Our award-winning reporting has moved

Context provides news and analysis on three of the world’s most critical issues:

climate change, the impact of technology on society, and inclusive economies.

Part of: Migration and climate change
Back to package

Amazon urban migration does not improve livelihoods, environment – report

by Martha Cuba Cronkleton | CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)
Monday, 12 August 2013 02:52 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When rural people migrate to cities in the Brazilian Amazon, the effect on poverty and environment is weaker than hoped for

The migration of rural people to cities in the Brazilian Amazon often does not result in hoped for poverty alleviation or biodiversity conservation, according to a professor at the University of Lancaster Environment Centre.

Rural dwellers often leave the forest and migrate to cities hoping to experience improvements in income, said Luke Parry during this year’s Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation meeting (ATBC) in San José, Costa Rica.

The rural exodus might be seen as beneficial to biodiversity as forest areas cleared for agriculture could decrease and there would be less pressure on wildlife populations; however, according to Parry, the positive links to migration may not be so straightforward, nor will win-win scenarios be easily attained, at least in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Rural households that have migrated to the cities are not better off. Most migrants are still poor and uneducated — and they still consume wildlife, a lot of it,” Parry said.

Based on research carried out to evaluate the impact of rural to urban migration in two small cities on the Madeira River in the Brazilian Amazon, Parry was able to determine that migrants who left their rural homes in search of better work opportunities still lacked access to good urban employment and largely failed to escape from poverty.

Improved access to education was identified by Parry as one of the main drivers of migration to urban areas.

“They leave in search of education opportunities,” Parry said.  “Migrants believe that better education will open doors to economic opportunities and improved well-being. Instead, even if access to education services is possible, incomes stayed low for rural urban migrants.”

The exodus of rural populations did not lead to improvements in terms of biodiversity either: virtually all urban households in Parry’s survey ate wildlife, including fish, bush-meat, turtles and caimans.

This consumption included endangered species. As a result, harvesting of wild species did not go down, as he expected. Quite the contrary, migrants do not lose their taste for wild meats once they start their new lives in urban areas and the urban demand for bushmeat is increasing the pressure on wildlife in rural areas.

“Wilderness has become urbanized. This points to a potential wild-meat crisis or can enhance conservation and the sustainable harvesting of bushmeat in Amazonia”.

However, Parry’s conclusions are not definitive. Research carried out by Nathalie Van Vliet, who was also on the panel, found opposing results in the Colombian and Brazilian Amazon: as people move into the cities, despite their preference for wild meat, they abandon wild meat consumption and replace it with cheap chicken, eggs and other processed meats.

Parry’s findings illustrate that while not all Amazonian urban populations shift away from traditional foods, they do experience the same nutrition transition identified by Van Vliet. The most frequently consumed form of animal protein is chicken and fish, he said.

Parry’s study, which looked at the consumption (yes or no) of different species within a 12-month period, identified poverty as a strong predictor of hunting and fishing. However, while poor migrants harvested threatened primates, birds and vulnerable though taboo fish species, wealthier non-migrants bought threatened fishes and turtles.

The negative impacts of rural-urban migration by farmers have also been documented in the cases of Peru and Mexico.

A CIFOR study linked the abandonment of rural areas to more frequent and intense fires in the Peruvian Amazon (Uriarte et al. 2012), while research conducted in Mexico by James Robson and Fikret Berkes, indicated that migration contributed to the loss of traditional management practices which in turn led to a decline in biodiversity.

According to Parry, everything points to “a perfect storm: poverty levels are high, large tracts of forests that have been abandoned are now open to further deforestation, and there is a growing demand for wild meat to supply the increasing urban populations”.

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.