Migration, Climate Change, and Action

In honor of International Migrants Day, we present to you an eye-opening conversation between Thousand Currents’ Katherine Zavala and Ñepi Behña‘s Adriana Welsh. Ñepi Behña is a Thousand Currents partner based in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, which has been facing increasing levels of migration in recent years. Ñepi Behña works with over 650 indigenous women promoting gender equity and empowers women to build strong livelihoods.

KZ: How do you see migration affecting the communities that Ñepi Behña works in?

AW: Although migration has long been a strategy for reproduction and survival for rural communities, the migration patterns have been changing.

Migration has changed from something domestic and temporary – to nearby urban cities such as Mexico City or Guadalajara, for example. Now you see more migration to the United States for long periods of time and, on occasions, without return.

KZ: Have you been seeing any connections between climate change and increased levels of migration?

AW: The effect of climate change on food production is very serious. We work in two regions of Hidalgo- the Valle region and the Sierra region.

In the Valle region, the rains arrived late in the season and there have also been freezes that came early that destroyed land and crops. This has serious consequences in the supply of staple foods like maize and beans, and crops from family gardens. Now we are looking into recovering those family gardens and get more seeds.

In the Sierra region, the hurricane season has caused tropical rains and landslides that have closed roads and isolated communities, leaving many of them without food or basic services. Moreover, the rains were in abundance with strong winds that also affected
cultivation.

And so, due in part to the lack of food and income to survive, both men and women have been migrating to look for employment. Without the right conditions for agricultural production, many families look to migration as a strategy for survival.

In this particular region in Hidalgo, the increase in migration in the last two decades has also been related to the serious abandonment of support and subsidies for agricultural production. Without subsidies and protection of the national market, many small producers are forced to migrate, leaving their land behind.

KZ: What kind of effect does migration have on women in particular?

AW: The women often stay to take charge of domestic chores and find an income-generating opportunity through activities such as selling produce in the local market. The daily work of women was broadened to cover double or triple shifts and with more responsibilities, but not always with the freedom and the decision-making power.

Migration has impacted and permeated many aspects of the lives in these communities. I believe one of the cruelest impacts of migration has been the emotional impact -being far away and separation of the loved ones is a high cost for families in these communities.

KZ: What does Ñepi Behña do to address these challenges for women?

AW: In Ñepi Behña we consider it very important to work with women, since in this way we get to know and identify with them the challenges that they face and how these affect their daily lives.

This year we have done many activities where women’s voices can be heard in public spaces. We’ve conducted radio programs as well as an event of a roundtable discussion with indigenous and rural women, women investigators and experts to communicate with each other.

Our work with artisan cooperatives, too, allows women to mobilize in a domestic space and generate their own income with the artisan products they create. This allows them to have decision-making power over their income and provides a bit more autonomy.

We have also worked to identify the impacts of the economic crisis, the food crisis and climate change in the different areas of our work. We were able to deepen our analysis on the causes, impacts, and strategies to confront these crises.

KZ: What came out of these findings? What kinds of projects are you working on?

AW: We are promoting backyard gardens to complement the green technologies that we have already been working on, like water capturing tanks and wood-saving stoves.

In the Sierra region where we already were working with community promoters on eco-technologies, mainly with the water capturing tanks, we were able to move forward the work with family gardens and chicken-raising farms to address food security and dependence on and loss of products for food consumption.

In the Valle region, we are working with families to rescue crops and seeds to improve our diets, especially since migration had caused a huge change in our traditional diets, where we now see an increase in diseases such as diabetes and malnutrition.

Since in the Valle there is a serious water issue, where irrigation is used with water coming from water processing factories, we are using clean natural water through the water capturing tanks to use for family gardens and household consumption.

This year with different sources of funding we have been able to – with the help of the communities – construct wood-saving stoves, implement family gardens, chicken-raising family farms, and water-capturing tanks to store water.

KZ: How has the economic crises affected migration?

AW: Since 2008, with the global economic and food crises and especially, the economic crisis in the United States, there has been a radical change in migration patterns.

It has also worsened the treatment and conditions of migrants, especially in the southern states such as Arizona where many people from this region migrate to. Many husbands are returning to their home communities. Others decided to not cross the border since they could not secure jobs.

It is the youth that are the ones that stay and are waiting for conditions to improve. However, even the youth who have been able to continue studying thanks to the remittances being sent back by their families now can’t find job opportunities and are now are turning to migration to look for employment opportunities.

KZ: What do you want people who read this to be aware of on International Migrants Day?

AW: We would like people to know about the emotional costs of migration that affect women and families due to their separation. We would also like people to know more about the conditions that cause people to migrate, as well as the difficult conditions and discrimination that women and men are living as migrants face.

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