Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective

Till Rockenbauch

Till Rockenbauch

Till Rockenbauch is a research associate / PhD candidate at Bonn University with a background in development and social-ecological system research. He is a geographer by training and has worked with Deutsche Gesellschaft für International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as an advisor on food security and agricultural policy. Within the TransRe-project he works towards a social network perspective on rural resilience to environmental risks.

Sep 6th 2017 by Till Rockenbauch

The Coming Resilience Renaissance: Towards the tele-connected and social, but what about migration?

A better understanding of global tele-connectivity and social aspects were highlighted as key factors for a “new renaissance” of transformation towards resilience at the 4th Resilience Conference ”Resilience Frontiers for Global Sustainability “, held in Stockholm from 20-23 August 2017. Although migration is a global megatrend, – and a prevailing livelihood strategy as well as a major driver of global environmental change – its role and translocal connections were not a major focal point of the conference. A session organized by TransRe, “Mobility, translocality and the resilience of socio-ecological systems: Exploring concepts and empirical evidence,” aimed at closing this gap.

Although the topic of migration popped up in many sessions of the conference, it seems to be rather understood as a disturbing factor external to social-ecological systems than a field of resilience research on its own. “That is a major blind spot, because resilience and migration are mutually interlinked”, session chair Harald Sterly explained in his opening input.

How migration can be fruitfully addressed from a resilience perspective was discussed by three presenters working on the migration-resilience nexus:

 What role does #Migration play in the coming #Resilience renaissance? |NEW BLOG @TransReProject

Sabine Henry (University of Namur, Belgium) presented insights from recent research on the role of migration for the left-behind rural communities in Ecuador. Using standardized household questionnaires and statistics, Henry presented an approach to assess how migration relates to key resilience features of households, such as diversity, connectivity, modularity, and feedbacks. Migration and remittances in the researched communities were associated with increased diversity of income and food sources as well as increased connectivity to external supply and knowledge systems on the one hand, but with a loss of modularity of the social ecological support systems on the other hand.

Till Rockenbauch (University of Bonn, TransRe-Project, Germany) presented conceptual considerations and methodological approaches for addressing the role of translocal social networks vis-à-vis different capacities of resilience. Using tools of social networks analysis in rural communities in northeastern Thailand he revealed that translocal networks of support and innovation play a minor role in quantitative terms, but are perceived as particularly important. In particular, he showed that the frequency and importance of translocal connections varied across study sites and household types, indicating that translocal networks are a context specific resource of resilience.

Ricardo Safra de Campos (University of Exeter, United Kingdom) presented the conceptual framework of the DECCMA project and provided insights into the modelling of migration decisions and adaptation pathways in Bangladesh through the application of Bayesian Belief Networks. The model is based on household and migrant surveys and takes into account a number of factors that influence the adaptive capacity of households (e.g. assets, social networks, cognitive aspects, demography, migration). Preliminary results show that households can be arranged into 37 unique ‘capability archetypes’ grouped into four classes of adaptive capacity, sense of security, and migration capacity. In addition, analysis of household survey data in sending areas  show that households with migrant members invest more income in physical and human capital, and increase their resilience by engaging in local adaptive measures.

Migration related knowledge transfer indeed has the potential to provide bottom-up innovations towards more sustainable rice growing practices, but is often overruled by policies and market forces." 

The inputs by the speakers provoked an interesting debate centering on the role of remittances for communities of origin, and the question of who actually can profit from translocal connectedness.

“Interestingly we found that households with more land were more reliant on translocal financial support”, Till Rockenbauch stated, and concluded that this could be due to the different means of utilizing networks and costs involved in maintaining networks.  

Asked about how they would evaluate the ecological impact of migration, Sabine Henry pointed out that households with migration were likely to have higher fertilizer use and mechanization, but that in specific cases, however, migration helped to revitalize ecologically adapted land use practices. With reference to Thailand, Till Rockenbauch pointed out that migration related knowledge transfer indeed has the potential to provide bottom-up innovations towards more sustainable rice growing practices, but is often overruled by policies and market forces, the latter fostering, for example, large-scale sugarcane expansion.

The most fundamental question arising in the discussion related to the political sphere: what kind of policy and practical recommendations can be derived from better knowledge about the inter-relation between migration and resilience? The answer to that, according to Harald Sterly, lies partly in the situation of the migrants at their places of destination – the working, housing, living conditions that allow or deny migrants to send remittances and to grow out of vulnerability themselves – and partly in the ability of household members in sending areas to transform financial and social remittances into adaptive and transformative capacities.

Although leaving the participants with more questions rather than solutions, the session was nevertheless inspiring because it underlined the diversity of concepts and approaches, and major challenges to be addressed by future research. It remains to be seen whether migration will become a more integral part of the “new renaissance”.  As this conference has shown as well, it is not only about identifying sound concepts and approaches for addressing the resilience-migration nexus, but obviously also about the ability to promote them in a highly competitive science economy.


Resilience Conference:

Ricardo Safra de Campos (University of Exeter, United Kingdom): Website, Presentation (pdf)

Sabine Henry (University of Namur, Belgium): Website, Presentation (pdf)

Till Rockenbauch (University of Bonn, Germany): Website, Presentation (pdf)