Vulnerable people in fragile lands: migration and desertification in the drylands of Argentina : the case of the department of Jáchal



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Land degradation is a critical issue in arid and semiarid agricultural areas because it affects the economic basis of rural livelihoods, changing the circumstances under which decisions are made. Migration may be considered an individual or household adaptive strategy used to confront environmental problems that threat the resource production base. A consensus has yet to be reached on how environmental causes contribute to human mobility, and to what extent. Part of the problem is that different types of environmental stress may cause different types of displacements. The other part is that it is extremely difficult to isolate environmental processes from the social, economic and political processes in which they are embedded. In this dissertation, I focus on the implications of desertification –land degradation in arid lands- for human populations. The general purpose is to explore population mobility as the demographic response to the interaction between socio- demographic and environmental dynamics, represented by vulnerability and desertification, in the drylands of Argentina, selecting the department of Jáchal in the province of San Juan as the case study. The research strategy combines different types of data (census data, remote sensing images and interviews of small farm households) and uses a conceptual framework and the socioeconomic context as a guide for the analysis, integration and articulation of the different data sources. The main findings show that land degradation plays a limited role in population mobility, although both have co-existed in Jáchal for a long time. The diversity in strategies, the reliance of the households on non-farm jobs, the underutilization of land and the chronic problems associated with farming may also indicate that the relevance or influence of land degradation and incipient desertification in livelihood decisions would be relatively low. However, those households that are more dependent on farming/ranching, local off-farm jobs or a combination of both may be also more vulnerable to environmental factors. In this case, environmental factors could trigger population movements in two different although not mutually exclusive ways: a) by lowering labor demand in agriculture in a scenario of scarcity of local non-farm jobs, and b) by interfering with the normal development of agricultural enterprises, thereby making it unprofitable for the families involved. The structure and composition of the local labor market act as intervening factors.