Transnational Labour Migration and Food Security in Rural Asia: Patterns of Livelihood and Agrarian Change

Ramesh Sunam

3Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan

A large literature has explored drivers and outcomes associated with transnational labour migration (TLM). However, there are few systematic attempts to understand the ways in which TLM intersects with food security and agrarian change, particularly how, and under what conditions, TLM improves or constrains livelihoods and food security. Through a systematic comparison of cases from rural Nepal, Indonesia and Laos, this paper identifies the salient patterns of TLM-led transformation in rural livelihoods and food security. While the paper identifies scenarios where TLM has enhanced livelihoods and food security, and where state policy has supported agricultural development, under other scenarios TLM is associated with deepening precarity and food insecurity. The direction of these scenarios is significantly shaped by how specific gender, ethnic groups or geographic locations are integrated into TLM pathways that provide rural households with access to them. In most cases TLM contributes more to survival and reproduction of rural households and spreading risks and less towards accumulation and sustainable food security. The paper also identifies several scenarios where TLM is associated with deagrarianization and incipient reagrarianization in rural areas.


Dr Sunam’s research focuses on migration, precarity, poverty and rural transformation in the Global South. He has published peer-reviewed articles in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, the Journal of Peasant Studies, and Anthropological Forum. His Ph.D. is from the Australian National University in 2015.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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