Human mobility and resilience -

livelihood diversification strategies in the Nepali plains

Climate Adaptation 2014 Future Challenges conference
30 September - 2 October 2014
Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre
Gold Coast, Queensland

Asheshwor Shrestha,
PhD Candidate,

Dr. Douglas Bardsley,
Senior Lecturer,

Geography, Environment & Population,
The University of Adelaide


  1. Background
  2. Exposure to agricultural risks
  3. Perception and adaptation to climate change
  4. Human mobility and resilience
  5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

  • Objective: To examine the linkage between perception of climate change impact to agriculture and changes in access to resources, and subsequent livelihood decisions
  • Part of my PhD project
    • Field questionnaire survey (September 2013 - March 2014)
    • Open-ended interviews (November 2013 - March 2014)
    • Climate data analysis daily records from 1970-2012 from 10 stations

Study locations

Study sites

Dhangadhi, Far-west Nepal
Damak, East Nepal

Background on Nepali plains - the Tarai

  • Tarai has been a destination of in-migrants moving from the hills (Gurung, 1989; Kansakar, 1985)
  • Tarai has witnessed massive socio-ecological change
    • Forest clearing and malaria eradication
    • Agricultural extensification to feed the nation
    • Urbanization
    • Tarai is also seen as a region neglected by the central government (Majumdar, 2006); marginalized communities have been left out of the decision making process in resource management including community forestry (Gauli & Rishi, 2004)

Background on Nepali plains - the Tarai

Historic internal migration pattern in Damak

Historic internal migration pattern based on prior residence
Map usage subject to Google Maps API Terms of Service (

Household characteristics

Damak Dhangadhi
Sample households 143 151
Total households 3,989 4,624
Total population in selected wards 15,909 25,726
Mean age: respondents; respondents' family 45.15; 34.11 39.6; 25.62
Gender distribution M 75.5%; F 24.5% M 43.0%; F 57.0%
Livestock ownership 68.53% 96.69%
Involvement in agriculture 77.62% 90.07%
HH with migrant worker 49.65% 56.28%
HH w/ flood experience 49.65% 56.29%
HH's median land area in sq. m. 6,773 4,741
Median household size 5 6
Median number of mobile phones per HH 2 2

2. Exposure to agricultural risks

  • High inter-annual variability in rainfall
  • Agricultural infrastructure has not been modernized

Rainfall variability

Study sites

Inter-annual variability in mean monthly rainfall in Tarahara Station (1971 - 2012 aggregate)

Monsoon onset day and dry spell days

Picture from Dolakha village

Dry spell days, monsoon onset day and successful plantation day for Damak station for years 2000 to 2004

Agricultural infrastructure

  • Canal system: only small percentage with access to canals, and the structure has not been properly maintained
  • Electricity: supply is not constant, up to 18 hours per day load shedding
  • Cost barrier: cost of pump, cost of bore hole, cost of fuel (electricity/petrol/diesel), cost of pipe and cost of labour
  • Only 3 respondents out of 294 had started harvesting a new crop in the last 5 years

3. Perception and adaptation

  • Perception of climate change
  • Perception of trends in agricultural output
  • In-situ adaptation examples

Perception of impact from changes in climatic variables

Perception of impact from changes in climatic variables -  all variables

Perception of changes in eleven climatic variables

Perception of impact from changes in climatic variables

Perception of impact from changes in climatic variables

In Damak, the perceptions were significantly related to respondents' prior experience with flood χ2(2, N = 143) = 6.6206, p = 0.04

Respondents on climate impact and agricultural yield

"Rainfall has become untimely. It does not rain during plantation time"
(12 respondents in questionnaire survey)

"The canals dried because of drought. We do not have private irrigation pump so we rely on rainfall."
(female-57 from Damak, 17 Dec 2013)

"We get more output now but it's also costly due to [chemical] fertilizers."
(4 respondents from questionnaire survey)

Respondents on adaptation

"Nothing can be done."
(6 respondents in questionnaire survey)

"When the field was dry, land owner accused me of not working hard enough. Pump set is not available when needed."
(female-25 from Dhangadhi, 3 Feb 2014)

"Rainfall is the best [for paddy]. Pumped water do not contain vitamins."
(female-33 from Dhangadhi, 3 Feb 2014)

In-situ adaptation examples

  • Farming of high value crops along the river banks when it is dry
    • Requires constant safeguard
    • No legal entitlement
    • Prone to flooding
Perception of impact from changes in climatic variables Perception of impact from changes in climatic variables

