Climate, Agriculture and Migration: A Critical Review of Dynamic Livelihood Changes in the Nepali Tarai


Unpublished thesis


Shrestha, A. M.


Climate, Agriculture and Migration: A Critical Review of Dynamic Livelihood Changes in the Nepali Tarai



Academic dept

Department of Geography, Environment and Population School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts


The University of Adelaide, South Australia


Climate change is altering human relationships with their places in complex ways in Nepal. This research examines the responses to challenges brought about by environmental change at two municipalities, Damakand Dhangadhi—in the southern plains of Nepal known as the Tarai. The dissertation presents narratives on the social and ecological history of the Tarai, portraying the current environment asa product that has been shaped in part by in-migrants, and the associated entrenched social inequalities. The understanding of the complex dynamic relationships between climate change, agriculture and migration leads to a critical discussion of opportunities for planned adaptation measures to increase resilience of the dynamic socio-ecological system. This research utilizes both quantitative and qualitative primary data, collected through a questionnaire survey of 298 households and 23 in-depth interviewsto analyse trends in livelihoods strategies in the Tarai. The questionnaire sought details on basic household assets, livelihood practices, reliance on natural resources, perception of changing climatic patterns and remittances for migrant households. Thesocio-economic backgrounds of individuals, households, their motivations for migration and the impacts on households are analysed within a socio-ecological analytical framework, using the primary data. Meteorological data from the past three decades was used to generate climate indices to quantify climate variability and change. The insights from the climate data analysis were compared with the primary data generated both from the questionnaire survey and narratives gathered from interviews, to develop an understanding of the local socio-ecological interface.The study highlights the importance of the process by which households minimize risks by investing in multiple off-farm livelihood options, including supporting family members to become migrant workersin the hope of receiving stable remittances. The increased chances of extreme precipitation pose additional challenges to the sensitive agricultural practices. Examination of households’ demographic details suggests a prevailing low level of human capitalwith limited prospects for in-situ off-farm employment, pressuring families to exploit livelihood opportunities from migration. Migrants from higher socio-economic backgrounds are opting for new international destinations, particularly in the Gulf Countries and Malaysia, while those less fortunate rely on long established destinations in India and Nepal. This change signifies that Tarai migrants have become essential transnational actors in a globalised world, and highlights the connectedness of the Tarai rural communities to the rest of the world. The results suggest that the dynamics of recent in-migration into the Tarai has led to innovative responses to new risks, but those responses are highly complex, involving multiple movements of people and capitalto exploit a new international labour environment. xviThe thesis contributes to existing knowledge on interactions between agricultural systems, environmental change and human mobility; and especially on contemporary policy discussions on the inclusion of circular migration as an adaptation policy to mitigate the impact on future climate change on primary resource dependent communities. While enabling Tarai residents to better adapt to change and avoid poverty traps in the short-term, ex-situ measures disrupt the complex local socio-ecosystems at the household level


Shrestha, A. M. (2017). Climate, Agriculture and Migration: A Critical Review of Dynamic Livelihood Changes in the Nepali Tarai. (PhD). The University of Adelaide, South Australia. URL :