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This paper aims to shed light on how different social groups perceive the significance of land ownership for food security in Jhapa, a district with a high out-migration rate, located in south-eastern Nepal. We show how rural people perceive the importance of agricultural land for food security and how this is changing over time between generations. The conventional way of looking at food security uses the perspective of its physical availability and accessibility Maxwell ; Maxwell and Frankenberger ; Migotto et al.

Starting from this, we then show the changing perceptions of food security across generations, from agricultural land as a primary means for producing food to accessing food from other sources, yet keeping land as a status symbol.

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These local perceptions are viewed in the light of two Nepalese government policy papers: the Agricultural Perspective Plan APP — 1 and the Foreign Employment Act FEA —, 2 which have implications for livelihood generation and food security under conditions of labour out-migration. The former envisages development as primarily based on agriculture and natural resources, while the latter recognises the significance of remittances as an important element for development cf.

Sharma Land is not only a natural resource, but also a social, economic, political and cultural resource, important for generating livelihoods.

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In Nepal, the distribution and ownership of land is greatly skewed according to class, gender and ethnicity Upreti Land has a complicated and multi-dimensional relationship with the phenomenon of migration. Scarcity of land is a push factor for people to migrate to other areas where there is plenty of land Gartaula and Niehof , while the remittances may be invested in land on return. Moreover, Gartaula and Niehof argue that not only people move but also that their motives for moving are not static. Labour migration shows a variety of movements of individuals from rural to urban areas within and across country boundaries Skeldon ; Spaan In this paper, labour out-migration is the movement of individuals or groups of individuals to live temporarily away from home for the purpose of working and earning money, not for other purposes such as study or marriage.

Migrant households are defined as households with at least one member absent for at least six months during the past five years to work elsewhere. Labour out-migration comprises two simultaneous processes: labour goes out and remittances come in.


Remittances can have productive and consumption uses, both relating to household food security. Productive use aims at long-term security, whereas consumption use satisfies immediate needs. The way remittances are spent largely depends on whether people find it important to spend them on immediate consumption or invest them for long-term productive use.

The literature shows different uses of remittances pertaining to the attainment of food security. In Ecuador, for example, the majority of households invests remittances in the purchase of agricultural land, but few invest in agricultural inputs Jokisch Mexican migrants tend to improve their housing back home instead of investing remittances in agricultural improvement Durand et al. Similarly, De Brauw and Rozelle found a significant relationship between migration and investment in housing and other consumer durables in rural China.

Food security is a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon comprising not only adequate nutrition but also social purposes and cultural meanings Den Hartog et al. Moreover, objective indicators of food security do not necessarily correspond to how people value food and perceive food security. Balatibat compared different meanings of food security for men and women in coastal and lowland areas in the Philippines and Migotto et al. Maxwell and Frankenberger : 4 distinguished four conceptual aspects of food security: i sufficiency of food, defined mainly as the calories needed for an active and healthy life; ii access to food, defined by entitlements to produce, purchase or exchange food or receive it as a gift; iii security, defined as the balance between vulnerability, risk and insurance; and iv a temporal aspect where food insecurity can be chronic, transitory or cyclical.

Common to these aspects is the emphasis on availability of and access to food, which can be acquired either from own production or from purchase, exchange, borrowing of food and receiving gifts of food. Since the seminal work of Sen there have been simultaneous shifts in the discourse from a supply orientation to one emphasising distribution and access through entitlements.

The study of food security has thus shifted its focus from the availability and access at regional or national levels to household-level access to food Niehof In the wake of modernization processes and urbanization, food provision by own production has declined and the acquisition of food by other means has increased. Using this framework, we investigate how land, food security and labour out-migration, and the relationships among them are perceived differently by the different social groups and across the generations, and how land ownership has acquired a new meaning.

By doing so, we advance the works of Sen , Maxwell and Frankenberger , Balatibat , and Migotto et al. Map of Nepal showing the study area. Among the 47 VDCs and three municipalities of the district, Maharani Jhoda has a high incidence of out-migration. The available historical sources indicate that the settlement dates from — In-migration increased in the late s once the government had opened up the terai for settlement after the eradication of malaria.

While in-migration continued, out-migration began in the mids and has been increasing ever since. However, the nature of in- and out-migration is different: in-migration took the form of permanent family migration, while out-migration is a temporary individual activity for the purpose of obtaining paid work. Maharani Jhoda has a population of 10, distributed among about households DDC Twice a week on market days, people go to the market, even if they do not have anything to buy or sell.

