Remittances and land change: A systematic review

Related GLP Member: Elizabeth Mack, Laura Aileen Sauls, Brad Jokisch, Kerstin Nolte, Birgit Schmook, Yifan (Flora) He, Claudia Radel, Ginger Allington, Lisa Kelley, Christian Scott, Stephen Leisz, Guangqing Chi, Lira Sagynbekova, Nicholas Cuba, Geoff Henebry


Remittances—funds sent by migrants to family and friends back home—are an important source of global monetary flows, and they have implications for the maintenance and transformation of land systems. A number of published reviews have synthesized work on a variety of aspects of remittances (e.g., rural livelihoods, disasters, and economic development). To our knowledge, there are no reviews of work investigating the linkages between remittances and land change, broadly understood. This knowledge gap is important to address because researchers have recognized that remittances flows are a mechanism that helps to explain how migration can affect land change. Thus, understanding the specific roles remittances play in land system changes should help to clarify the multiple processes associated with migration and their independent and interactive effects. To address the state of knowledge about the connection between remittances and land systems, this paper conducts a systematic review. Our review of 51 journal articles finds that the linkages uncovered were commonly subtle and/or indirect. Very few studies looked at the direct connections between receipt of remittances and quantitative changes in land. Most commonly, the relationship between remittances and land change was found to occur through pathways from labor migration to household income to agricultural development and productivity. We find four non-exclusive pathways through which households spend remittances with consequent changes to land systems: (1) agricultural crops and livestock, (2) agricultural labor and technologies, (3) land purchases, and (4) non-agricultural purchases and consumables. In the papers reviewed, these expenditures are linked to various land system change outcomes, including land use change, soil degradation, pasture degradation, afforestation/deforestation/degradation, agricultural intensification/extensification/diversification, and no impact. These findings suggest four avenues for future research. One avenue is the use of the theoretical lens of telecoupling to understand how remittances may produce wider-scale changes in land systems. A second avenue is further examination of the impacts of shocks and disturbances to remittance flows on land change both in migrant sending and in remittance receiving areas. A third avenue is scholarship that examines the extent that household uses of remittances have a “ripple effect” on land uses in nearby interlinked systems. A fourth avenue for future work is the use of spatially explicit modeling that leverages land cover and land use data based on imagery and other geospatial information.