Climate Change-Induced Resettlement

Permanent, planned relocation has emerged as an adaptation option for vulnerable populations living in areas at risk of climate-related disaster, particularly in the Global South. While millions of people will be affected by such policies in the coming decades, scholarship is nascent. There is a great deal left to understand about where and why climate-related relocation discourse and practice emerge, and how resettlement functions as an adaptation (or otherwise).

Notably, the research that does exist focuses almost exclusively on a handful of paradigmatic cases located in coastal geographies. This geographic bias has led to a commonly accepted narrative that resettlement is a last-resort adaptation with high costs and barriers, undertaken when communities are facing distress migration and settlement abandonment. Through my research, I argue that this discourse overlooks- and fails to explain- the more rapid, larger-scale deployment of climate-related population redistribution policies (villagization and sedentarization) in the rural interiors of Africa and Asia. I have proposed an expanded conceptualization of climate relocation that incorporates population redistribution and views the phenomenon as part of a continuity in human-environment history, politics and society-building, not only a novel product of severe climate hazard and vulnerability. This work is under review at The Anthropocene Review.

My work in this area began during my master’s studies in 2010, and formed the basis for a 2015 commentary piece in Nature “Human adaptation: Manage climate-induced resettlement”. The project was further developed through my PhD, culminating in my dissertation Relocation as Adaptation? Population Resettlement in an Era of Global Environmental Change.

Rwanda’s Imidugudu (Villagization) Policy

Since 1994, the Government of Rwanda has resettled more than 7 million people into planned villages and grouped settlements. Using evidence from documents and interviews collected over the course of two years of in-country fieldwork, and a within-case design based in a Foucauldian framework of governance, I assess how the shift towards framing villagization as an adaptation influenced the policy’s legitimacy, design and implementation.

Using data from a household survey (N=2,049) I conducted in four districts of Rwanda in 2016-17, I statistically analyze differences in duration to family formation between individuals in villagized and non-villagized households. The Rwandan government views population reduction as a critical element of climate resilience, and has theorized that villagization will slow the rate of growth via delays to marriage and childbearing produced through the modernizing effects of grouped settlement. The results raise cautionary notes about the wisdom of one-size-fits-all social engineering policies in a world where climate change perturbs the notions and progress of business-as-usual development.

Further analyses will investigate the perceptions of rural people regarding villagization, and the policy’s influence on sociodemographic outcomes including migration.

Representative Sampling off the Rural Road

The goal of any household survey is to measure household attributes in such a way that they provide an unbiased characterization of households in the target population.  The most direct approach is to use simple random sampling based on a complete registry of households in the target population.  In rural Africa, such registries are unlikely to exist and simple sampling rules of thumb (like every xth house on a road) will miss rural households that are not located in villages or near roads.  In conjunction with Dr. Stuart Sweeney at the University of California at Santa Barbara, I have developed an innovative spatial sampling approach using a spatial inhibition process combined with aggregate data on certain areal characteristics of Rwandan districts and sectors. This approach allowed us to achieve a greater degree of randomization than is normally possible in this context, and will be of use to other researchers working in rural environments and similarly hard-to-reach populations.

Adaptation as Discipline

Fears about ‘dangerous’ climate change have led to global efforts to ‘mainstream’ climate adaptation in development policy. Yet, we still lack grounded evidence about how mainstreaming operates in practice. Through a case study of Rwanda, this research-in-progress investigates how globalized adaptation discourses are deployed to discipline donors, generating support for previously-contested development policies.

Gender & Youth in African Groundnut Agriculture

As the gender/youth focal point for the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut at the University of Georgia, I manage several teams of US and African scientists working in Ghana, Senegal, Malawi and Uganda. These multi-year research projects focus on a diverse set of questions including time poverty, youth engagement, fertility and intrahousehold dynamics and the impact of commercialization on men, women and children.

In the fall of 2019 I will begin a new, independent research project supported by the Peanut Lab and focused on some aspect of gender in the context of groundnut agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Stay tuned for more details!