Migration & Agriculture in Nepal

Nepal experiences both internal and international migration as people travel to India, Malaysia and the Gulf countries for work. While out-migration is often male-dominated, there are a substantial number of women who migrate to find work as domestic helpers. Many communities are structurally dependent on remittances from migrants as people supplement their agricultural livelihoods with seasonal migration. 


Research FocusStudy SitesCovid-19 & Migration

  • Examining the relationship between economic, cultural and environmental factors that shape migration patterns from agricultural communities at a local level, and the impacts of migration itself on the agrarian economy 
  • Unpacking the impact of the (re)production of inequality, changing gender and generational roles, labour scarcity on production practices, changes in how resources are managed and the acquisition of agro-ecological knowledge 
  • Understanding the activities of state and non-state governance actors who directly influence migration, as well as the practices and policies of actors whose decisions indirectly affect migration governance 

Bhojpur district in the eastern Nepali hills has experienced a significant rise in long-term migration to the Gulf states through labor contracts. The region has seen dramatic socio-economic change in the last decade, with rural monetization brought about by road construction, rising costs of living, and climate stress. This has in part intensified the drive to migrate, yet it has also led to more fragile livelihoods for those who stay behind. There are some emerging opportunities for returnees in cash crop production, yet uptake is dependent upon an individual’s prior economic position and the location of their land within the watershed. 

Dhanusha district in the Tarai-Madhesh experiences significant inequalities in the distribution of land and assets, and rigid caste divisions. Migration has traditionally been to India, but in recent years migration to Gulf states and Malaysia has risen considerably and taken over in importance. Migration has been aggravated by socio-economic and environmental stress, alongside persisting inequalities. The very cost of migration leads many households to incur vast debts.  

Doti district in the far western Nepali hills has a long history of migration to India. This has risen significantly in the last decade and is an increasingly core component of household livelihoods. This district has also experienced the same processes of rural monetization as witnessed in BhojpurIn this food-insecure and low-rainfall region, few households can subsist on agriculture alone so migration is a key coping strategy. 

In response to Covid-19, many migrants returned home to Nepal, where some faced stigmatization and poor work prospects. Now, given pandemic uncertainties and unclear migration policies, fewer people are migrating. Some migrant workers have been unable to repay loans they took out to covemigration costs, or for land purchases. Local market closures have prevented the sale of goods. The government’s response has included using diplomatic channels to secure jobs for migrants still in destination countries, as well as providing loans to returnee migrants to help them start up new businesses. 

In response to the pandemic, the AGRUMIG team in Nepal has conducted phone surveys with migrant respondents and key informants in Bhojpur, Dhanusha and Doti in June 2020 to understand the impact of Covid-19. 

Country Team Members

Arjun Kharel, Research Coordinator, Centre for the Study of Labor and Mobility (CESLAM), Kathmandu, Nepal 

Fraser Sugden, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom 

Neelambari Phalkey, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom 

Shalini Gupta, Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Labor and Mobility (CESLAM), Kathmandu, Nepal 

Feyzi Ismail, Research Associate, Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London, United Kingdom 

Manohara Kadhka, Country Representative, International Water Management Institute, Nepal  

Gitta Shrestha, National Researcher – Gender Social and Environmental Justice, International Water Management Institute, Nepal


The Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM) 

The Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM) was established under the aegis of Social Science Baha to enhance the understanding of labour and human movement in Nepal. 

Contact details: 

Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM), Social Science Baha 

345 Ramchandra Marg, Battisputali, Kathmandu – 9, Nepal 


University of Birmingham, Birmingham 

The University of Birmingham is a public research university located in Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom. The School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Challenges has a renowned history for international excellence in research and teaching. 

Project Outputs


Contact point: 

Dr. Arjun Kharel, Research Coordinator, CESLAM 

Dr. Fraser Sugden, Senior Lecturer, University of Birmingham – 


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