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Reaping what we don’t sow : the land use consequences of rural to urban migration Brewer, Julia


Rural-urban migration (RUM) is a key component of economic development, however its impacts on the environment are not well understood. To address this gap, this research estimates the impacts of RUM on land use in Uganda and explores environmental implications. Uganda is a rapidly urbanizing nation, with current urban growth rates triple that of the global average. Agriculture occupies over 70% of Uganda’s land area and is a key contributor to deforestation and ecological degradation. Changes in Uganda’s rural land use therefore have widespread environmental implications. RUM is predicted to reduce agricultural labor supply and increase capital from remittances. While labor scarcity may constrain expansion and induce a shift towards labor-saving activities, remittances may relieve credit and risk constraints, inducing agricultural investment and riskier cropping decisions. Resulting land use changes have direct implications for tree cover, crop diversity, and soil health. These predictions are tested empirically, using a combination of household data from the Living Standards Measurement Survey and spatially derived tree cover data. To address endogeneity concerns, migration is modeled by interacting urban income shocks with household migration histories in a Bartik instrument approach. In support of the hypotheses, this work finds that among Ugandan smallholders, RUM decreases labor and increases remittances. This translates into meaningful changes in land use and environmental variables. While there is no observed shift crop choices, this work does find that RUM significantly reduces crop diversity. In addition to those results at the intensive margin, this work finds a reduction of cultivated area, which translates into reduced deforestation at the district level. These results suggest that RUM leads to decline of agricultural extent, with associated environmental benefits.

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