Migration and Forest Condition Literature Review

Key Findings

How does rural out-migration affect tropical forests and rural livelihoods? Migration out of rural landscapes has important consequences for the persistence and conservation of forests and forestbased resources in the global South. Ensuring that tropical forests are protected and remain ecologically functional will determine whether humans are able to avert catastrophic disruptions to food, water, and energy systems caused by climate change. In some instances, out-migration reduces pressure on forests and forest-based resources and allows for limited natural regeneration of forests in abandoned agricultural parcels. However, in other cases, rapid out-migration of able-bodied laborers weakens local customary land and forest tenure institutions, leading to the mismanagement of forests and an erosion in cultural norms surrounding sustainable use of forest-based resources. Moreover, in most cases, rural out-migration threatens the persistence of rural livelihoods as depopulation results in the loss of ablebodied laborers and subsequent reductions in agricultural production.

The variability in forest outcomes following out-migration makes it difficult to draw broad generalizations from the diverse and disparate case studies available, especially due to the lack of high quality, interdisciplinary or multi-disciplinary studies that couple longitudinal analyses of demographic change with household surveys, spatial data analysis, and ecological surveys of forest condition.

However, some recurring themes and patterns do emerge and can help inform evidence-based interventions that are tailored to a particular geographic region. The recommendations outlined below are not exhaustive and should be carefully considered in the context of local customs, norms, histories, and socioeconomic conditions – if properly implemented, these interventions could increase rural livelihood security and improve forest condition and management.

  1. Protect and promote forest regeneration through active management – while most landscapes are unlikely to return to pre-disturbance biodiversity levels and ecosystem functioning, these landscapes can provision some ecosystem services including aboveground carbon storage and habitat for wildlife. One possible mechanism to implement this recommendation is through the provision of direct incentives to rural smallholders to actively manage and protect regenerating forests on abandoned agricultural land. These incentives could be created through payments for ecosystem services schemes, carbon finance, or government programs.
  2. Strengthen customary and communal tenure institutions so that they can adapt to the loss of local participants while still actively managing forests for sustainable use. Labor scarcity and the erosion of cultural norms brought on by rural out-migration threatens the persistence of customary forest and land tenure institutions. Supporting local communities as they build adaptive capacity will be critical to ensure that they continue to manage forests for sustainable use and buffer against the encroachment of large-scale commercial interests. Case studies from Oaxaca, Mexico (Robson & Berkes, 2011) demonstrate that it is possible to build adaptive capacity in customary forest tenure institutions by allowing for flexibility in participation and by ensuring that community members have access to resources for managing forests with a reduced pool of laborers.
  3. Invest in agricultural extension programs that increase livelihood security for rural smallholders while empowering individuals in their choice to migrate out of or remain on their land. Migration of able-bodied laborers is leading to labor scarcity and a reduction in the cultivation of agricultural land. Subsidies for key agricultural inputs and incentives for crop production would ameliorate some of the pressure caused by out-migration and the loss of laborers for those smallholders who actively choose to continue inhabiting rural landscapes. By providing incentives for smallholders to sustainably intensify their production, these populations can act as a buffer against large-scale land acquisitions for commercial production.
  4. Invest in improvements in basic services in rural landscapes; access to quality education, health care, and off-farm employment opportunities is needed to empower rural smallholders to make the choice to stay or leave. Protecting rural livelihoods is an important strategy to ensure protection and conservation of tropical forests in conjunction with strong environmental protection policies. While improvements in socioeconomic status or livelihood security of rural smallholders may also lead to an increase in out-migration, investment in improving basic services ensures that individuals and families who wish to remain on their land are better supported in their choice.
  5. Invest in supporting women-headed households in certain rural landscapes where men make up the majority of outmigrants. Investments in improving tenure security of rural landholdings and supporting the participation of women in customary tenure institutions and both on-farm and off-farm livelihood opportunities can help to alleviate pressure on women-headed households where out-migration is primarily of able-bodied men. Case studies from Nepal (Jacquet et al., 2015) and Oaxaca (Angelsen et al., 2020) point to a lack of support for women-headed households in areas where out-migration of men has shifted the burden of maintaining and cultivating rural landholdings to women. Subsequent loss of productive agricultural land due to labor scarcity is in some cases increasing the socioeconomic precarity of these households and increasing pressure on forest-based resources.

Addressing GBV through Land and Property Rights Programs

This document describes why USAID’s land and property rights programs should integrate
programming to address gender-based violence (GBV) and details specific strategies for doing
so. Program examples are provided to illustrate how the strategies can be incorporated into
programs in crisis and conflict settings, and links to tools and resources are provided for
additional information.

This document is part of the Foundational Elements for Gender-Based Violence Programming in
Development, which include core principles, program elements (prevention, risk mitigation,
response, enabling environment), and process elements. Ideally, readers will familiarize
themselves with these sections of the Foundational Elements before reading this brief.

