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Investigating environmental migration and other rural drought adaptation strategies in Baja California Sur, Mexico


This paper explores the relationship between specific household traits (region of residence, head of household occupation, financial diversity, female level of education, land and animal ownership, social capital, and climate perception) and choice of specific adaptation strategies used by households in two sites in Baja California Sur, Mexico, during a severe drought from 2006 to 2012 using survey data and key informant interviews. We analyzed the co-occurrence of household traits adopting different drought adaptation strategies, then applied Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) to examine the relationship between traits and strategies and integrated interview data to understand how rancheros perceive associations. We found evidence of diversity among households within the larger cultural group, both in the types of resources they have available and in the adaptation strategies they select. However, the most robust finding across the analyses appeared to be urban access; that is, the more a household was able to access urban services including piped water, the less likely they were to have used one of the drought adaptation strategies under study. These findings suggest that social structure and public investments are stronger predictors of smallholder adaptation rather than individual household traits. We also found that rancheros seem to rely less on traditional environmental migration to adapt to drought and rather settle in key watershed zones. We call for targeted policies to address inequities to access fresh water, including urban water, during drought times for the benefit of overall watershed health and the sustainability of rural ranchero livelihoods as they evolve to respond to climatological and economic change.

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  1. We define environmental migration in accordance with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) (2007) “Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad.” We define “migration” as crossing a specified boundary to establish residence for any period of time, in this case, across a watershed boundary.

  2. Experts were contacted at the local non-profit organizations Niparajá (, headquartered in the La Paz area and Raices Vivas ( in the San Javier area, and professors at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur.

  3. No respondents mentioned water quality issues such as saltwater intrusion, only quantity issues.

  4. Baja California Sur became a state of Mexico in 1974, which may have prevented previous aid distribution to the territory.


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The authors would like to thank the respondents for giving their time to this study. We would like to acknowledge the following for their assistance in translation and transcription: Vinnie Enrique Caicero, Yuridia Davis, Chris Estrada, Joel Coronado Gaxiola, Mariana Ledesma, Irene López, Carlos Mancilla, Luz Fabiola Armenta Martínez, Laura Morales, Carlos Nava, Arry Gonzalez Peralta, Nancy Rubio, Cenia Alemán Sarabia, Jesenia Torres, Mabilia Urquidi, and Paola Bonilla Yee. Thank you to the following guides in the field: Aníbal López, Profesora Rosario Almeida Cruz, Ezequiel, Jesús “Chuy,” and the non-profit organizations Niparajá A.C. ( and Raíces Vivas (, without whom this project would not have been possible. Thank you to Mabilia Urquidi who produced the map.

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Correspondence to Melissa Haeffner.

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This research was approved by the Colorado State University Institutional Review Board Protocol 12-3573H.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Editor:Christopher Reyer.

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Haeffner, M., Baggio, J.A. & Galvin, K. Investigating environmental migration and other rural drought adaptation strategies in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Reg Environ Change 18, 1495–1507 (2018).

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  • Drought
  • Adaptation
  • Environmental migration
  • Livelihoods
  • Climate change
  • QCA
  • Multiple methods