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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Rural migration, agriculture and rural development

Stanley Weeraratna
Stanley WeeraratnaRain Water Harvesting ForumSri Lanka

Rural migration has important repercussions on agriculture and development of rural areas. It  is opportune that FAO decided to make it the theme for the next SOFA. My thoughts on chapter 4 of the draft outline are given below.

Chapter 4

4.1 Migration and Labour Markets

In most of the developing countries where there is a high degree of migration, around 75% of the population lives in rural areas. For example in India nearly 70% of the people live in rural areas.  It is around 65% in Bangladesh. In Sri Lanka too nearly 70% of the people live in rural areas. Livelihoods of most of the inhabitants of rural areas is related to agriculture. For example, nearly two-thirds in rural areas of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are directly involved in agriculture related activities such as land preparation, transplanting, harvesting etc.

A large percentage of the inhabitants of rural areas are becoming increasingly divorced from farming. This is attributable to declining per hectare yields due to land degradation, high cost of inputs such as labour, fertilizers, marketing problems etc. Climate change causing long periods of drought, floods also cause people to abandon livelihoods based on agriculture. For example in Sri Lanka, a large % of farmers have been affected by the drought which prevailed for three cropping seasons. All these factors cause a shift on the pattern of labour market from agricultural to non-agricultural.

4.2 Migration on Livelihood

According to several studies, livelihoods of most of the inhabitants of rural areas is related to agriculture. For example, nearly two-thirds in rural areas of Bangladesh are directly employed in agriculture. Migration is a major coping strategy for poor people to earn a livelihood causing a change in livelihood patterns.  Studies have shown that displaced people initially try to relocate themselves within the village, then in neighboring villages and gradually move to urban areas or to another country when no other livelihood option is available in their known rural surroundings..

In the agriculture sector there are categories of people such as farmers who are directly  involved in crop production. There is also a category of people such as farm laborers , tractor operators, pesticide applicators, harvesters  etc. who are indirectly  related to crop production. When those in the former category are affected by migration, those in the other category will also be affected due to non-availability of agriculture related activities. However, livelihood of those who are involved in activities such masonry, carpentry etc. are improved as the monies remitted by those who have migrated tend to be spent on activities indicated above. No studies appear to have been carried out to look into this aspect of migration. 

4.3 Remittances for agriculture and Rural Development.

Rural migration has positive and negative effects on agriculture.

Positive effects:  According to a number of studies, remittances from migrants to cities is made use to invest on agriculture causing an increase on agricultural productivity. For example Singh et al. (2012) observed that in Bihar, the efficiencies of human labour and irrigation in rice production were higher among migrant households than non-migrant households, indicating rational use of these two critical inputs on migrant households in Bihar.

Negative effects: Reduction of people in rural areas tends to have negative effect on agric. productivity. In Sri Lanka for example, many people, especially young adults in rural areas have migrated to cities to work in garment factories, offices etc, causing a dearth of people to work in the land. As a result large extents of paddy lands in Sri Lanka remain uncultivated. Harvesting of plantation crops such as tea, rubber, coconut, and sugarcane has become a problem due to non-availability of adequate labour.

Development: Development is a broad term. We can talk about economic development, and social development. In many developing countries, migration has resulted in economic development.  Remittances by migrants are an important source of income to many rural families in developing nations. It also directly contributes to household income, allowing households to purchase more assets; enables higher investment in business; and facilitate buying more goods, and spending more on education and health inputs.  A cross-country study of 71 developing countries found that a 10 per cent increase in official remittances per capita will lead to a 3.5 per cent decline in the share of people living in poverty (Adams and Page 2005). Thus migration tends to have a positive impact on economic development of rural areas.

Although migration has positive effects on economic development, it tends to negatively affect social development in rural areas. In many developing countries such as Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, women migrate to cities to work in factories, and the husbands are left to look after the children. In such situations children are neglected,  and men tend to get involved in activities such as illicit affairs, getting used to drink illicit alcohol etc. All this cause social problems. This aspect of migration on social factors has to be looked into.

In view of what has been said I would like to suggest that the topic of the consultation be slightly changed to Rural migration, its effect on agriculture and socio-economic factors in rural areas. It will focus more on the issues related to rural migration.

Stanley Weera-ratna


Singh, R.K.P., K.M. Singh & A.K. Jha( 2012) Effect of Migration on Agricultural Productivity and Women Empowerment in Bihar Electronic copy available at:

Adams, R., and J. Page (2005). ‘Do International Migration and Remittances Reduce Poverty in Developing Countries