Gender Equality and Climate Finance Technical Brief

USAID’s response to the global climate crisis prioritizes the meaningful participation of critical populations–including women, youth, and other marginalized and underrepresented groups–to achieve targeted direct action and systems change. Climate finance offers a pathway to achieve equitable climate action and support a transition to a low-carbon future. Yet, most climate finance to date has been gender-neutral, failing to capture the specific roles and needs of women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals in achieving climate goals.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by natural and climate disasters when compared to their male counterparts. Furthermore, research suggests that gender-diverse individuals face increased risk of discrimination due to their gender identity. To ensure equitable climate action outcomes, climate finance must explicitly consider the gendered impacts of climate change and gendered disparities in access to finance.

Examples of gender-responsive climate finance include:

  • Providing businesses owned by women and gender-diverse individuals with equitable access to financing for climate adaptation and mitigation investments, for example by offering grants for first-loss capital or tailored loan products;
  • Increasing access to climate products or services (e.g., climate-linked insurance), particularly those that disproportionately benefit women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals;
  • Providing access to climate mitigation products or services where women and girls are primary stakeholders or beneficiaries (e.g., transitioning from solid or fossil fuels to cleaner household energy sources);
  • Investing in climate-impacted sectors—such as agriculture, fisheries, and forestry—where women and girls are primary stakeholders (e.g., beneficiaries, producers);
  • Ensuring social safeguards in climate investments that address women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals’ access to decision-making over the use of land resources, equitable benefit sharing, and property rights;
  • Investing in climate-impacted or climate-related companies where women constitute at least 30% of senior management or board seats; and
  • Investing in climate-impacted or climate-related companies where women and girls constitute at least 30% of employees and the company has committed to reporting on gender equality.

Land Documentation for Financial Inclusion Brief

The United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program has supported customary land documentation in the Eastern Province of Zambia in nine chiefdoms in Chipata and Petauke Districts, covering 30,000 parcels of land. The program promotes gender integration in the land documentation process and ensures that women’s land rights are registered and their interests and priorities are addressed. Land is the main asset for the rural poor who depend on agriculture-based livelihoods, and as such, documentation provides individuals with more secure tenure rights, reducing potential disputes and increasing the incentive to invest in their plots without fear of eviction. While customary land in Zambia cannot be used as collateral, documentation can increase people’s confidence that they will be able to collect their harvest at the end of the year and hence have access to income, which can enhance their financial security. 

 

Brief: Leveraging Formal Land Rights for Credit Access

This brief distills key information from the Leveraging Formal Land Rights for Credit Access report developed under the USAID Communications, Evidence and Learning (CEL) project. It seeks to shed light on an enduring development question—if formalization of rural land rights does not significantly unlock formal credit through collateralizing land, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa as theorized, are there alternative mechanisms by which formalization can improve credit access? After reviewing evidence for the collateral pathway, the brief summarizes emerging evidence on three alternative pathways and outlines evidence gaps to close and steps tenure programs can take to create an enabling environment for the pathways to function.

There is widespread agreement among researchers and practitioners that access to finance for small farmers and entrepreneurs makes essential contributions to poverty reduction and economic development. Lack of credit can lead to poverty traps, whereby households are unable to save enough to finance productive investments, and poverty becomes a self-perpetuating cycle
(Demirgüç-Kunt, Beck, and Honahan 2008). Though the expansion of microcredit in recent years has resulted in significant progress, the World Bank estimates that 1.7 billion people around the world remain “unbanked,” without access to formal financial services (Demirgüç-Kunt et. al. 2017).

One of the hypothesized pathways from formalization of land rights to economic benefits is through improved credit access for land holders. Formalizing and documenting property rights can enable owners to offer their property as collateral when seeking loans. Collateral reduces the risks to financial institutions in event of default, and thus can increase their willingness to lend. Access to
credit allows land users to make investments in their land such as improving soil fertility, or investing in irrigation, high quality seeds, or long-term crops and trees, all of which can contribute to increased productivity thereby improving economic benefits for smallholders. While these relationships are not necessarily linear, the ability for smallholders to invest in their land depends
largely on their ability to raise capital, whether from formal or informal sources (Lisher 2019).

Gender and Land in Traditional Land Management Area (TLMA) Mwansambo in Malawi: Gender Assessment Brief

The USAID Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program is working with the government of Malawi to support gender-responsive customary land registration in the traditional land management area (TLMA) Mwansambo in Nkhotakota District.

Traditional Authority (TA) Mwansambo is predominantly rural and farming dependent. It is a Chewa matrilineal area that normally has broader women’s rights to land, but with a patrilocal form of marriage (chitengwa) that tends to restrict women’s land rights. ILRG will provide technical assistance to strengthen the district-level land registry and support land clerks; promote the inclusion of women and youth in the land documentation process; engage key stakeholders to shift gender norms around women’s land rights; and convene dialogues with national and international stakeholders to discuss lessons learned and build positive momentum.

