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1.1 Background

It is increasingly recognised that migrants constitute an invaluable resource for development and poverty reduction in their home countries. For many developing countries, remittances from overseas migrants exceed development aid and foreign direct investment volumes. Moreover, remittances from migrant relatives, either internal or international, are often the main component of rural households’ incomes. Unlike aid, remittances flow directly to individual households and unlike loans they incur no debt. Besides contributing to household livelihoods, remittances can foster longer-term development through investment in education, land and small businesses. In some places, migrants’ associations channel part of the remittance inflows into community development projects, such as schools, health centres and wells.

At the same time, migration creates new challenges. First, in agriculture-based economies where a significant portion of the adult population is absent on migration, labour shortages may make the local economy highly dependent on remittances, raising concerns for its sustainability in the longer term. Secondly, migration may increase inequality, as households receiving remittances are able to buy land and other key resources, set up new businesses and improve their children’s education. Conversely, households not benefiting from this precious source of income may see their access to such resources and livelihood strategies reduced. Thirdly, inflows of remittances may exacerbate competition and even conflict, as individuals and groups seek to buy scarce valuable resources such as residential land in urban areas, and may foster corrupt practices by central and local government officials seeking to gain from that competition. Finally, in urban and peri-urban areas, substantial remittance inflows and lack of effective local planning may lead to unregulated urban expansion into previously agricultural lands without adequate service provision.

Despite extensive work on both migration and development, the links between the two remain little understood by policy makers and development practitioners. Little is known for instance of the role that remittances play regarding access to land and other natural resources in the home countries, and of the factors and policies that can help maximise their social and economic outcomes. In recent years, new research has started to address this knowledge gap, and governments have begun to reflect on ways to harness resources from the diaspora to promote development and poverty reduction at home.

1.2 Object and scope

In order to contribute to this growing debate, this study explores the linkages between international remittances and access to land in the home countries, with a focus on West Africa. Given the complexity of these linkages and due to time and resource constraints, this research project was designed and implemented as a scoping study, aimed at raising and identifying key issues for further work rather than at providing definitive answers and policy recommendations.

In West Africa, international migration has long been a common livelihood strategy. Millions of migrants have moved from the landlocked Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) to coastal countries (Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, in the last of which “migrants” constitute roughly one fourth of the total population). Most of these migrants are seasonal or temporary, although some take up permanent residence in the destination countries (IIED, 1999).

Moreover, migration to other African countries (South Africa, Gabon, etc) is thought to be important, although difficult to quantify. Migration from West Africa to OECD countries is also substantial, and dates back to the aftermath of independence. Countries like Cape Verde, Senegal, Ghana and Mali (particularly the Kayes region) have a remarkable share of their population overseas[1]. Originally directed to the former colonial powers (United Kingdom, France and Portugal), West African migration has more recently diversified its destination areas both in Europe (the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Germany) and in North America (United States). In West Africa, migration is dominated by young, adult males, although women are becoming increasingly involved in migration. The nature of migration (seasonal, short or long term; short or long distance; gender; etc) deeply affects decisions concerning amount, frequency and use of remittances. Despite this diverse picture of migration in and from West Africa, this scoping study only considers long-term migration to OECD countries.

Throughout West Africa, land is of crucial importance to economies and societies, providing the basis for a major share of GDP and employment in most countries, and constituting the main source of livelihood for a large portion of the population. In many areas, however, valuable land (fertile agricultural land; residential plots in peri-urban areas; etc) is becomingly increasingly scarce, partly as a result of demographic growth. Competition has therefore become stronger, and better resourced and connected groups are positioning themselves to gain control over land New players - often urban elites such as civil servants, traders and politicians - are entering the land arena, and formal or informal land transfers are mushrooming (Ouedraogo, 2003). As an important source of hard currency, international remittances may contribute to these changes in land relations by enabling migrant households to improve their access to land through purchases, rentals, loans, customary institutions and a variety of other arrangements. This study explores the extent to which this is happening, the opportunities that this creates for the livelihoods of migrant households and for rural development, and the challenges it raises, particularly in relation to land competition and access to land for non-migrant households. Although issues concerning residential plots are touched upon, the study focuses on agricultural land in rural and peri-urban areas.

Access to land cannot be considered in isolation, as it is only part of households’ livelihood strategies, and only one of the many possible uses of remittances. Therefore, in analysing the linkages between remittances and access to land, the study places them within the broader context of migrants’ and households’ livelihood strategies and of the diverse portfolio of remittance uses.

The study focuses on one Francophone and one Anglophone country, namely Senegal and Ghana. Both countries have substantial out-migration to Europe and the United States; for both, remittances constitute a major share of their international financial inflows; and in both cases the government has taken or is considering measures to promote investment by overseas migrants.

1.3 Methodology

This study is the result of the collaborative effort of a multidisciplinary research team, including economists, sociologists, anthropologists, lawyers, geographers and statisticians. Since the literature on the linkages between international remittances and access to land is relatively small, the study involved both a literature review and original fieldwork.

