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Rural women left behind in Nepal

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Sita Pariyar, a 27-year-old mother of two living in the village of Nalma, Nepal, has balanced housework, childcare and field work alone for a year now since her husband moved to Qatar as a migrant worker. Nearly three-quarters of Nepal’s young male population now works overseas, sending money back to their families in the form of remittances that contribute almost 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. On the home front, women, children and the elderly are left to keep village life running, reshaping traditional roles, responsibilities and land management practices.

Read more at Forests News. Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • On the move: People and forests in a globalized world

On the move: People and forests in a globalized world

Christine Padoch at the Center for International Forestry Research. CIFOR Photo/Aris Sanjaya
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By Catriona Croft-Cusworth, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News
Christine Padoch at the Center for International Forestry Research. CIFOR Photo/Aris Sanjaya
Christine Padoch at the Center for International Forestry Research. CIFOR Photo/Aris Sanjaya

Inclusive development is on the agenda at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, kicking off this week in Davos, Switzerland. We sat down with Christine Padoch, former Director of CIFOR’s Forests and Human Wellbeing Team, to discuss how inequality relates to global migration patterns, and what it all means for forests.


I think that when we talk about disparity, what most people are talking about is income disparity. But the disparities between rural areas and urban areas in services, like education, healthcare and so on, are enormous in many of the countries that we work in. The difference in the education that Dayak farmers’ kids in Kalimantan villages get, versus what the middle class kids in Jakarta get is like night and day. So it’s not just income disparities we need to understand, but also disparities in services. And that, obviously, pushes migration.

What I’ve done in my own research on migration in the Peruvian Amazon, is to interview people on why they went to the city in the first place. It’s very often not because they expected to get a better job, but because they needed to go for education, for healthcare – just to really feel that they’re integrated into regional or national society. Communications networks still don’t reach many of these remote Amazonian areas.

I think it’s very often those kinds of disparities that are really pushing migration within countries. And international migration is driven by that and by income disparities as well. So I think that growing inequality in many places certainly drives a lot of mobility. And how migration interacts with forests is a complex issue, as we know.


For forest-dependent people, we first need to understand that their incomes tend to be sourced in very complex ways, and that actually has been the case for a long time. Remittances are one of those sources for many people.

Unpacking migration and gender in Nepal’s community forests

Migrants tend to send home personal remittances. With the scale of migration that we are seeing today, remittances, both international and internal, have become enormous flows of income, and they’re very important for many forest-dependent households today. I think in places like Indonesia, for example, we’ve misunderstood — and certainly, we’ve underestimated — how important this has been for a long time.

Remittances are very interesting because they go directly to households, unlike development aid, which goes through government agencies, and  before it reaches households is encumbered by a large number of requirements and processes. Whereas personal remittances are important because they come in directly and households really can determine how they want to use them, and often the actual remittance flows are far, far larger than development aid.

Click to read: People in motion, forests in transition: Trends in migration, urbanization, and remittances and their effects on tropical forests
Click to read


Whenever foresters have talked about migration and forests before, they have considered it a negative, often summarized by simplistic statements like “migrants cut forests”. But the truth is that if we look closely, we see that there is a lot of migration not just into forests, but also out of forests, and how that affects forests is something that has been given less attention by researchers. So our projects are looking at, for instance, how much income comes in from migration flows by those who leave forests, how households and communities are investing that income, and how that affects forest use.

We have indications that in some places, migration ultimately results in more forest cover not less, because people choose to buy more food from the market rather than clear forest to plant their own, and because they no longer have the labor force to cut trees.  So fewer trees are cut and forests may recover. But on the other hand, we have also seen that remittances may be invested in chainsaws and hired labor to cut more trees, so as I said, it’s a complex issue. We are trying to identify the factors that lead to different outcomes for communities and for forests.