This is not just a custom, but also an indication of unemployment. In fact, the growth of these market centres has led to the establishment of the offices of manpower agencies and money transfer organisations, which facilitate the labour out-migration process. Farming of wetland, rain-fed rice is the dominant cropping system in the study area. There is no surface irrigation system, but over 50 per cent of households have installed motorized pumps, which draw water from underground boreholes.

Irrigation water from boreholes is needed mainly for spring season rice April—June and other winter season crops such as wheat, hybrid maize, mustard, potato and green vegetables. Summer June—August is the rainy season and the main season for rice cultivation, during which natural streams or small irrigation channels dug by the farmers can meet the water demand of the crop. There is not much agricultural mechanization in the area; most agricultural activities such as hoeing, seeding, transplanting seedlings and harvesting are done manually by men and women.

Both qualitative and quantitative research approaches were applied. Qualitative data were collected using key informant interviews, focus group discussions, in-depth interviews and participant observation, whereas quantitative data were collected through a survey. The fieldwork started in June and consisted of three partly overlapping phases. The household survey was carried out among households using stratified random sampling. In the third phase Aug—Dec , we interviewed 26 persons, comprising older and younger people, wives of migrant workers, returned migrants, local political leaders and early settlers as key informants in order to gain in-depth knowledge and elicit subjective experiences.

We have used parts of these interviews for this paper. The results are organized under three thematic headings. Second, we present the results on food security using the indicators of availability of and access to food. Finally, we present the valuation of agriculture and agricultural land by the different social categories in terms of generation and poverty or relative wealth.

We show how the older generation is straightforward about the value of agricultural land for secure access to food, while the younger generation is ambivalent about agriculture and investing in land. Also we show that food secure and food insecure households have different options and make different choices in linking agriculture and agricultural land to food security.

The results are presented in the order of first quantitative and then qualitative data, while the two are obviously related. The quantitative results provide an overview of the availability and accessibility of food in relation to landholding, agriculture and market infrastructure. The qualitative results show how perceptions about food security are changing over time and across the social groups, especially with regard to the role of agriculture and agricultural land as a primary means of production. The household survey covered households and persons average household size 5.

For migrant households, the average household size was 6. It is important to note that migrants are considered household members. With regard to ethnicity, the Hill Janajati group was found to have the highest number of household members—6. Average age of the household head was 52 ranging from 18 to Among the absent household members 0. The average of total landholding size appears to be less than the average agricultural landholding because 63 households do not have agricultural land. The size of residential land is generally smaller than that of agricultural land, which depresses the mean value of total landholding size because of the higher frequency of households without agricultural land.

The highly significant results on the variation of landholding size according to age of the household head indicate that younger households own less land than older households. The ratio of agricultural land to total landholding size is 0. The intergenerational differences can be explained by land fragmentation as a result of the inheritance system that leads to a declining size per generation. In terms of migration, migrant households have slightly higher total landholding size, while non-migrant households have higher agricultural landholding. More than 80 per cent of the households reported agriculture as the primary means of living, while None of the respondents reported foreign employment as their primary source of income.

As a secondary source of income, however, over 40 per cent households received remittances from their migrant members in the previous year. Though most of the respondents were said to be farmers, the contributions from other sources to their livelihoods has become increasingly important. Although in our case people say they are farmers, in fact their livelihood depends significantly on other sources of income.

This would also explain why having land in the terai is regarded as contributing to social status, irrespective of the use of the land see below. Comparing households based on landholding size and food supply from their own production, interesting patterns can be observed. Firstly, the greater the landholding size, the higher the food supply and the higher the tendency of out-migration.

While the former can be expected, the latter contradicts the notion of migration as a last-resort livelihood option for the landless poor Gill ; Golay ; Shrestha and supports the notion of migration as a voluntary strategy for pursuing a better quality of life Niehof The findings are also in line with the argument of a disjuncture on the authoritative discourse of viewing migration as problem and migrants as aberrant, but rather seeing migration as a part of a way of life of the actors involved Sharma Secondly, the younger households have less access to own production compared to older households, which is partly explained by their smaller landholding size and their orientation away from agriculture.

This development is explained in detail in the section on the valuation of land below.

