Rural livelihood vulnerability in semi-arid Pakistan: scope of migration as an adaptation strategy: Working paper – Pakistan

Executive Summary

Rural livelihoods in semi-arid Pakistan are increasingly exposed to climate impacts such as rising temperatures, erratic rainfalls and more intense and frequent climate-related extreme events. In addition to directly hampering natural resource based livelihoods, these impacts are intensifying other environmental risks such as land degradation, waterlogging, soil erosion, and pest attacks. The agriculture sector in Pakistan, being the lifeblood of the rural economy, is particularly vulnerable given climate change risks like unpredictable water availability, declining agricultural productivity, and frequent crop failures.

Rural areas in Pakistan are more susceptible to such adverse impacts due to their pre-existing marginalisation in terms of lack of development and high prevalence of multidimensional poverty. Lack of diverse livelihood opportunities put a further strain on households which have limited alternative options except agriculture as their main source of income. In response to climate risks and vulnerabilities, farmers in semi-arid regions of Pakistan may require adjustments in their livelihood strategies. One such important adjustment strategy is rural out-migration to cities in search of non-farm economic opportunities.

Building on the findings of Salik et al. (2017) who conclude that planned rural to urban migration can enhance livelihood resilience of households, this study first analyses the climate vulnerability and adaptation potential of agricultural households in three districts of Pakistan:

1) D.G. Khan.

2) Faisalabad.

3) Mardan.

It uses the IPCC Livelihood Vulnerability Index (LVI) approach to analyse the determinants of household livelihood vulnerability defining vulnerability in terms of:

1) Exposure.

2) Sensitivity.

3) Adaptive Capacity.

Furthermore, it also determines various adaptation responses that farmers apply, including migration, and also elucidates the reasons why some farmers choose not to adapt to climate change.

Results of the study show that D. G. Khan is the most vulnerable district to climate change impacts, followed by Mardan, whereas Faisalabad is the least vulnerable of the three districts. It was found that a lack of adaptive capacity, as in the case of Mardan, plays an important role in determining the overall vulnerability of households, given various levels of exposure and sensitivity. Despite having lower exposure and sensitivity to climate change impacts, a lack of adaptive capacity raised Mardan’s vulnerability as compared to Faisalabad.

In this regard, the adaptive capacity of a household can be enhanced if the head of the household has had higher education, access to information and communication technologies, strong social networks and institutional and government support for risk management. In addition, higher sensitivity to climate change is a result of uncertainty in water availability for irrigation, crop failures as a result of an extreme event, and poor health of agricultural labour.

This study found that the most common methods of adapting agricultural livelihoods in semi-arid Pakistan to climate impacts include intensifying the use of agricultural inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers and use of different crop varieties. In addition, various site-specific measures such as shifting to other livelihoods, migrating for work, and introducing another mode of irrigation are also quite common. Migration is a common adaptation response to climate impacts, yet it varies from one region to another. In contrast, high costs of adaptation and lack of information on how best to adapt to certain climate impacts was noted to be one of the main impediments for those farmers who do not take any adaptive measures for their agricultural livelihoods.

Based on the findings, a set of recommendations have been devised aimed at not only improving resilience of the agricultural sector in the wake of climate change impacts, but also directed towards facilitating diversification of livelihoods of rural household through rural development as well as planned rural outmigration:

Improve access to irrigation water

Uncertainty in water availability for farm irrigation is a prime factor leading to higher sensitivity to climate change. A weak irrigation infrastructure can lead to such uncertainties in water supply. In response to this, the Irrigation Departments in semi-arid districts can play a more effective role by introducing innovative irrigation and water-harvesting technologies that can help decrease disruption in water flows. Furthermore, Irrigation Departments can develop district level adaptation plans for various scenarios of water availability that will better equip farmers in dealing with increasing water stress.

Raise awareness and enhance participatory capacity building

As climate-related events become more evident and severe, it is essential to rely on rural youth (men and women) for coping with these risks and adapting their livelihoods accordingly. This can be done by improving their capacity to understand vulnerable aspects of rural livelihoods, ability to effectively use new scientific information as well as local knowledge to anticipate and combat climate change risks and stressors such as floods, droughts, and heat waves. Furthermore, district level Technical Education and Vocational Training Authorities (TEVTAs) can play a role in equipping young rural men and women with demand-based skills so they can earn from alternative (non-farm) livelihoods. Doing so will reduce their sensitivity to climate vulnerable livelihoods and allow them to diversify their sources of income. Alternative economic opportunities can also be created by developing agro-based small industries close to the villages through public-private partnership (PPP) schemes.

Encourage and support women’s role in non-farm activities

In addition, for encouraging women’s participation in non-farm activities, local governments must create opportunities for them to access well-paid work in villages, such as supporting women-owned cottage industries by providing them trainings and access to credit and markets. Women should be formally integrated in the value chains and efforts must be undertaken to reduce the wage gap between men and women. In order to lighten the rural women’s workload, especially of those whose husbands have migrated and who have extra responsibilities, they should be provided infrastructure and access to basic amenities such as water, fuel (for cooking) and electricity. This will reduce women’s sensitivity (as the activity of collecting water and wood is more climate-sensitive) and lessen their burden of responsibilities as males out-migrate.

Extend, improve and subsidise agricultural extension services to farmers

Climate-resilient seed varieties currently available to small farmers are quite expensive. In this regard, agricultural extension services need to provide subsidised seed varieties to farmers at affordable prices, control the spread of pests and diseases and ensure proper storage of farm outputs.

Develop and integrate policies to facilitate planned migration

Currently, the potential of migration as a resilience enhancing adaptation strategy is not significantly recognised in Pakistan’s development plans. Policies facilitating planned migration could support improved climate adaptation for migrant families, and mitigate their risk of displacement. Since migration is an important response/adaptation strategy, the national and sub-national governments should mainstream migration and climate change adaptation into National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and sub-national integrated development plans (Local Adaptation Plans of Action – LAPAs). Furthermore, facilitating safe and planned migration requires coordination among various national and sub-national departments dealing with (amongst others) health, education, agriculture, industry, and employment.

Improve management of migration flows and data

Tracking migration flows to ensure better management of migrants to avoid unplanned settlements is necessary. The Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms and the provincial line ministries should develop a registration system across local administrative boundaries to analyse migration flows. This will be useful for providing migrants with affordable accommodation facilities and creating jobs in the market.

Enhance Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)

Through support programmes, PPPs can boost the rural economy by helping rural migrant families channel their remittances into productive uses, such as developing small-to-medium businesses for agriculture value addition, or storage and packaging of agricultural products. For example, banks could partner with the local government to introduce loan schemes for village households.

Implement labour laws and minimum wage rates

In addition, implementation of labour laws in the urban centres for migrants and operationalisation of minimum wage rates could ensure that labour migrants are not being exploited in urban areas and their rights are protected, thus, enabling them to send more remittances back to their households. Higher remittances would translate to more resilience of rural household members.

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