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

The Southern Yucatán Case

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Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Southern Yucatán Peninsular Region project, or SYPR project, defined the study area and labeled it the southern Yucatán region (Turner et al. 2001, 2004).

  2. 2.

    For example, Plan Piloto Forestal (Pilot Forestry Plan) supports communally-managed extractive forest reserves within ejido lands and provides training to ejido members in sustainable forest management (Galletti 1998). Projects of the Consejo Regional Agrosilvopecuario y de Servicios de X-pujil are another example (see Roy Chowdhury and Turner 2006; Rueda 2007).

  3. 3.

    Changes in Article 27 also gave ejidatarios the option to obtain private land titles, which could be sold (Cornelius 1992), but this option has not been adopted in the Southern Yucatán. Also, the “right of absence” option differs among ejidos. Some adhere to pre-1992 rules about ejido presence and land access; while others, especially those with numerous US migrants, have become more flexible.

  4. 4.

    Classification started with a few well known land uses and covers. Training sites of these classes were identified for a Maximum Likelihood classification. Thereafter the IPCA procedure was applied to assess three forms of uncertainty in the classification: class inseparability, presence of mixed pixels, and presence of unknown classes. Mapping these uncertainties allowed for the refinement of existing training sites. Schmook undertook ground visits to areas determined to be unknown by the IPCA procedure to establish new training sites. Through successive iterations this procedure revealed all land uses and covers with minimal problems of class separation.

  5. 5.

    This region experiences high variability in the temporal and spatial distribution of precipitation that is evident in the dramatic variation in degree of deciduousness of the forest canopy. To overcome problems regarding this variation, prior spatial knowledge concerning the distribution of undisturbed forest classes was incorporated into the Maximum Likelihood procedure in the form of prior probability images. These were derived from a Bayesian soft classification of the 2000 image using the same training data as that used for the Maximum Likelihood classification. On the assumption that undisturbed forest classes remain stable, this knowledge derived from the best quality image (2000) was thus propagated to earlier years. This combination of traditional Maximum Likelihood classification and IPCA allowed for detailed distinctions between land use and cover classes for each year.

  6. 6.

    A person’s first language, Spanish or an indigenous language, acts as a crude but effective indicator of ethnicity.

  7. 7.

    In most of the cases, land holdings consist of the usufruct ejidal right. Few of the respondents additionally bought a few hectares in the ejido.

  8. 8.

    There are no significant age differences between offspring living in the ejido, but not at the parents’ house, and offspring in the US. Therefore, a generational bias between the groups can be discarded. The average age for offspring still living in the same ejido is 29.6 years (s = 9.6) and 25.9 years (s = 8.2) for offspring living in the US.

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Acknowledgements

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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Schmook, B., Radel, C. International Labor Migration from a Tropical Development Frontier: Globalizing Households and an Incipient Forest Transition. Hum Ecol 36, 891–908 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-008-9207-0

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Keywords

  • Mexico
  • Yucatán
  • Forest transition theory
  • Land-use change
  • Migration