First, a review of existing research on migration and development, and more specifically on remittances and access to land, permitted to produce a conceptual framework and to identify key issues to be explored in the fieldwork. This literature review was not limited to a specific geographical area, covered a wide range of materials (from published books to “grey literature”), and was complemented by conversations with key informants (from migrants to migrants’ family members, from researchers to NGO officials).

For the fieldwork, the “transnational community” was taken as the unit of analysis, similarly to other studies on the same topic (e.g. Kabki et al., 2003; Smith and Mazzucato, 2003; Ammassari, 2003). This entails working not only with households in the home countries (Senegal and Ghana), but also with their family members in Europe (in this study, France and United Kingdom respectively). Fieldwork started in the home countries, choosing two sites per country so as to cover a range of different contexts (little and relatively recent to substantial and longstanding out-migration; different levels of agricultural intensification; rural and peri-urban areas). Migrants were then interviewed by researchers based in Paris and London, using contacts provided by the households interviewed in the home countries. While this approach worked relatively well for Senegal, where the researchers already had well-established relations of trust with the interviewees[2], in Ghana most respondents were unwilling to disclose information that they thought could damage their relatives abroad (who may be “undocumented” migrants). Eventually, Ghanaian migrants in the United Kingdom unrelated to the households interviewed in Ghana were contacted through other means. For both Senegal and Ghana, fieldwork was supported by in-country literature reviews. Moreover, researchers in London and Paris interviewed key informants from a range of institutions working with migrants, from NGOs to church groups and migrants’ associations.

Fieldwork methodology was qualitative and centred on semi-structured interviews both in Africa and in Europe. In Senegal and Ghana, researchers interviewed a small number of households and key resource persons (customary chiefs, elected councillors and others), including both men and women. While time constraints forced us to focus on households with migrant members, interviews with non-migrant households were also included[3]. In both France and the UK, researchers carried out four in-depth interviews with migrants, going beyond issues directly concerning remittances and land to include questions about migration/return decisions, overall livelihood strategies, integration in social networks, etc (“migrant portraits”). These portraits were then depersonalised, shared and discussed with other migrants in focus group discussions, in order to obtain additional input. To respect the privacy of our respondents, all the names appearing in this report have been changed.

While the various components of the study started at different stages (literature review, fieldwork in Africa, fieldwork in Europe), they then proceeded in a parallel way, and the research was an iterative process where research questions and tools in each component were continuously readapted in the light of developments in other components.

1.4 Limitations

The study has both conceptual and practical limitations. Conceptual limitations primarily concern the challenges intrinsic in analysing the uses and effects of remittances, such as fungibility issues and difficulties in capturing “multiplier” effects, and will be analysed more in detail in the next chapter. Furthermore, the methodology adopted (literature review; heavy reliance on key informants; case studies based on small numbers of interviews; etc.) reflects the “scoping” nature of the study. Thus, while the small number of interviews undertaken for this scoping study has enabled us to identify key issues, respondents cannot be considered as “representative” of their wider “community”, and any follow-on work should involve much larger numbers of people from both migrant and non-migrant households.

The practical limitations mainly relate to the short duration and the very limited budget of the study. The entire research project was designed and implemented in less than six months, and nearly all the researchers involved in the study were at the same time working on other projects. On the other hand, trust takes time to be established, especially for migrants in Europe, who are less used to development researchers than their relatives in Africa. Moreover, because of resource and time constraints, the number of persons interviewed in Senegal and Ghana is very small, and in the Ghana-UK case study it proved impossible to match migrants and home communities. Finally, doubts remain as to the reliability of answers provided by respondents to very sensitive questions, such as those concerning amount, frequency and use of remittances.

1.5 Plan of the study

The next chapter provides a conceptual framework to tackle the linkages between international remittances and access to land, so as to lay the ground for the presentation of fieldwork findings. Because of its “conceptual” purpose, chapter two reviews relevant literature from across the world rather than from West Africa only. Subsequently, two chapters present the findings of the fieldwork in Senegal and France and in Ghana and the UK respectively, using broadly similar structures. A final chapter draws conclusions from the analysis of literature review and fieldwork findings, and identifies areas for further work. Some of the migrant portraits done in France and the UK are included in an annex.

[1] Cape Verde is an extreme example, as migrants overseas outnumber the resident population; remittances are estimated to represent 25-30 percent of the country’s income (Carling, 2002).
[2] Of the four migrants interviewed in France, two were relatives of respondents in Senegal and two were identified through other contacts.
[3] In Ghana, members of 22 households, five of which non-migrant, were interviewed. In Senegal, a total of 19 persons were interviewed, mainly coming from four extended families with migrants overseas; the other interviewees were customary chiefs, local councillors, government officials and other resource persons (in one of the two field sites it proved impossible to identify households with no members currently or previously abroad!).

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