Social change, out-migration, and exit from farming in Nepal

Abstract

Though international out-migration is widespread, little evidence exists regarding the consequences for economic change in sending countries, particularly in the densely populated agricultural areas of Asia. We examine associations between labor out-migration, remittances, and agricultural change in Nepal. Existing studies of this important population-environment relationship generally ignore the role of local community context, which is known to shape demographic behavior and likely exit from farming as well. Research offers opposing views of the consequences of out-migration for agricultural change—(1) loss of farm labor reduces engagement in agriculture, versus (2) loosening credit constraints from remittances increases engagement in agriculture—and indicates that both mechanisms likely operate simultaneously. Both of these mechanisms are likely to be shaped by changes in local context. Using multilevel dynamic models, we estimate associations between out-migration and remittances by household members and subsequent exit from farming, controlling for variations in community context. Results suggest international out-migration is associated with higher odds of exit from farming and simultaneously remittances are associated with lower odds of exit from farming. Results are robust against several key variations in model specification, including controls for household characteristics and local community context. However, local community context exerts an important independent influence on the hazard of exit from farming.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36755.v3, reference number 36755.

Notes

  1. 1.

    A common concern in studies of community influence on household behavior is that the measures of community are likely to be correlated. As a result, instead of being distinct dimensions as we theorize, these measures could be multiple measures of a single theoretical construct. To examine the issue of multicollinearity, we calculated the Pearson’s correlation across our measures of community context. We found the magnitude of the correlations between access to community services ranging from − 0.004 to 0.19, and that between community services and distance to urban center ranging from − 0.02 to 0.11. Although the magnitude of correlation coefficients between access to community services and distance to urban center is modest, none of these coefficients is larger than − 0.43. Because these correlation coefficients are modest, we treat these factors as independent dimensions of community context.

  2. 2.

    Although it may appear that the discrete-time method of creating multiple person-years for each household inflates the sample size, resulting in artificially deflated standard errors, this is not the case (Allison 1982, 1984; Petersen 1986, 1991). The estimated standard errors are consistent estimators of the true standard errors (Allison 1982).

  3. 3.

    Multilevel estimation is imperative because in these data, households are clustered within neighborhoods. Our multilevel models are two-level models with households (level 1 factors) and community characteristics (level 2 factors).

  4. 4.

    It might be argued that loss of labor through migration and additional income through remittance may operate interactively to affect household faming, with loss of labor encouraging exit from faming and additional income from remittance providing financial capital to continue farming. We investigated this possibility by adding to the main equation an interaction term between migration and remittance. However, the interaction effect was not statistically significant (results not shown). This result suggests that loss of labor through migration and added income from remittance do not affect household farming interactively.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the staff at the Institute for Social and Environmental Research in Nepal and gratefully acknowledge the respondents of the CVFS, whose generous contributions make this research possible. Any errors and omissions are the sole responsibility of the authors.

Funding

This research was jointly funded by the Department for International Development-Economic and Social Research Council Growth Research Programme (Award No. ES/L012065/1) and a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development center grant to the Populations Studies Center at the University of Michigan (P2CHD041028).

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by Dirgha Ghimire, William Axinn, and Prem Bhandari. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Dirgha Ghimire and all authors commented on subsequent versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Dirgha J. Ghimire.

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Dr. Ghimire is the Director of the Institute for Social and Environmental Research Nepal (ISER-N) in Nepal that collected the data for the research reported here. Dr. Ghimire’s conflict of interest management plan is approved and monitored by the Regents of the University of Michigan. All other authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Procedures involving human subjects were approved by the University of Michigan Health Sciences and Behavioral Sciences Institutional Review Board (HUM 00099969) and Nepal’s Institute for Social and Environmental Research in Institutional Review Board (IRB 00002109) and has an Assurance of Compliance approved by the Office for Human Research Protections (FWA 00004864).

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Ghimire, D.J., Axinn, W.G. & Bhandari, P. Social change, out-migration, and exit from farming in Nepal. Popul Environ 42, 302–324 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-020-00363-5

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Keywords

  • Out-migration
  • Exit from agriculture
  • South Asia
  • Social change