December 17, 2010
The research sheds light on to why people are leaving remote forest areas. It follows an earlier publication indicating that migration away from remote rural areas may have repercussions on deforestation. “Understanding why people are leaving is key to predicting future environmental change,” the paper explained.
There are many advantages to living in remote areas in the Brazilian Amazon. Land is freely available to those who want to claim it and people have better access to wildlife and natural resources. Closer to town, unclaimed land is scarce, fields are flooded in the wet season and unemployment is high.
Member of a remote community in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Luke Parry, Lancaster University.
Lack of access to public services, and schools in particular, was found to be a major reason for leaving remote areas. “Completing secondary education in Latin America provides a child with a fair chance of escaping poverty,” Perry and his colleagues report. “It is therefore unsurprising that parents in settlements without a school wished to relocate their family to an urban area, even if employment is problematic at least in the short term.” They also cite one respondent: “This community only exists because of the school.”
Living upriver also makes trade more difficult and more costly. Whilst items brought by traders, such as sugar, cooking oil and salt, are twice as expensive as in urban supermarkets, cultivators are forced to sell their products at a low price to compensate for the high transport cost.
Children of Amazon river dwellers or caboclos in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
In addition, many social benefits are not accessible to people in more remote areas. Under a poverty-reduction scheme called Bolsa Família, poor people are entitled to receive subsidy from the Brazilian government, but these need to be collected from urban centers. The high transport costs often make it not financially interesting to collect the money.
This also means that conservation subsidies such as the Bolsa Floresta payments for ecosystem services program, initially proposed as a way to reduce exodus by providing an income-stream in remote areas, would be severely impaired by the high transport costs.
Migration to the state of Amazonas in Brazil has historically been driven by rubber extraction. However in the 1990s international demand for rubber collapsed and migration out of remote areas began. “Amazonian river-dwellers, who are often former rubber-tappers or their descendants, remain largely forgotten in migration analyses, despite the fact that they number several million people,” write the authors. There are concerns over the social implications of migration to urban areas, as in other parts of Brazil it has resulted in socio-economic inequality, poverty, violence, and unemployment.
“This research raises as many questions as it answers,” they conclude.
Past projects may provide a useful model. In the Upper Solimões region of the Amazonas, Alencar and his colleagues reported in 2005 that the formation of rural education poles providing education beyond the 8th grade has been credited with the provision of rural jobs such as boat drivers and school assistants. It is credited with helping prevent further rural-urban migration.