The Role of Labor Migration to Neighbouring Small Towns in Rural Livelihoods: A Case Study in Southern Province, Zambia


  • Chihiro Ito


Livelihood in present-day rural Africa is distinctly complex, involving interactions between the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, and between urban and rural activities. In addition to subsistence agriculture, farmers are often engaged in non-agricultural activities in both rural and urban contexts. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of non-agricultural income sources in rural areas. Although migratory labor is recognized as an important source of non-agricultural income, it has not been considered with examinations of livelihood diversity and access to each activities in the areas from which workers migrate. This paper analyses the role of labor migration in relation to the complexity of livelihood strategies within the village. Particular emphasis was placed on labor migration to neighboring small towns. The current field study in Southern Province, Zambia, revealed that local people used several strategies to maintain and improve their livelihoods. However, a great deal of variability was exhibited in the combination of livelihood strategies among households. Households without access to reliable income sources were found to be most likely to engage in migrant labor. Some households showed a preference for labor migration because it was perceived as providing access to income with a lower initial cost than other strategies. Another important factor was the growth of labor demand for unskilled labor in neighboring small towns affected by socio-economic dynamics at national level. I propose that labor migration to neighboring small towns is crucial for many people to secure and improve livelihoods in rural areas, for two main reasons: First, labor migration functions as a coping strategy when drought occurs. Second, migration is a livelihood choice based on an interrelation between access to other livelihood strategies and other social factors within the village.