Reduced migration under climate change: evidence from Malawi using an aspirations and capabilities framework

Natalie Suckalla, Evan Fraserb, Piers Forsterc
Taylor & Francis
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For farmers in rural Africa, climate change could significantly alter the natural environment, leading to a loss of income, food security and well-being; however, much remains unknown about the way a change in climate may affect a person's decision to migrate away from their home. Using a framework based on migration aspirations and capabilities, this paper examines how climate stresses (such as droughts that cause a long-term decline in harvests) and climate shocks (i.e. acute food shortages and sudden flooding) may affect migration decision-making in rural Malawi. Drawing on survey (n = 255), interview (n = 75) and focus group (n = 93) data from rural and urban dwellers, we find that climate stresses typically do not change rural dwellers’ aspiration to leave their homes, except for a small group of younger farmers from better-off households. However, these same stresses may erode human, financial and social capital, thus reducing migration capability. Data also reveal that acute shocks erode both the migration aspirations and capabilities of even the most dedicated would-be migrant. Drawing from these two findings, this paper concludes that climate change is likely to increase barriers to migration rather than increasing migration flows in countries like Malawi where the economy is still predominately rural.

DOI: 10.1080/17565529.2016.1149441