Impacts of Outmigration on Land Management in a Nepali Mountain Area

  • Gudrun SchwilchEmail author
  • Anu Adhikari
  • Michel Jaboyedoff
  • Stéphanie Jaquet
  • Raoul Kaenzig
  • Hanspeter Liniger
  • Ivanna M. Penna
  • Karen Sudmeier-Rieux
  • Bishnu Raj Upreti


This study examines the impacts of migration on land management in a mountain area of Nepal, complemented by insights from a smaller case study in Bolivia. Migration to cities and abroad increasingly leaves behind fragmented families and the elderly. Livelihoods as well as the management of land are affected by a changing labor force, traditional knowledge, remittances, and other consequences of migration. In this study, we explore how these issues affect land and its management, and what measures and strategies are being taken by the people left behind. Mapping methodology from the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT) was used to assess land management practices in a subwatershed in Western Nepal. In combination with other research methods, the mapping enabled a better understanding of the impacts of migration on land degradation and conservation. Preliminary findings reveal negative as well as positive impacts. The main degradation problem found was the growth of invasive alien plant species, while overall vegetation and forest cover had increased, and some types of degradation, such as soil erosion or landslides, were even reduced. A feminization of agriculture has also been observed in the Nepali case study, in contrast to the Bolivian case which revealed that whole families were migrating, with mostly men temporarily returning to manage the land. The findings of this study suggest that a more differentiated and context-specific view is required when looking at the impact of migration on land management.


Sustainable land management Migration Impact Land degradation Nepal 



This 2-year study (2012–2014) was funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies, based in Geneva. We would like to send sincere thanks to the communities and people who helped us during the fieldwork. We are grateful to our partners in Nepal, G. Shrestha, S. Devkota, G. Subedi, and P. Baral; and in Boliva, E. Cuba and A. Machaca. We also thank Tina Hirschbuehl for language editing this chapter.