There are many, many different pathways by which migration affects forest users and could potentially affect forest use. What the outcomes are depends on other variables in communities, and certainly inequality is one of these. We hope to understand enough about migration and forests to ultimately help promote policies that result in less pronounced disparities, as well as better forest management.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.
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  • Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi series: Unravelling rural migration networks: land-tenure arrangements among Bugis migrant communities in Southeast Sulawesi

Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi series: Unravelling rural migration networks: land-tenure arrangements among Bugis migrant communities in Southeast Sulawesi

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FTA communications

Authors: Elok Ponco Mulyoutami, Ekawati Sri Wahyuni, Lala M Kolopaking

Spontaneous rural-to-rural migration has many impacts on every dimension of human life. Migration driven by the hunger for land has been stimulated by the development of high economic value crops. The study of migration networks will contribute to a better portrait of continuing migration and the related actors: their influence on the decision to migrate and their role in facilitating the migration. This study focussed on Bugis migrant communities-famous as great wanderers-in Southeast Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. In the province, smallholders’ cocoa plantations are dominated by Bugis migrants, contributing two-thirds of the total 137 833 tonnes of cocoa production in 2010. Research was conducted at the migrants’ destination (Konawae District) and origin (Sinjai District). The study showed that the main motivation for Bugis to migrate was to obtain land. The three main waves of migration to Southeast Sulawesi are characterized by development of a major commodity in each time period: 1) the ‘green revolution’ with paddy-rice development in the 1970s–80s; 2) the cocoa boom in early (1980s–2000s) and late phases (2000s until present). Four migration network patterns were deliberately or unintentionally developed by the Bugis migrant community: 1) kinship network; 2) patron–client relationship; 3) migration owing to work displacement; and 4) the pioneer migration: early migrants who have lived in Southeast Sulawesi for a long time. In each wave, the central actor in the migration is the land broker, linking different villages and families.

Publisher: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Southeast Asia Regional Program, Bogor, Indonesia

Working Paper 225

Download PDF at World Agroforestry Centre


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  • Unpacking migration and gender in Nepal’s community forests

Unpacking migration and gender in Nepal’s community forests

Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR
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By Kate Evans, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR
Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR

The importance of migration to rural livelihoods in Nepal is not being recognized in forestry policy or by donors – and nor is the diversity of women’s experience, argues a chapter of a new book by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Thirty percent of Nepal’s GDP comes from remittances – the second highest proportion in the world. Around half a million people, or eight percent of Nepal’s total population, applied for a permit to work abroad in 2014 – 94 percent of them were men – and that does not include the many unregistered migrants or those who migrated within the country.

Despite this, Nepal’s recent Forest Sector Strategy (2012-2022) mentions migration just once.

“Nepal is considered a global model for mobilizing local communities to manage forests collectively – but by not addressing migration, the policy ignores how people are increasingly living their lives,” says Bimbika Sijapati Basnett, a CIFOR scientist, co-editor of the new book Gender and Forests, and author of the Nepal study, which forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Nepal is well known for its widespread adoption of community forestry, where responsibility for managing forests is devolved to the people who live around them. But as international and circular migration for employment purposes becomes more common – and male-dominated – who actually lives there is in constant flux.

Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR
Photo: Anne Larson/CIFOR

“There’s a very static and stationary understanding of people’s relations to forests,” Sijapati Basnett says. “Many households throughout the country have someone who’s gone abroad. So in that context you would expect that the forestry policy would acknowledge that – if it is about successful forest management, how do we motivate people to manage forests when they’re not just depending on forests, but on remittances too.”


Where migration is discussed, there tends to be a simplistic understanding of its impacts on forests and rural livelihoods, especially on gender relations, Sijapati Basnett says. Some assume migration is a problem to be solved, an outcome of the state’s failure to promote economic development and extend social services to its citizens, while others tend to say it’s a good thing for women, Sijapati Basnett says:

“[There’s an] idea that the men have left and the women are left behind, and now they’re being empowered because they’re the ones managing the forest and making all the decisions.”

“Or on the other side, there’s a tendency to ‘black-box’ women and assume they are always victims.”

In reality, Sijapati Basnett says, “migration is both a burden and a benefit for women who are left behind.” And their experience depends not simply on gender, but on how being female intersects with other aspects of social relations: age, ethnicity and, very importantly in Nepal, caste.