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In the afternoon, I went to School Choun to observe haat bazaar open-market. It was market day. The market was getting busier compared to the previous market days. Many people came to do some shopping or just to visit. This was because by now almost all households had finished rice transplanting. After maijaro [the last day of rice transplanting of the season], people like to go to the open market to meet friends and buy provisions for their household needs.

Fieldwork diary, 8. Friday market at School Choun bazaar, a seasonal vegetables available in the market and b interaction between a seller and her customers. The circulation of food items has become easy due to good connections with other market centres. Since the time of its establishment in the mid-twentieth century, the market has undergone many changes in terms of accessibility.

The area can now be accessed through a gravel road and there is a bus service to Damak, a bigger town and regional centre that connects to the main cities of the country through the east—west highway. It takes about 30 minutes by bus to reach Damak from School Choun. DB 63 , father of six sons and three daughters, lives with his wife and the wives of his two migrant sons. All of his sons have worked outside the village at least once in their life. Currently, five of them still work abroad, while one retired from the Nepal Army in DB would like his sons and grandsons to escape the hardships he experienced.

He wants the best investment of the remittances sent by his sons which, for him, means investing remittances in khet agricultural land , so that in the future he can distribute sufficient land among his sons to run their households. This is why the family has more than five hectares of land now, compared to less than two hectares before the first son migrated in But some of his sons are no longer interested in investing their remittances in agricultural land. DPB, 2. Sometimes, I feel like why did we buy so much of agricultural land instead of buying several residential plots in town?

I got terribly sick last year which took a huge amount of money, managed from the money he sent. We had a very small house, which we replaced with this one. From his earnings, I have installed a tube-well on the farm and bought an electric water pump. BMS, If you have land you can never go hungry. But the present generation considers agriculture a dirty job. It is obvious that working on the farm is not the neat and clean job the young people like to do. If you work hard, like when you work abroad, agriculture can give you a good living. At home they become lazy and shameful of their work, but outside they work hard whatever job they get.

RKP, 6. However, the migrant households had higher overall expenditure than the non-migrant households, which could be expected. Interestingly, migrant households spent more on agricultural inputs and technology than non-migrant households.

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At the same time, more migrant households than non-migrant households invested in residential land. So, the survey data present a mixed picture, showing that migrant households invest both in agriculture and in residential land. Moreover, as will be revealed from the focus group discussions below, people prefer to buy agricultural land first, if they do not have it, for sociocultural reasons.

From qualitative interviews it transpired that migrant households are reluctant to spend remittances on day-to-day household expenditure. Both respondents are wives of migrant workers and represent the younger generation.

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Among the 20 respondents with whom qualitative interviews were conducted, only three bought or added agricultural land. Twelve reported to have bought a total of 21 residential plots in nearby towns, ranging from one to six plots each depending on the number of migrants in the households. CMG 29 : In agriculture, you work hard but get fewer returns. In such a case, when you work hard but get little income, who would be interested to do so? YRB 34 : If you calculate investment against production from a particular plot of land there is a loss.

Once you sow the seed you have to wait for some months, but if you build even a one-storey house, you will get monthly returns regularly by renting it out. That is the reason why people are so motivated to buy residential plots rather than adding to the agricultural land. CMG 29 : Well, the life cycle begins and ends with land, and you ask why do we need land? It is for everything. SJK 18 : The first thing to have land is to be equal in status with your neighbours; otherwise you will not be prestigious in society. Second, to get food from it: you need to have something as a basis for your existence.

If you have land you will not die of hunger. Hence, people give first priority to land. We are discussing the preference for buying residential land. But that applies only if you already have some agricultural land; if not, you would never decide to buy residential plots instead of agricultural land.

YRB 34 : Yes, you are right! Those who already have agricultural land never add to it. For those who do not have agricultural land, their first priority is to buy some agricultural land. They only think of residential land afterwards, but their first priority is agricultural land. If you see transactions in land business, whether it is agricultural land or residential land, the main buyers are the migrant workers. CMG 29 : If we have agricultural land we can at least get food, no matter where we stay.

YRB 34 added: However, now it is also the other way around, people sometimes prioritize land for residence and then think about eating. SGS 24 : I can see many of them are the older people. CMG 29 : The youths are also involved in agriculture, but it is not out of interest. Those youths are landless; they do not have their own place to live, let alone going abroad for work. YBK 21 : It is out of necessity. If you have to, you will do that, but the question is whether they are doing it because they want to.