  1. Adhikari B, Di Falco S, Lovett JC (2004) Household characteristics and forest dependency: evidence from common property forest management in Nepal. Ecol Econ 48(2):245–257. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2003.08.008 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersen LE (2002) Rural-Urban migration in Bolivia: advantages and disadvantages. Documento de Trabajo, 5Google Scholar
  3. Black R, Bennett SRG, Thomas SM, Beddington JR (2011) Climate change: migration as adaptation. Nature 478(7370):447–449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carswell GM, Lindblade KA, Tumuhairwe JK (1998) Mitigating the relationship between population growth and land degradation: land-use change and farm management in Southwestern Uganda. AMBIO 27(7):565–571Google Scholar
  5. Davis J, Lopez-Carr D (2010) The effects of migrant remittances on population–environment dynamics in migrant origin areas: international migration, fertility, and consumption in highland Guatemala. Popul Environ 32(2-3):216–237. doi: 10.1007/s11111-010-0128-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davis J, Lopez-Carr D (2014) Migration, remittances and smallholder decision-making: implications for land use and livelihood change in Central America. Land Use Policy 36:319–329. doi: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2013.09.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. de Graaff J, Amsalu A, Bodnár F, Kessler A, Posthumus H, Tenge A (2008) Factors influencing adoption and continued use of long-term soil and water conservation measures in five developing countries. Appl Geogr 28(4):271–280. doi: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2008.05.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. DFID (1999) Sustainable livelihoods guidance sheet. UK Department for International Development, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. EbA (2014) Ecosystem and ecosystem services of panchase: an overview. EbA, KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  10. Findlay AM (2011) Migrant destinations in an era of environmental change. Global Environ Change 21(Suppl 1):S50–S58. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.09.004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Foley JA, Ramankutty N, Brauman KA, Cassidy ES, Gerber JS, Johnston M, Mueller ND, O’Connell C, Ray DK, West PC, Balzer C, Bennett EM, Carpenter SR, Hill J, Monfreda C, Polasky S, Rockstrom J, Sheehan J, Siebert S, Tilman D, Zaks DPM (2011) Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature 478(7369):337–342, CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gartaula HN, Visser L, Niehof A (2012) Shifting perceptions of food security and land in the context of labour out-migration in rural Nepal. Food Secur 4(2):181–194. doi: 10.1007/s12571-012-0190-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gautam AP, Webb EL, Shivakoti GP, Zoebisch MA (2003) Land use dynamics and landscape change pattern in a mountain watershed in Nepal. Agr Ecosyst Environ 99(1–3):83–96. doi: 10.1016/S0167-8809(03)00148-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gerrard J, Gardner R (2002) Relationships between landsliding and land use in the Likhu Khola Drainage Basin, Middle Hills, Nepal. Mt Res Dev 22(1):48–55. doi: 10.1659/0276-4741(2002)022[0048:rblalu];2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ghimire A, Upreti BR (2012) Migration, mobility and development: enhancing our understanding in Nepal, SAs RCO Discussion Paper 6. South Asia Regional Coordination Office of National Centre of Competence in Research North-South and Nepal Centre for Contemporary Research, KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  16. Gisladottir G, Stocking M (2005) Land degradation control and its global environmental benefits. Land Degrad Dev 16(2):99–112. doi: 10.1002/ldr.687 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. GoN (2012) National population and housing census 2011. GoN, KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  18. GoN (2013) District and VDC profile of Nepal. GoN, KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  19. Grau HR, Aide TM (2007) Are Rural–Urban migration and sustainable development compatible in mountain systems? Mt Res Dev 27(2):119–123. doi: 10.1659/mrd.0906 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gray CL (2009) Environment, land, and rural out-migration in the Southern Ecuadorian Andes. World Dev 37(2):457–468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Harden CP (1996) Interrelationships between land abandonment and land degradation: a case from the Ecuadorian Andes. Mt Res Dev 16(3):274–280. doi: 10.2307/3673950 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hurni H (2000) Assessing sustainable land management (SLM). Agr Ecosyst Environ 81(2):83–92. doi: 10.1016/S0167-8809(00)00182-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jaquet S, Schwilch G, Hartung-Hofmann F, Adhikari A, Sudmeier-Rieux K, Shrestha G, Liniger HP, Kohler T (2015) Does outmigration lead to land degradation? Labour shortage and land management in a western Nepal watershed. Appl Geogr 62:157–170. doi: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2015.04.013 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kaenzig R, Piguet E (2014) Migration and climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean. In: Piguet E, Laczko F (eds) People on the move in a changing climate, vol 2, Global migration issues. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 155–176. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-6985-4_7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Khanal R, Watanabe T (2006) Abandonment of agricultural land and its consequences. Mt Res Dev 26(1):32–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kollmair M, Banerjee S (2011) Drivers of migration in mountainous regions of the developing world: a review. In: Project F (ed) Migration and global environmental change. UK Government, LondonGoogle Scholar
  27. Liniger HP, Van Lynden G, Nachtergaele F, Schwilch G (2008) Questionnaire for mapping land degradation and sustainable land management (QM), WOCAT, LADA, DESIRE. CDE Bern, FAO Rome, ISRIC WageningenGoogle Scholar
