Academic journal article Demographic Research

Determinants of Rural Out-Migration in Ethiopia: Who Stays and Who Goes?

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Determinants of Rural Out-Migration in Ethiopia: Who Stays and Who Goes?

Article excerpt

1. Lack of knowledge on migration in rural Ethiopia

Migration is a complex, multicausal, and nonlinear demographic phenomenon that has occurred throughout human history at a variety of scales and touches the lives of many people in sub-Saharan Africa (Adepoju 2008; Malmberg 2008; Naude 2010; de Brauw, Mueller, and Lee 2014). Empirical findings for Ethiopia indicate that large-scale out-migration can be triggered by natural population increase and insufficient access to food (Ezra and Kiros 2001), overall destitution of households (Gebru and Beyene 2012), inadequate income and limited access to farm land (Bezu and Holden 2014), ecological degradation and drought (Berhanu and White 2000; Ezra 2001; Mberu 2006; Gray and Mueller 2012), government resettlement policies (Belay 2004; Hammond 2008), and employment opportunities elsewhere (Kassie et al. 2008).

Approximately 84% of Ethiopia's population lives in rural areas (CSA 2010) and largely depends on agricultural activity for both income and subsistence (Gray and Mueller 2012; Bezu and Holden 2014). Due to population pressure and the country's land tenure system, the livelihood of Ethiopia's rural population is particularly endangered by declining per-capita farm land (Rahmato 2004; Bezu and Holden 2014). As state authorities allocate land use rights, land is subject to neither sale nor long-term lease contracts.

If the rightholders leave the village for an extended period, their land use rights can be redistributed to the landless (FDRE 2005). The associated land right insecurity discourages landholders from out-migration (Rahmato 2004; de Brauw and Mueller 2012). By contrast, others argue that Ethiopia's land use policy also triggers the out-migration of rural landless youth (Ezra and Kiros 2001; Bezu and Holden 2014). Migration allows rural households to diversify their income sources and to overcome livelihood risks and lack of credit, land, and insurance (Taylor and Martin 2001; Ellis 2003).

Rural out-migration is a common phenomenon in Ethiopia and has become a concern of development planners, researchers, and policymakers. However, due to the lack of an effective registration system, the quantitative levels of migration in Ethiopia are still unclear (Hailemariam and Adugna 2011). Moreover, there is much uncertainty regarding the determinants shaping the patterns, levels, and choices of rural migration, such as the decision for short-term versus long-term migration.

To bridge these gaps, we examine the determinants of rural migration decisions in general and the choice of short-term versus long-term migration in particular for the rural context of north-west Ethiopia. As in other parts of the country, households' migration strategies in the Amhara region are very heterogeneous with respect to duration and destination. Therefore, we consider the study site as representative of other rural areas in Ethiopia regarding the determinants of household migration decisions. However, when it comes to the proportion of migrant-sending households or the share of short-term and long-term migrants, misleading generalisations should be avoided.

2. Challenges of migration studies

Due to people's complex, context-specific, and diverse migration experiences, there is no universal definition, comprehensive migration theory, or common conceptual framework that serves as a starting point for empirical research (King 2002, 2012; Castles 2010). Consequently, the literature emphasises the role of an interdisciplinary and context-sensitive approach in empirical migration studies (see Abreu 2012; King 2012; Brettell and Hollifield 2015). Despite the complexity and context-specificity of migration decisions, we - like other scholars (Mckenzie and Rapoport 2007; Mckenzie and Sasin 2007; Sabates-Wheeler, Sabates, and Castaldo 2008) - assume that migration is no random process, but rather a choice that is influenced by a range of observable and unobservable factors that distinguish migrants from non-migrants. …

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