Deciphering interwoven drivers of environment-related migration – A multisite case study from the Ethiopian highlands

J. Groth / T. Ide / P. Sakdapolrak / E. Kassa / K. Hermans

In: Global Environmental Change, 63, July 2020, 102094


Global environmental change is increasing livelihood pressure for many communities, and agricultural households in the Global South are particularly vulnerable. Extant research has debated whether and to what degree this amplifies migration flows while also acknowledging that migration can be an adaptive strategy. However, little is known about which contextual factors are most relevant and how they interact in shaping environment-related migration. We shed light on this issue by conducting an in-depth qualitative, yet multisite and medium-N study of farming households in the northern Ethiopian highlands. We utilized qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) – a novel approach in the research field – to overcome the existing methodological challenges. We found that the migration experience within the household in combination with either the usage of the longer summer rainy season (Kiremt) or non-farm in situ diversification are sufficient causes for migration. Non-farm income activities and favorable environmental conditions during the Kiremt season increases economic household resources and as such migration ability. However, only together with migrant networks, which can reduce the costs and risks of migration and shape migration aspirations, can these drivers explain why households engage in migration. Our findings reveal that capabilities and networks, rather than commonly cited push factors, are far more important drivers of environment-related migration at the household level. Additionally, we illustrate that while migration is an important adaptation strategy, it cannot be adopted equally among households and as a result often reinforces existing inequalities.

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