YRB 34 : Yes, those landless people who do not have alternatives are doing agricultural labour. But there is another group of people also doing agriculture. They are the ones who have very little land, but have many household members. YBK 21 : So, the main thing is employment. If they get employed they would not be working in agriculture. YRB 34 : The agricultural sector is becoming the last choice among youths. I did not have any jobs here.

I saw everyone in the village going out and I felt as if I was the only one left in the village. I saw people coming from abroad with good money, heard stories about the good life there. I thought I should also have such experience and see how the other world is. NAP, 6. They acknowledged the cultural and social significance of farming and the social status of having land, but they did not want to work on the land.

The young men think that the land they already have is enough to produce food for their family. If they added more agricultural land, they feared it would remain fallow. Only those who did not have land before their migration wanted to buy agricultural land, just for subsistence or for social status but not as a primary means of production.

The younger generation does not disregard the importance of land and wants to keep it but, at the same time, they do not want to work on it. The cases have shown that the older generation is rather positive about agriculture as an occupation and as a reliable basis for food security.

In the past, it was their destiny to find the fertile terai land and practise agriculture as the best alternative among available livelihood options. The sons and grandsons of the early settlers think that the local economy does not meet their increasing demands and rising expectations. Likewise, our research is another example of a clear departure from migration as being caused by economic necessity or the result of exploitation but rather providing an ideational space of development and modernity Mills ; Sharma Evidently, labour out-migration appears to be a strategy to achieve a better quality of life, rather than just to escape poverty and destitution.

Further, labour out-migration engenders changes in the perceptions of food security, especially with regard to the role of agriculture and agricultural land as the primary means of production. Access to land and remittances indeed help those left behind to safeguard or attain food security, either through investments in agricultural production or by generating sufficient economic means to buy food. Although few households in the research area were found to be food insecure, the significance of agricultural land for food security is changing.

Older people believe in having agricultural land for food security as for them the land produces rice food , while younger people believe in accessing financial capital through other sources in order to acquire food, particularly non-farm labour and migration.

Yet, they keep investing in land as a symbol of social status, but not for agricultural purposes. Their fathers want to increase the acreage of agricultural land, while their sons want to buy residential plots in town. It is important to note that these choices matter only for those who are already food secure. For food insecure people choices are limited, and their priority lies in accessing food rice by engaging in agriculture. However, it can be expected that those who are currently resource-poor, once they have improved their socioeconomic status, agriculture and agricultural land will also become less important for food security.

Even though APP remains silent about increasing own production of the households involved, it emphasises increased investment in irrigation, fertilizers, research and motorable roads as drivers for commercial agriculture and employment generation Cameron Further, APP has neglected the significance of out-migration for Nepalese livelihoods; it rather asserts that if APP is successful, there will be less out-migration from the rural areas Cameron At the same time, the objective of the APP policy paper was paralysed by the year Maoist insurgency, which forced many rural youths to leave their villages.

The Maoist insurgency did not affect the research area much, but countrywide the spread of conflict and political instability provided an incentive for migrant workers, for whom labour migration became part and parcel of their life. This eventually contributed to the declining valuation of agriculture as a rewarding profession and of agricultural land as an essential source of food security.

Thus, the changing landscape of labour organisation and livelihood opportunities in rural areas that are influenced by the process of modernisation and urbanisation has a great impact on food security. In the long run, not only the role of agriculture in rural livelihoods may be in danger, but the observed shifting valuation of terai land may also threaten food security in the country as a whole.

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The increased out-migration among land-owning households, and the negative attitude of the younger generation towards agriculture may further exacerbate the situation. Households may remain food secure because they may now buy food from income through remittances, but their total acreage of land for agricultural production will decrease. The APP is the year plan of the government of Nepal supported by the Asian Development Bank ADB aiming to increase agricultural productivity, expand employment opportunities in agriculture, put subsistence agriculture onto a commercial basis, and make agriculture a precondition of economic transformation and prestigious occupation Cameron This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author s and the source are credited.

Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Shifting perceptions of food security and land in the context of labour out-migration in rural Nepal. Open Access. First Online: 04 May Introduction Nepal is experiencing social, economic and cultural transformations resulting in remarkable changes in the meanings attached to agricultural land and food security. Jhapa district was selected because of its dynamic history of in- and out-migration and its location in the terai region, which is considered the granary of the country.

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