The heart-wrenching COVID-19 lockdown-induced foot march of thousands of migrant labourers from urban centres back to their home villages revealed the crevices and shortcomings on many fronts. The unsustainable nature of such rural-to-urban migration, especially at times of crises, needs to be addressed. Our TRIP intern Abhishek analysed how sustainable is the ongoing prevalent phenomenon of urbanization in India. This article is an outcome of the internship.
"When labor migration is properly managed, it is a conduit for skills and wages to flow where they are most needed. It can, and must, be a triple-win, benefiting migrants and their families, their home country, and their destination." - Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
Migration is an important component of the economic development process of any country. Economic growth in the past has led people to move from traditional practices to the popular service sectors. Study in the past has shown that migration has appeared beneficial to the migrators, and has remained quite significant in moulding the economic, social and other structural attributes of a state or a country.
The occurrence of migration can vary from place to place, and several factors work together in its implication. Domestic migration can be divided into four types. It can be rural-to-urban, rural-to-rural, urban-to-rural and urban-to-urban. It has been observed that rural-to-urban migration dominates the other three types (Khan, 2011). One big reason for this has been the difference in socio-economic development between urban areas and rural areas. This difference is perceived as a disparity in development levels of rural areas.
India has undergone a rapid urbanization process after independence. Population growth is just one of the many causes explaining this phenomenon; it has heavily pushed people into urban areas. Various ‘push’ factors in rural areas, including poverty, unemployment, lack of work, degraded education standard, poor living conditions, fewer wages, etc., have operated together to buttress the rural-to-urban migration. According to the census data of 2011 in India, the share of the migrant population in the total population was 45.36 percent. The male and female migrants stood at 31 percent and 69 percent respectively. Of this total migration, 18 percent underwent rural-to-urban migration. The major social factors accounting for 75 percent population’s migration in India are related to household, education, and marriage. Migration for marriage covers 49.3 percent of the total, while employment and household constituted 10.2 percent and 15.4 percent (Hindu, 2016).
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Looking at the cause of migration decisions in past, it shows that the estimated labour productivity in non-agricultural activities is 3.2 times more than in agricultural activities (de Brauw, 2019). Empirical works on economic history and development economies show that migrants are positively selected for human capital elements. The overall impact of migration on agricultural productivity may yet be unknown, but the labour unavailability emerges as a direct impact of rural migration on agricultural centric economies. This ultimately increases the dependency of wage labour on agriculture outcome. For a country like India, the rural population is rapidly moving to cities causing trouble for households to replace migrant labour.
In agriculture, labour migration has resulted in households shifting to less labour-intensive crops or renting out land to other households. The other short term indirect effects of migration on agriculture are many. Firstly, by sending away migrants, the households are signalling that they do not require all their land. This will result in an increased land seizure or weaker property rights in a place. As a result, the households may continue to farm on marginal lands and won’t make effective agricultural production (Jacoby et al, 2002).
Secondly, the interrelation of migration income and agricultural income is less as compared to wage labour income (off-farm) and agricultural income. Therefore, service sector employment in rural areas is heavily linked to an agricultural outcome which is spatially correlated. In this context, long-distance migration provides informal assurance to the migrants (Binswanger & Rosenzweig, 1986).
The labour supply problem is not just confined to families with small landholdings; even large-scale export-oriented plantations face this. Studies show that young men lack commitment and get attracted by an irresistible force of urban amenities. With the improving education qualifications in the young population, they tend to move towards urban centres for more valuable occupations. This leaves behind unskilled labour in rural areas having limited knowledge of new technologies (Essang & Mabawonku). With increasing amenities in urban areas escalating the industrial sector, the pressure is building upon rural areas. Migrants are enticed to leave the villages to fulfil the needs of urban people and industries.
Technology adoption in agricultural production in some areas is considered as an indirect result of migration in rural areas (de Brauw, 2019). For instance, in Bangladesh, migration outcome resulted in high yield variety. Broad trends in migration can affect investments in the rural sector as well. Studies done in rural areas suggest that these capital investments in agriculture occurred in areas where the rural population is skilful enough to use technological advancements. However, the theory of technological advancement is not relevant to all areas. For instance, in the Savannah zone, the alternative of machines for labour resulted more costly due to ecological constraints in that area (Essang & Mabawonku).
Investment, in households, depends on the consumption of remittances sent back by migrants. It can be measured on the parameters of investment in the nutrition of children, housing or production, and education. Investments in nutrition and consumption of healthy food intake would depend on the perceived returns. The migration will have a direct impact on it; the purchasing power of rural people becomes an indicator of their condition. These parameters provide a summative result of the overall improvement in the rural population.
However, methodological studies show that migration in rural economy comprises mainly of the most productive age category (21 to 30 yr. age group) moving towards urban areas, leaving behind the more vulnerable groups in the rural areas. This affects both agricultural production and dependency of these vulnerable ones.
The overall cause of migration in a rural economy can vary from place to place according to the economic factors involved in it. In developing countries like India, growth in migration numbers has increased with the growing population. Factors contributing to migration in India are education, households, and marriages (long-distance or short-distance). However, the rural economy has certainly been dependent on these migration processes. Many studies indicate that rural to urban migration has resulted in a transfer of funds from urban areas back to rural areas. Contradictory to this, several works have emphasized a net transfer of funds from rural to urban areas. Nonetheless, migration is a significant attribute of current socio-economic trends in the country.
- Khan, Hasan Jabir, et.al. Socio-Economic Causes of Rural to Urban Migration in India. Asia-Pacific Journal of Social Sciences. Vol. III (2), 2011, pp. 138-158.
- Bansal, Samarth. 45.36 Crore Indians are internal migrants. The Hindu, December 2016. Viewed on 16th October 2020. Available at https://www.thehindu.com/data/45.36-crore-Indians-are-internal-migrants/article16748716.ece
- Brauw, Alan de. Migration Out of Rural Areas and Implications for Rural Livelihoods. Annual Review of Resource Economics, 2019.
- Essang, S.M & Mabawonku A.F, Impact of Urban Migration on Rural Development: Theoretical Considerations and Empirical evidence from Southern Nigeria. Wiley.com. Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1746-1049.1975.tb00348.x
- Binswanger H, Rosenzweig M, Behavioural and material determinants of production relations in agriculture. The Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 22(3), 1986, pp.503–39.
- Jacoby H, Li G, Rozelle S, Hazards of expropriation: tenure insecurity and investment in rural China. American Economic Review, Vol.92 (5), 2002, pp.1420–47.