Reworking the land: A review of literature on the role of migration and remittances in the rural livelihoods of Southeast Asia

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This paper reviews the literature on migration within and from rural areas of Southeast Asia to examine the effects of redistribution of labor and remittances on livelihoods and land-use practices, as well as contexts in which migration drives, yet is also driven by, social and environmental change. Gaps in the literature and areas of contention and debate are highlighted, informing an agenda for further research. Many studies approach ways in which labor dynamics and remittances to rural villages affect agricultural productivity among migrant-sending households, or compensate for lost labor by supporting household consumption, but the reality is often found to be a combination of both on the basis of immediate priorities. Perceived returns to investments in both monetary and labor terms are critical to how migration influences household land-use decisions, while initially profitable investments and conducive local conditions are seen to enable successive enhancement and diversification of livelihoods. Overall, the expansive literature relating to migration and development often alludes to, yet stops short of, directly examining migration and remittance effects on land and forest cover change. The literature on land-use change often overlooks or briefly references migration, but migration rarely forms the central point of enquiry. Understanding of the linkages between migration and land-use can be strengthened through spatially situated studies in different geographical settings. Such studies would be better positioned to inform policies relating to land-use, agriculture and forestry in rural regions of Southeast Asia, where multi-local livelihoods are increasingly entwined with globalized processes, including those driving environmental changes that such policies seek to govern.

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