Sustainable Land Management in Mountain Regions of Bolivia and Nepal in the Context of Outmigration, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction

How is land management in mountains being affected by migration, climate changes and hazard events in Cochabamba region (Bolivia) and Dhankuta District (Nepal)?

Project Summary

Climate change is expected to place significant strains on natural resources, in particular for managing water, while strongly impacting small scale and traditional agriculture practices. In Bolivia and Nepal, home to some of the world’s largest and poorest mountain populations, rural-urban and foreign out-migration is producing a feminisation of the rural population.

Women and elderly are thus left to deal with adapting to changing environmental conditions, alongside managing daily life: maintaining terraces, irrigation canals, stabilising slopes, etc. Few studies only have analysed the consequences of changing demographics on land management in mountains.

This project will address this research gap by exploring the interface between people dynamics with mountain dynamics in a context of climate change. The main research question upon which this trans-disciplinary study is based: How is land management in mountains being affected by three main factors: migration, climate changes (temperature and rainfall patterns) and hazard events in Cochabamba region of Bolivia and Dhankuta District in Eastern Nepal.

The hypothesis is that climate change is creating water management problems, increasing mountain hazards and out-migration, leading to a feminisation of mountain populations who are less able to address needed changes in agricultural practices, water management, landslides and flooding.

The expected results will be used to develop practical tools for guiding decisions on promising sustainable land management practices for agricultural advisors, disaster risk and water managers, local NGO’s and policy makers, in order to effectively support female headed households and other land users and finally lead to more sustainable livelihoods and well-functioning ecosystems.

Academic Output

Executive Summary

Worldwide land users are facing the challenge of producing from the land while minimizing natural resources degradation. The mountain ecosystem can be particularly sensitive to the dynamics of human activities, such as migration, but also to changing climatic conditions. Although climate change and environmental degradation as drivers of migration have been widely studied, there is a gap in the literature on how migration impacts on land management, and the implications climate change and increasing disaster occurrence have on sustainable land management. This project thus focused on understanding the impact of migration on land and water degradation, especially with regards to land abandonment and the impact of migration on land management practices. This includes interrogations about the use of remittances for agricultural purposes and implementation of sustainable land management practices.

The comparative study integrated bio-physical and socio-economic data through a case study as well as a mapping approach in Quillacollo District of Bolivia and Panchase region of Western Nepal. The study areas were selected considering the following criteria: out-migration, harsh environmental conditions, and land management issues; but also where local partners had experience from previous projects to facilitate channels of communication with local the people and building on their past experiences.

Findings illustrated that the question of sustainable land management practices is crucial in both areas but potential solutions differ. In our study areas of Bolivia, land abandonment was not confirmed due to the highly sensitive nature of land tenure questions, but a lack of labour force has led to changed agricultural and land management practices. However, drought and wind erosion appear to be increasing due to a lack of land management. In areas studied in Nepal, results demonstrated that land abandonment is causing less erosion, except during the transition period before natural regeneration occurs after the first two years. In both areas, remittances were mainly used for purchasing food, household items, education and repaying loans.

Migration has led to both negative and positive consequences in the areas studied. Positive consequences include strengthening of coping capacities, higher household income due to remittances, access to education and employment, in addition to possibly greater women empowerment and expanded opportunities for marginalized low caste groups in Nepal. However, out-migration appears to have negative consequences on the social fabric, where the elderly were traditionally cared for by younger families. Migration is also leading to a loss of local knowledge about land management, and land abandonment, thus not necessary exerting a positive influence on sustainable land management practices. In both locations, climate change is increasing the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, by shifting crops (and invasive species) upslope and making less certain the traditional planting season due to more erratic temperatures and rainfall.

In light of these trends, the challenge for the populations studied and for policy makers will be how to manage land considering changing demographics, uncertain climatic conditions, less available labour and lower food production in mountain areas. There is an obvious shift from local food production to greater reliance on remittance income and food importations. Some of the most important policy issues that emerged include promoting local employment creation, creating an enabling environment for migration – both for out- and in-migrants – and addressing climate change impacts and disaster risk reduction on sustainable land management through approaches such as Integrated Water Resource Management to increase the resilience of rural populations.

Working Paper

Impacts of out-migration on land management areas of Nepal and Bolivia

This study examines the impacts of migration on land management in mountain areas of Nepal and Bolivia. Migration to cities and abroad is increasingly leaving behind half families and the elderly. Livelihoods as well as the management of land are affected by a change of labour force, traditional knowledge, remittances and other consequences of migration. In this study we explored how the land and its management is affected by those issues and what are the measures and strategies taken by the population left behind in two sub watersheds of Nepal and Bolivia. The WOCAT mapping methodology was used to assess land management practices and, in combination with a variety of other research methods, it helped to understand the impacts of migration on land degradation and conservation. Preliminary findings reveal negative as well as positive impacts. In Nepal, the main degradation problem found were invasive alien plant species, whereas the overall vegetation and forest had increased and some types of degradation, such as soil erosion or landslides, were even reduced. A feminization of agriculture was observed in the Nepali case study, whereas at the Bolivian site whole families are migrating and, on the contrary, mostly men are temporarily returning to manage the land. The findings of this study suggest that a more differentiated view is required when looking at the impact of migration on land management.

Research Team

Michel Jaboyedoff
University of Lausanne

Hanspeter Liniger
University of Berne

Freddy Delgado
Principal Member
Agroecologia Universidad de Cochabamba

Esther Haldimann
Principal Member
Heltevas Swiss Intercooperation

Stephanie Jaquet
Principal Member
University of Berne

Raoul Kaenzig
Principal Member
University of Neuchâtel

Rajendra Khanal
Principal Member
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Ivanna Penna
Principal Member
University of Lausanne

Gudrun Schwilch
Principal Member
University of Berne

Karen Sudmeier-Rieux
Principal Member
University of Lausanne

Bishnu Upreti
Principal Member

Useful Links







Policy domains



Nepal, Bolivia

Host Institution