Human Ecology

, Volume 36, Issue 6, pp 891–908 | Cite as

International Labor Migration from a Tropical Development Frontier: Globalizing Households and an Incipient Forest Transition

The Southern Yucatán Case
  • Birgit SchmookEmail author
  • Claudia Radel


This study documents labor migration and its impacts on household income, material well-being, and land-use practices in Mexico’s southern Yucatán and examines the relation of labor migration to local forest recovery. Drawing on a 203-household survey in 14 communities, we contrast migrating and non-migrating households, showing that migration earnings substitute for agricultural earnings and that migrating households cultivate significantly less farmland. A larger percentage of migrating households maintain pasture, but, on average, not more hectares. These dynamics are consistent with the decline in deforestation registered in the area for the year 2000. Incipient local forest recovery is considered in light of current forest transition theory, with an examination of three hypothesized paths to forest recovery: economic development, forest scarcity, and smallholder agricultural adjustment. The southern Yucatán case illustrates the need to explicitly incorporate the role of globalizing household economies into forest transition theory.


Mexico Yucatán Forest transition theory Land-use change Migration 



We thank B. L. Turner II, Jacqueline Geoghegan, Rinku Roy Chowdhury, Brad Jokisch, and several anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous drafts. Thanks also go to Chris Busch, with whom the field surveys were designed, and to Dalia Luz Hoil Villalobos, Vianel del Carmen Rojas Castillo, Jorge Armando López Chan and Maricela Sauri Palma for their invaluable help during the fieldwork period. We also want to thank Holger Weissenberger for his help with the maps. Special thanks go to the kind farmers in the southern Yucatán region who supported long hours of interviewing.

This research was supported by the southern Yucatán Peninsular Region (SYPR) project involving Clark University, the University of Virginia, El Colegio de La Frontera Sur, and Harvard University. The principal sponsors have been NASA-LCLUC (Land Cover and Land Use Change) program (NAG5-6045 and NAG5-11134), the Center for Integrated Studies of the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, Carnegie Mellon University (NSF SBR 95-21914) and NSF-Biocomplexity (BCS-0410016). Funding was also provided by the Global Change Education Program (under the US Department of Energy), the University of California’s Institute for Study of Mexico and the United States, and the Ecology Center at Utah State University.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ECOSUR (El Colegio de la Frontera Sur)ChetumalMexico
  2. 2.USU (Utah State University)LoganUSA

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