Rural Outmigration, Natural Capital, and Livelihoods in South Africa



Rural households across the globe engage in both migration and natural resource use as components of livelihood strategies designed to meet household needs. Yet, migration scholars have only recently begun to regularly integrate environmental factors into empirical modelling efforts. To examine the migration-environment association in rural South Africa, we use vegetation measures derived from satellite imagery combined with detailed demographic data from over 9000 households at the Agincourt Health and Demographic Surveillance Site. Results reveal that household-level temporary migration is associated with higher levels of local natural capital, although no such association exists for permanent migration. Further, more advantaged households exhibit a stronger association between migration-environment, in-line with the ‘environmental capital’ hypothesis, suggesting that natural resource availability can facilitate household income diversification. We argue that a focus on migration's environmental aspects is especially timely in the contemporary era of climate change and that natural capital availability and variability represent critical pieces of the empirical migration puzzle, especially regarding cyclical livelihood migration. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.