Land use changes and transnational migration the impact of remittances in Western Mexico

The present study focuses on the economic, political/institutional, technological, cultural, demographic and environmental drivers of land use change. It aims to understand the factors influencing land use decisions at the household level, in particular the influence of migration. The study is guided by the hypothesis that international migration is driving land use change through the investment of remittances, funds sent back by migrants to their families in the country of origin. This research is based on a political ecology approach and the conceptual framework relies on three theoretical concepts. First, the concepts of proximate causes and driving forces were used to identify the factors behind changing land use. In addition, the concept of remittance landscapes, a concept developed in the framework of this study, which is defined as an emerging type of landscape driven by the investment of remittances, was used to evaluate the impact of remittances on land use in the study area. Fieldwork was conducted in the municipality of Autlán in the state of Jalisco in Mexico over a total period of 8 months between 2002 and 2004. Land use changes between 1990 and 2000 were quantified based on satellite image analysis. Underlying driving forces of these changes were examined based on land use change data collected by survey as well as data available from municipal, state and federal agencies. Land use changes observed in the study area between 1990 and 2000 include a slight increase of agricultural land (2%), of urban land cover (0.5%) and of pine-oak forest (0.7%). Over the same period, pasture increased by 18% while dry forest decreased by 10%. Rapid and extensive land use change is occurring on rainfed agricultural land, as maize cultivation is converted to the cultivation of agave azul used for the production of tequila. The first plantations of agave azul were established in 1996 and by 2002, agave azul was planted on 33% of all rainfed agricultural land of the municipality. 84% of owners of rainfed land included in the survey had changed land use from maize to agave during this time period. The dynamics of several proximate causes are driving this change: 1) Market prices for maize decreased by 46% between 1994 and 2004 while the costs for agricultural inputs continually increased so that the cultivation of rainfed maize was no longer economically profitable; 2) The variability of rainfall combined with a lack of irrigation water limits the choice of economically viable alternatives to agave azul; 3) In the large majority of cases, landowners rent out their land to tequila companies in reverse leasing arrangements for seven-year periods (the duration of one growing cycle of agave azul). During this time they do not have to work on their own fields and are free to find off-farm employment or to migrate to the US and; 4) Landowners continue to receive agricultural subsidies even though the land is rented out, as agave azul is one of the eligible crops. Overall, the main driving forces identified in the study area are economic (market prices), environmental (variability of rainfall, soil quality, topography), political/institutional (agricultural subsidies, land tenure) and demographic (labor availability). Technology and culture appear to be less important. Results of the present study confirm the hypothesis that global factors, especially international trade agreements such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) increasingly influence land use change. However, they are not sufficient to function as a sole driver of land use change. Environmental factors are a critical determinant of whether a certain land use change will occur or not. The decisive aspect behind the observed land use changes are the multiple interactions between specific factors at different levels and not the predominance of one particular driving force functioning at a particular level. International migration is a significant livelihood strategy in the study area, especially for lower-income communities. On average, 50% of all households have or had at least one family member in the US as a migrant between 1980 and 2004, and remittances represent 45% of total household income. In general, the bulk of remittances income is used for subsistence needs and to repay debts. Nevertheless, on average, 30% of migrant households invest remittances in land, livestock, agricultural production and in house construction. All these investments lead to land use changes. The impact of remittances on land use changes is variable, and depends on the socio-economic, political and environmental context of the community and the individual situation of the migrant household. In low-income communities, remittances might be used to repair existing housing, while in higher-income communities, remittances are used to construct a new house, converting agricultural to urban land. With regard to changes in labor availability due to out-migration, the results are ambiguous. Migration can drive land use change by encouraging a shift to low-labor land use systems, but these land use changes that require less labor can also drive migration. The concept of remittance landscape developed by the researcher has proved useful for analysing the impact of remittances on land use changes. A combination of area-based and actor-based evaluation criteria are effective in order to describe quantitative as well as qualitative landscape transformations driven by the investment of remittances. Landscapes where the investment of remittances leads to a change of land use from subsistence to cash crop cultivation should be included as a potential type of remittance landscape, even though the basic type of the landscape (agricultural) remains unchanged. Accordingly, at least six different types of transformations into remittance landscapes are possible: a) forest to pasture, b) forest to agriculture, c) forest to urban, d) agriculture to pasture, e) agriculture to urban and f) change of agricultural system. In conclusion, the study area on which this research focused is not considered to contain any remittance landscapes because remittances are only partially driving the extensive land use changes occuring in the region.

Bolay, Jean-Claude
Lausanne, EPFL
Other identifiers:
urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-epfl-thesis3730-9

 Record created 2006-11-24, last modified 2018-03-17

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