To better understand the barriers and opportunities for gender-responsive and socially inclusive customary land registration and inform program implementation, a gender assessment was carried out in September and October 2021. Quantitative data was gathered through a semi-structured questionnaire with 447 respondents. Qualitative data was collected through in-depth key informant interviews with 19 stakeholders at national, district, and community levels, as well as 15 focus group discussions (FGD) and participatory exercises with 180 men, women, young men, and young women from seven communities. This brief provides an overview of the findings and recommendations of the assessment; the full gender assessment report with details on the methodology, a socioeconomic profile of TA Mwansambo, findings, recommendations, and data collection tools can be found here.

Issue Brief: Environmental Defenders

This USAID Issue Brief on Environmental Defenders provides an introduction to the range of issues facing environmental defenders worldwide, followed by a discussion of key areas of engagement and donor support that demonstrate possible responses to protect the rights and well-being of environmental defenders.

Environmental defenders are people who “take a stand and peaceful action against the unjust, discriminatory, corrupt, or damaging exploitation of natural resources or the environment.”[1] They are made up of diverse groups and individuals, including Indigenous Peoples, rural communities, local conservation and forest monitors, environmental activists, human rights advocates, journalists, lawyers, and women and youth leaders.

The grievances of environmental defenders are enmeshed in broader governance challenges—including many areas of continuing focus for USAID programming and core USAID policy concerns, such as the Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance, Biodiversity Policy, Climate Strategy 2022-2030, Policy on Promoting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, and the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption.

Unfortunately, environmental defenders are under threat. In 2020, there were 227 reported killings of environmental defenders, a rate of nearly 5 per week, and the worst year on record. Global Witness and its partners documented 2,177 killings of environmental defenders from 2002-2022. [2] The actual numbers are very likely higher as some deaths go unreported by official sources or the circumstances are difficult to verify.

Sources:

[1] Global Witness. 2021. Last Line of Defence: The Industries Causing the Climate Crisis and Attacks Against Land and Environmental Defenders.

[2] Ibid.

Incorporating Land and Resource Governance in Other Development Sectors

Land and natural resources are discrete, finite, and fundamentally important assets. In developing countries, they constitute a substantial part of personal and national wealth. A country’s approach to land and resource governance (LRG) contributes significantly to its broader socioeconomic development. LRG is increasingly recognized as a foundational component of many key environment and sustainable development strategies, and effective LRG strategies at all scales can contribute to achieving positive human well-being and environmental outcomes.

Strengthened LRG is a catalyst for sustainable economic growth. If well governed, land and natural resources are also fundamental for achieving many other development objectives, from conserving biodiversity and mitigating the impacts of climate change, to empowering women and bolstering civil society. If poorly managed, they can exacerbate environmental degradation and increase inequality, corruption, and conflict.

This series of reference sheets are aimed at USAID Missions and other Operating Units interested in integrating LRG into their programming. Each reference sheet in this series briefly outlines existing evidence on the links between LRG and an adjacent development topic—and provides practical guidance for integrating LRG considerations across the Program Cycle.

 

Incorporating Land and Resource Governance into Biodiversity Conservation Programming

Land and natural resources are discrete, finite, and fundamentally important assets. In developing countries, they constitute a substantial part of personal and national wealth. A country’s approach to land and resource governance (LRG) can contribute significantly to its broader socioeconomic development. LRG is increasingly recognized as a foundational component of many key environment and sustainable development strategies. Effective LRG strategies at all scales can contribute to achieving positive human well-being and environmental outcomes (Tseng et al., 2021).

Strengthened LRG is a catalyst for sustainable economic growth. If well governed, land and natural resources are also fundamental for achieving many other development objectives, from conserving biodiversity and mitigating the impacts of climate change, to empowering women and bolstering civil society. If poorly managed, they can exacerbate environmental degradation and increase inequality, corruption, and conflict.

This reference sheet is part of a series of materials aimed at USAID Missions and other Operating Units interested in integrating LRG into their programming. Each reference sheet in this series briefly outlines existing evidence on the links between LRG and an adjacent development topic—in this case, biodiversity conservation—and provides practical guidance for integrating LRG considerations across the Program Cycle.

Incorporating Land and Resource Governance into Democracy and Conflict Programming

Land and natural resources are discrete, finite, and fundamentally important assets. In developing countries, they constitute a substantial part of personal and national wealth. A country’s approach to land and resource governance (LRG) contributes significantly to its broader socioeconomic development. LRG is increasingly recog-nized as a foundational component of many key environment and sustainable development strategies, and effective LRG strategies at all scales can contribute to achieving positive human well-being and environmental outcomes.

Strengthened LRG is a catalyst for sustainable economic growth. If well governed, land and natural resources are also fundamental for achieving many other development objectives, from conserving biodiversity and mitigating the impacts of climate change, to empow-ering women and bolstering civil society. Secure LRG can also provide a basis for property tax systems that support public sector service provision. If poorly managed, they can exacerbate environmental degradation and increase inequality, corruption, and conflict.

This reference sheet is part of a series of materials aimed at USAID Missions and other Operating Units interested in integrating LRG into their programming. Each reference sheet in this series briefly outlines existing evidence on the links between LRG and an adjacent development topic—in this case, democracy and conflict—and provides practical guidance for integrating LRG considerations across the Program Cycle.