Migration and Sustainable Local economies

11th December, 2020 | 4:40 PM - 6:10 PM


This sub-theme will look into the broad questions of migration, its impact on the local economies of IHR states and the challenges ahead to build resilient futures for our mountain communities.

According to a report by University of Bern on Migration and Sustainable Mountain Development, 2019, “across the globe, migration from rural mountain areas has reached such a scale that depopulation and the seasonal absence of people of working age are widespread.” People living in mountain areas have long used migration as a strategy to make optimal use of natural resources, ensure food security, strengthen their social and economic networks, and fulfil personal aspirations

There are several, often intertwined reasons why people leave rural mountain areas. They seek to escape poverty and food insecurity, as agricultural productivity in the rugged topography of the mountains and the sometimes harsh climate is low and pressure on natural resources high. They seek to escape the lack of economic opportunities in remote areas. And they seek to fulfil their aspirations of professional and personal development, in a place that offers access to vocational training and higher education, as well as better social and health services. Increasingly, environmental and climate change and natural hazards add distress to the already precarious situation of small-scale farmers, especially where there is little support for climate change adaptation or for risk insurance.

This phenomena of out-migration is particularly true for the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR).  Out-migration from these states are high owing to their challenges, like fewer economic opportunities with a high dependence on agriculture, lack of market access, limited livelihood security, poor developmental infrastructure, ethnic conflict and violence, all of which are exacerbated by the consequences of climate change.

However, COVID-19 pandemic has turned that around in an unprecedented manner. It has ushered in a wave of these migrants returning to the mountains. A large proportion of this population is now migrating back to their states of origin. This trend of reverse migration will be especially challenging for governments in the IHR states which will now have to find gainful employment opportunities for its returnee population with their limited resources. Though the returnee migrants are extremely vulnerable, they also come back with professional experiences, training and work ethics which can play an important role in reviving the local economy, if connected with local organisations on a functional platform. Moreover, nearly 50 percent of returnee migrants are women.

According to the report of Rural Development & Migration Commission, Uttarakhand, a total 215875 migrants were returned to their villages in Uttarakhand till 30 June 2020 due to COVID-19. In the North Eastern States, the figures are even higher.


Registered Returnees (as per latest release of figures)








Arunachal Pradesh


Reached home state+ yet to arrive



Reached home state+ yet to arrive






Expected to arrive




Data source: News articles till June 15, 2020

As the nature of this crisis is unprecedented and its consequences yet to be fully ascertained, state governments are exploring all possible ways to mitigate its adverse socio-economic impact. The retention, rehabilitation and resettlement of these migrants is crucial for the IHR states. States like Meghalaya and Nagaland have come up with initiatives to address this issue by conducting  skill surveys of the returnees and/or creating platforms for them to look for employment opportunities. 

There is an urgent need to engage the returnee migrants to explore job opportunities for them in their towns and villages. With many of them armed with multiple skills, they can be turned into harbingers of a new wave of local economic revival where they lead in providing jobs, training and building capacity of many youth.
Some of the potential areas of intervention includes:

  1. Gap in supply for agriculture and livestock inputs – migrant youth can fill the gap in supply of vaccines for livestock, seed, fertilizer, feed, fodder and other inputs.
  2. Kickstarting the broken supply chains to towns and cities – animal sale market, foodgrain, fruits, summer vegetables.
  3. Building local economy integrating villages and towns - 100 miles communities concept connecting consumers in towns with producers – migrant youth willing to be entrepreneurs could be the bridge to enable local economy
  4. Digital economy connecting producers with consumers bypassing local traders – many

migrant youth will have facility with WhatsApp and can easily adapt – they can  aggregate demand of the consumers in towns on the one hand, and aggregate supply of rural produce in the villages on the other – it applies to farm as well as non-farm output. Migrant youth could be the major workforce for digital economy in the villages and towns, given that Jio and other telecom companies have reached remote villages.

COVID-19 induced reverse migration is set to have a huge impact in the local economy. The mountain states will require a series of initiatives to ensure that job opportunities in the local economies are created and sustained. Focusing on local resources and capitalizing on community networks would hold key.

Session Objectives:

  • What are the absorption capacities of reverse migration?
  • What are the emerging trends with regard to migration into and out of IHR?
  • How does migration affect local economies in terms of both social life and economic future of IHR?
  • What are the measures that can be driven at the state and local level for a set of priorities for a new paradigm in socio-economic development?