Nepal is well known for its widespread adoption of community forestry. Photo: Adrian Albano/CIFOR
Nepal is well known for its widespread adoption of community forestry. Photo: Adrian Albano/CIFOR

Case studies of two very different communities in rural Nepal illustrate just how important it is for policy makers not to assume there’s a uniformity to women’s experiences of forest management and migration.

Sijapati Basnett studied two forest-user communities in Nepal’s middle hills: the Tamang ethnic minority village of Bhatpole in Kavrepalanchowk District, and a low-caste Dalit (untouchable) group in the village of Gharmi in Kaski District.

In Bhatpole, most families rely on seasonal out-migration to support their livelihoods. Although Tamang culture is relatively egalitarian, with a history of both men and women migrating for work, recently external opportunities for women have diminished, and it’s now just the men who leave, often for six months or more.

In their absence, women took control of community forestry – comprising 9 out of 11 committee members. They did, however, seek strategic support from men in order to liaise with government officials in Nepali, as the men had more external contacts and were more comfortable with the Nepali language.

“We are more dependent on men than men are on us,” a Tamang woman told Basnett.  “We depend on them for work and money – but we have learned that by cooperating amongst ourselves we can help each other out.”

In Gharmi, though many young men also migrate for work, gender relations are very different. The low-caste Biswa-Karma (Dalit) community share the village with two high-caste groups, and at the time of Sijapati Basnett’s research they were engaged in a bitter caste battle. The higher castes barred the Biswa-Karmas from entering their ‘sacred forests’ because of their ‘untouchability’ – but after three years of struggle, senior Dalit men convinced the government to hand over the community forests to them.

Though part of their argument was to gain secure access to forest products and reduce women’s work burden, the men excluded women from the community forestry committee and from any decision-making about the forests.

“I could tell very quickly there was something very regimented about their gender relations,” Sijapati Basnett says. “On the one hand there was all this discussion of freedom and patron-client relationships and untouchability, but on the other hand they were very similar to their [very gender-divided] high-caste neighbors.”

Women’s movement and sexuality was strictly controlled, and female migration was not an option.

“In both case studies it was men who were gone and women left behind – but the reasons why this was the case were so different. In Gharmi, it was because of inequalities within the community. In Bhatpole it was more about job opportunities for women and how that restricted their mobility. In terms of community forestry, in the Dalit group it was completely male-dominated, and in the Tamang community it was women who led the show and enlisted the men they thought could help negotiate.”


These examples show why the idea of the “homogenous Nepali woman” is problematic, Sijapati Basnett says.

“A certain level of abstraction is useful, but there needs to be a more nuanced approach – in fact, they’re not just nuances, but things that really matter for people: it means that the strategies you would use to empower women would be very different.”

And by ignoring migration in official policies, governments and civil society have missed an opportunity to ask useful questions that might help improve Nepalis’ lives.

“How do you use remittances to invest in forests, how do you provide incentives for that, how do you develop the forest sector in a way that reduces the very real risks of migration?”

“There are so many different questions, but it’s not being talked about,” Sijapati Basnett says.  “By ignoring it or assuming it’s a problem you’ve eliminated the space for discussing it altogether.”

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  • People in motion, forests in transition: Trends in migration, urbanization, and remittances and their effects on tropical forests

People in motion, forests in transition: Trends in migration, urbanization, and remittances and their effects on tropical forests

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Migration is not new. In recent decades however, human mobility has increased in numbers and scope and has helped fuel a global shift in the human population from predominantly rural to urban. Migration overall is a livelihood, investment and resilience strategy. It is affected by changes across multiple sectors and at varying scales and is affected by macro policies, transnational networks, regional conditions, local demands, political and social relations, household options and individual desires. Such enhanced mobility, changes in populations and communities in both sending and receiving areas, and the remittances that mobility generates, are key elements of current transitions that have both direct and indirect consequences for forests. Because migration processes engage with rural populations and spaces in the tropics, they inevitably affect forest resources through changes in use and management. Yet links between forests and migration have been overlooked too often in the literature on migration as well as in discussions about forest-based livelihoods. With a focus on landscapes that include tropical forests, this paper explores trends and diversities in the ways in which migration, urbanization and personal remittances affect rural livelihoods and forests.

Source: CIFOR publications

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