (2009). Proceedings of expert group meeting on population distribution, Urbanization, Internal Migration and Development, New York, Jan. 21–23, 2008. New York: UN Population Division.Google Scholar
  93. United Nations (in press). Technical report on the use of censuses and surveys to measure international migration. Report of UN expert group meeting in New York, August, 2009. New York: UN Statistical Office.Google Scholar
  94. van der Geest, K. (2011). North-South Migration in Ghana: What role for the environment? International Migration, 49(s1):69–94.Google Scholar
  95. Walsh, S., Bilsborrow, R., McGregor, S., Frizzelle, B., Messina, J., Pan, W., et al. (2003). Integration of longitudinal surveys, remote sensing time-series, and spatial analyses: Approaches for linking people and place. In J. Fox, R. Rindfuss, S. Walsh, & V. Mishra (Eds.), Linking household and remotely sensed data: Methodological and practical problems (pp. 91–130). London: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  96. Warner, K. (2010). Global environmental change and migration: Governance challenges. Global Environmental Change, 20, 402–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Zetter, R. (2011). Protecting environmentally displaced, people. Developing the capacity of legal and normative frameworks. Research Report, Refugee Studies Center, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
  98. Zimmerer, K., & Bassett, T. (2003). Political ecology: An integrative approach to geography and environment-development studies. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Département de Géographie, Facultés Universitaires Notre-Dame de la PaixUniversite de NamurNamurBelgium

Personalised recommendations