In-situ adaptation examples

  • Procuring fodder and firewood
    • Forests in the Tarai are highly protected now compared to in the past when it used to be a common pool resource
    • Not all families can afford the payment and have resorted to fetching firewood from across the border
    • During flooding period, locals collect trees and branches brought by the flood.
Perception of impact from changes in climatic variables

4. Human mobility in the Tarai

  • Contemporary destinations
  • Demographics
  • Income
  • Migration characteristics

Contemporary destinations for migrant workers

Migrants' destination regions based on field survey

Destination regions of migrant members from surveyed households
one arc represents one migrant from surveyed households

Migrants' age, education and years in foreign employment

Graph: Migrants' household land ownership by destination region

SE Asia, especially Malaysia has become the destination of choice for most migrants from the Tarai

Formal education of migrants

Graph: Migrants' household land ownership by destination region

Migrants to new international destinations have higher median education

Remittances by destination

Graph: Remittance received by destination region

Remitances from new international destinations are significantly more than from traditional destinations. National GPD per capita for 2013 was USD 694 (World Bank, 2014)

Use of remittances

Picture from Dolakha village

For most families, remittance is an essential income source for household activities

Migration characteristics summary

  • Tarai’s agricultural system has been under stress for decades from the environment and its inability to modernize
  • In a continual attempt to seek for new ways to adapt, farmers look for on-farm and, off-farm solutions which are increasingly becoming global
  • Since the use of remittances for basic household activities and the fact that remittance income is disproportionately larger than income made at home, the trend in foreign employment is expected to continue

5. Conclusion

  • Although a deterministic environmental change - migration relationship was not found, the case studies qualifies the value of environmental variables in migration decision making at the household level
  • This calls for rethinking adaptation in terms of the extent of adjustment that the societal system will change to become resilient (Bardsley, 2014) and begs inclusion of migration in adaptation policies (Black et al., 2011; Black, Kniveton & Schmidt-Verkerk, 2011)
  • By tapping on the trans-local network, the resilience of migrants' household and the community is expected to be strengthened and marginalized households are better equipped to contest existing social and cultural norms (Sanam, 2014)


Questions / comments



  • Field-work and conference travel funding from Department of Geography, Environment & Population, The University of Adelaide
  • Field research assistants Shreekrishna Chaudhary and Sujan Ranjitkar
  • Local contact persons - Umesh Dhimal, Tejpal Dhimal, Laxmi Niraula and Kanchan Ojha
  • Special thanks to Damak Municipality, Dhangadhi Municipality, Mercycorps Nepal, ADF Nepal Pvt. Ltd., and Neeraj Dangol


  • Bardsley, D. K. 2014, 'Limits to adaptation or a second modernity? Responses to climate change risk in the context of failing socio-ecosystems, Environmental Development & Sustainability, DIO 10.1007/s10668-014-9541-x
  • Black, R, Bennett, SRG, Thomas, SM & Beddington, JR 2011, 'Migration as adaptation', Nature Climate Change, vol. 478. Black, R, Kniveton, D & Schmidt-Verkerk, K 2011, 'Migration and climate change: towards and integrated assessment of sensitivity', Environment and Planning A, vol. 73, pp. 431-450.
  • Gauli, K & Rishi, P 2004, 'Do the marginalised class really participate in community forestry? A case study from western Terai region of Nepal', Forests Trees and Livelihoods, vol. 14, no. 2-4
  • Gurung, H. (1989). Regional Patterns of Migration in Nepal. Hawaii, USA: East-West Center.
  • Kansakar, V. B. S. (1985). Land resettlement policy as a population distribution strategy in Nepal. In L. A. Kosinski & K. M. Elahi (Eds.), Population redistribution and development in South Asia. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publisihing Company.
  • Karmacharya, J 2010, Exploring daily rainfall data to investigate evidence of climate change in Kathmandu Valley and its implication in rice farming in the area, Ministry of Agriculture, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Majumdar, M 2006, 'धनी ठाऊँ, गरिब अर्थतन्त्र (Rich place, poor economy)', in M Mainali & B Thapa (eds), मधेस: समस्या र संभावना (Madhesh: challanges and opportunities), Social Science Baha, Himal Association, Lalitpur, Nepal, pp. 29-40.
  • Sunam, R 2014, 'Marginalised Dalits in International Labour Migration: Reconfiguring Economic and Social Relations in Nepal', Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.
  • World Bank 2014, 'World Bank development indicators', URL: accessed 3-08-2014