  28. Maharjan A, Bauer S, Knerr B (2012) International migration. Evidence from Nepal. International Migration, Remittances and Subsistence Farming, KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  29. Munroe DK, van Berkel DB, Verburg PH, Olson JL (2013) Alternative trajectories of land abandonment: causes, consequences and research challenges. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 5(5):471–476. doi: 10.1016/j.cosust.2013.06.010 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. NIDS, NCCR (2011) Nepal Migration Year Book 2010. Nepal Institute of Development Studies (NIDS), National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South South Asia Coordination Office, KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  31. Nijenhuis G (2010) Embedding international migration: the response of Bolivian local governments and NGOs to international migration. Environ Urban 22(1):67–79. doi: 10.1177/0956247809356182 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Oven KJ, Petley DN, Rigg JD, Dunn CE, Rosser NJ (2008) Landslides, livelihoods and risk: vulnerability and decision-making in Central Nepal. Paper presented at the First World Landslide Forum, Tokyo, JapanGoogle Scholar
  33. OXFAM (2009) Bolivia: climate change, poverty and adaptation. OXFAM International, BoliviaGoogle Scholar
  34. Paudel KP, Dahal D, Shah R (2012) Study report on abandoned agriculture land in mid-hills of Nepal, Status, causes and consequences. Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research, World Agroforestry Centre, Forest Action, IUCN, NepalGoogle Scholar
  35. Petley DN (2010) On the impact of climate change and population growth on the occurrence of fatal landslides in South, East and SE Asia. Q J Eng Geol Hydrogeol 43(4):487–496. doi: 10.1144/1470-9236/09-001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Piguet E (2013) From “Primitive Migration” to “Climate Refugees”: the curious fate of the natural environment in migration studies. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 103(1):148–162. doi: 10.1080/00045608.2012.696233 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Raya RB, Sharma S (2008) Impact of land use in water quality of Phewa Lake, Pokhara, Nepal. Paper presented at the World Lake ConferenceGoogle Scholar
  38. Schwilch G, Bestelmeyer B, Bunning S, Critchley W, Herrick J, Kellner K, Liniger HP, Nachtergaele F, Ritsema CJ, Schuster B, Tabo R, van Lynden G, Winslow M (2011) Experiences in monitoring and assessment of sustainable land management. Land Degrad Dev 22(2):214–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Scoones I (1999) New ecology and the social sciences: what prospects for a fruitful engagement? Annu Rev Anthropol 28:479–507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Seddon D, Adhikari J, Gurung G (2002) Foreign labor migration and the remittance economy of Nepal. Critical Asian Stud 34(1):19–40. doi: 10.1080/146727102760166581 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sudmeier-Rieux K (2011) On landslide risk, resilience and vulnerability of mountain communities in Central-Eastern Nepal. UNIL, LausanneGoogle Scholar
  42. Sudmeier-Rieux K, Gaillard J-C, Sharma S, Dubois J, Jaboyedoff M (2012) Chapter 7 Floods, landslides, and adapting to climate change in Nepal: what role for climate change models? In: Climate change modeling for local adaptation in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region. Emerald Group Publishing, Bingley, pp 119–140. doi: 10.1108/S2040-7262(2012)0000011013 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Thapa G, Weber K (1995) Status and management of watersheds in the Upper Pokhara Valley, Nepal. Environ Manag 19(4):497–513. doi: 10.1007/bf02471963 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tiffen M, Mortimore M, Gichuki F (1994) More people less erosion: environmental recovery in Kenya. John Wiley, LondonGoogle Scholar
  45. UNDP (2012) Multi Hazard Risk Assessment Study and Development of Strategic Implementation Plan Phewa Watershed Area, KaskiGoogle Scholar
  46. UNU-INWEH (2011) Guidelines for the Preparation and Reporting on Globally-relevant SLM Impact Indicators for Project-level Monitoring. United Nations University, Hamilton, ONGoogle Scholar
  47. Upreti BN, Muller-Boker U (2010) Livelihood Insecurity and Social Conflict in Nepal. South Asia Regional Coordination Office, Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South., KathmanduGoogle Scholar
  48. Valdivia C, Seth A, Gilles JL, Garcia M, Jimenez E, Cusicanqui J, Navia F, Yucra E (2010) Adapting to climate change in Andean ecosystems: Landscapes, capitals, and perceptions shaping rural livelihood strategies and linking knowledge systems. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 100:818–834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Warner K, Hamza M, Oliver-Smith A, Renaud F, Julca A (2010) Climate change, environmental degradation and migration. Nat Hazards 55(3):689–715. doi: 10.1007/s11069-009-9419-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Warren A (2002) Land degradation is contextual. Land Degrad Dev 13(6):449–459. doi: 10.1002/ldr.532 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. WOCAT (2014) Sustainable land management. Accessed September 20, 2014

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gudrun Schwilch
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anu Adhikari
    • 2
  • Michel Jaboyedoff
    • 3
  • Stéphanie Jaquet
    • 1
  • Raoul Kaenzig
    • 4
  • Hanspeter Liniger
    • 1
  • Ivanna M. Penna
    • 3
  • Karen Sudmeier-Rieux
    • 3
  • Bishnu Raj Upreti
    • 5
  1. 1.Centre for Development and Environment CDEUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCNKathmanduNepal
  3. 3.Group of Risk Analysis – Institute of Earth Sciences (ISTE)University of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  4. 4.Institute of GeographyUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland
  5. 5.Nepal Center for Contemporary Research NCCRKathmanduNepal

Personalised recommendations