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30.11.08

Immigration Reduces Deforestation

There's an interesting perspective on the "immigration versus the environment" question in an article just published in Human Ecology by Birgit Schmook and Claudia Radel*.

Schmook and Radel looked at what happens in the southern Yucatan -- where deforestation is a significant environmental problem -- when people migrate to the U.S. looking for work. The simplified version of the story they tell goes like this: In the 1960s, a new road through the area allowed lots of people to move in and take up farming, creating significant deforestation. The advent of neoliberal policies in Mexico -- the withdrawal of state subsidies and an emphasis on private activity in the global market -- led to increases in growing chiles for sale. Households who were successful in chile-growing had the money to pay for one or more members to migrate to the U.S., while those that were very unsuccessful were forced by their debt to look to work in the U.S. for sufficient funds to get back on their feet. Households with migrants saw an increase in their wealth and material well-being. They also generally experienced re-forestation, because relying on remittances was more profitable than farming, and the absence of the migrant decreased the labor available to the household. Households with migrants increasingly converted already-cleared agricultural land into cattle pasture (though they didn't necessarily own cattle to graze on it, at least yet), since that's less labor-intensive to maintain (it appears pasture and cattle are also subsidized in various ways).

I can't say there's any clear policy implication here right away, but it does add some new angles to the issue.

*The article is based on research from the Clark University-based SYPR project, which many friends and acquaintances of mine have been part of, though I don't personally know these authors very well.

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