Empirical insights and reflections

Migration dynamics in the study communities

Migration is a complex social phenomenon. It can be permanent and oneway, when individuals and families relocate permanently. It can also be temporary and circular, when a family member seeks brief employment elsewhere to raise funds that supplement a village-based livelihood. Among the five study communities, migration has been dynamic and varied, involving both temporary and permanent migration internally (within Mexico) and internationally (to the United States). In Yavesia and Analco, initial experiences with labour migration to areas of plantation agriculture on the Oaxaca- Veracruz border (1930s-1950s), were followed by temporary migration to the United States under the Bracero Program (1940s- 1960s), and intense periods of wage labour migration to Oaxaca City and Mexico City (1950s—1970s) and to the United States (late 1970s-mid-2000s). In the case of Comaltepec and Maninaltepec, internal migration to Oaxaca City and Mexico City was limited, with migration taking hold in the 1980s, almost exclusively to southern California. Yavesia has additional participation (since the mid- 1990s) in seasonal, guest worker migration (H-2B program) to the United States. A few Maninaltepec residents obtained similar worker visas starting about 2014. In Tepetotutla, migration exploded in the mid-1990s (predominantly to the United States), when coffee prices collapsed at the same time that the community was demanding many days of unpaid labour to build a road, a health clinic, and a powerline (Mutersbaugh 2002).

Across multiple cases, the relative importance of specific migration streams has shifted over time. Internal migration to Mexican urban centres (especially Mexico City) - a key stream from the 1950s to the 1970s - lost prominence once US-bound migration came on line. US-bound streams, in turn, have seen a previous pattern of circular migration (1970-1990s) change to one in which migrants in the United States more often remain there, returned migrants and deportees are unlikely to attempt to cross back into the United States, and young people are increasingly reluctant to incur the risks and costs of a migration attempt that their parents and older siblings would have undertaken.

Changes in village demographics

In all five study communities, rural out-migration has had a significant impact on village populations (Figure 12.2) and contributed - in tandem with declining fertility rates - to a slimming and aging of age-sex structures.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that none of these communities has emptied completely. In addition, declines in wage labour migration over the past decade, particularly to the United States, have contributed to a stabilising of village populations since the late 2000s. The latest government census data

Population change in study communities’ resident populations (1970-2010). Source

Figure 12.2 Population change in study communities’ resident populations (1970-2010). Source: INEGI Census data, www.beta.inegi.org.mx/programas/ccpv.

confirm this (INEGI 2015). Migration may have now entered a qualitatively different phase, to revolve more around the education-inspired movement of young people.

A respatialised geography of the commons

Migration expands the social field of the commons (see Stephen 2007). When migrants look to remain active and self-organise in support of their communities of origin (Orozco and Rouse 2007; Fitzgerald 2008; Hernandez- Diaz and Robson 2019b), commons regimes are opened up to encompass trans-local institutional links (Fox 2007; Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013) and, with them, new forms of commoner profile, membership and voice (Stephen 2007; Robson 2010; Klooster 2013). Our study communities no longer comprise solely a territorially (spatially) bounded population, but rather constitute multiple populations often involved in a diversity of livelihood activities, with only a proportion residing in the “community of origin” and only some of these individuals making a living from the natural resources of the home territory.

In other words, migration has caused these commons to respatialise - to undergo a process that alters the spatial relationships between resources and resource users (see Giordano 2003; Moss 2014), and the nature of social relationships between community members and rights-holders (see Sosa Perez and Robson 2019).

The deterritorialisation of livelihood

Migration in these places is strongly associated with changes in land use and resource practice. Traditional agricultural, pastoral, and subsistence forest activities are on the decline, but not disappearing. Over the past 40 years, households have significantly reduced their reliance on agriculture in favour of ofif-land activities. Even as populations have declined and land is available, the average area under cultivation per farming household has decreased, with survey data showing that households in Analco and Comaltepec were working less than half the area in 2009 that they were in 1995 (see Robson 2010). As a La Esperanza farmer explained, ‘people no longer work in the countryside, there are fewer every year’. Production has tended to decline further as the pool of available labour dwindles.

Patterns of agricultural abandonment and contraction reduce the territorial mobility of community members. This is most apparent in extensive territories, such as Comaltepec and Maninaltepec, where informants told us that seasonal settlements in different microclimates are no longer used. Farmers now carry out land-based activities much closer to their homes, abandoning more distant cultivation zones. For commons management, a reduced daily presence in areas where people used to commonly farm, graze animals, hunt or gather, complicates local monitoring of densely forested, mountainous territories.

Agricultural abandonment has led to significant forest regeneration, confirmed by our interviews and walking tours with land users, and direct landscape observations compared to historic aerial photographs and satellite imagery. In temperate-cold and temperate-dry zones, new stands of pine have colonised former corn and bean fields. On the windward side of the Sierra Norte, fewer areas of cloud forest are opened up for long-fallow agriculture, or thinned out to establish small-scale coffee and banana plantations. In Tepetotutla, community members described their land-use plan that stabilises agroforestry and slash-and-burn-and-fallow hillside milpas (traditional corn- bean-squash agriculture) in discrete zones. These processes are described in greater detail in Robson and Klooster (2018) and Robson and Berkes (2011).

There have been declines in several long-standing resource harvesting practices, with fewer people accessing foods and materials opportunistically as they travel to and from their plots or pastures. Declines are also attributable to the fall in average household size, a preference for modern building materials, a switch from firewood to gas for cooking, and the advanced age of many community members (see also Robson 2010; Robson and Berkes 2011). Forestry, conservation, and ecotourism activities, however, have emerged or increased in importance. Community land use planning now places greater emphasis on non-extractive and non-agricultural uses, supported by the explicit protection of high conservation-value forest lands (see Robson and Klooster 2018).

Tepetotutla, Comaltepec, Analco and Yavesia invest in physical infrastructure designed to generate revenue from domestic and international tourists. Payment for Environmental Services (PES) schemes in Tepetotutla and Maninaltepec generate funds used to address employment, infrastructure, and health service shortfalls, and to discourage young people from migrating. In some communities, the trend towards formalized conservation accompanies commercial forest use. Comaltepec and Maninaltepec have long-established logging operations that provide work for community members and funds for community projects. In Analco, secondary pine forests on abandoned agricultural fields have allowed the community to establish, for the first time, a commercial forestry operation.

 
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