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Tropentag, September 14 - 16, 2022, Prague

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How does rural in-migration affect forest clearing and smallholder land use in tropical forest frontiers? Evidence from the Zambian Miombo woodlands

Eliza Zhunusova1, Moses Kazungu2, Azin Sadeghi1, Felix Kanungwe Kalaba3, Sven G√ľnter1

1Thünen Institute of Forestry, Forestry Worldwide, Germany
2Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Research Unit Economics and Social Sciences, Switzerland
3Copperbelt University, Environment and Development, Zambia


One of the main sources of increasing population pressure in forested landscapes of Zambia is in-migration from other rural areas and, to a limited extent, from urban areas. Rural-rural migration in Zambia is mainly driven by the villagers’ search for new agricultural land with productive soils and abundant rainfalls and by environmental degradation and limited employment options in the villages of origin. At the same time, urban-rural migration is a result of widespread unemployment and poor living conditions in the cities. Past research is not clear about the specific mechanisms behind the processes through which migration impacts natural resources in the migrant-receiving locations or on possibilities for conservation and sustainable development arising from these processes. This paper examines the relationship between rural in-migration, which in this study comprises both rural-rural and urban-rural migration and land-use change in the forested landscapes. We use a comprehensive cross-sectional dataset of 1123 households living in or near the Miombo woodlands in the Copperbelt, Eastern, and North-Western (NWP) provinces in Zambia to analyse the contribution of different factors to forest clearing into cropland by farm households, with the focus on the impact of in-migration. A multivariate tobit model was used to explain forest cleared at the household level by simultaneously estimating two equations, one for explaining forest cleared at the household level, and another explaining the area under annual crops. The main reasons for moving reported by the households are related to the availability of agricultural land, natural resources, or fertile soils. Preliminary regression results show that being an in-migrant household is associated with 28% more forest area cleared for crop production during the last 5 years and with an 8% increase in area cultivated with annual crops, i.e. not all of the area that was cleared is cultivated by crops. Our results add to limited available evidence on quantitative impacts of in-migration on forest clearing and land use in Zambia at the microscale and highlight the importance of migration being included in future forest conservation policies as well as land-use scenarios.

Keywords: Forest clearing, in-migration, Miombo woodlands, rural livelihoods, smallholder land use, Zambia

Contact Address: Eliza Zhunusova, Thünen Institute of Forestry, Forestry Worldwide, Leuschnerstrasse 91, 21031 Hamburg, Germany, e-mail: eliza.zhunusova@thuenen.de

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