Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies

Collaborative Specialization

Migration and Ethnic Relations


Baruah, Bipasha


In this dissertation, I use a mixed methodological (qualitative and quantitative) approach to examine how climate change and multilateral investment (MLI) simultaneously influence the experiences of migrants, non-migrants and return-migrants in rural sending and receiving communities within sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), using data collected from three regions of Ghana. I explore the gendered, historical, geopolitical, environmental, economic and sociocultural factors shaping the experiences of these groups, and the opportunities and constraints that they face in their communities of origin and destination. My study findings are based on two years of data collection (2019 - 2021), involving in-depth interviews (IDIs), focus group discussions (FGDs) and contextual observations. Study participants include female and male non-migrants and return-migrants in the migration origin (Upper West Region-UWR), migrants in middle-belt destination areas (Bono Region-BR), and key informants working with governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – on gender/women’s issues, climate change/environment, MLIs, migration, rural development, among others – in the migration origin and destination areas, as well as in Ghana’s national capital (Greater Accra Region-GAR). A total of 766 participants were recruited for this study. These include 30 and 12 participants for migrant and key informant IDIs, respectively, 55 participants for FGDs, and 669 participants for quantitative surveys. I use inductive theme-identification and explanation-building techniques to analyse my qualitative data, and descriptive and chi-square inferential statistical analyses for my quantitative data. My analyses and study findings are situated within feminist political ecology, complemented by insights from other theoretical/conceptual frameworks such as feminist postcolonial theories, feminist political economy, (livelihood) vulnerability, and intersectionality. Study findings are segregated by the migration context (i.e., origin and destination), with the findings from each context comprising a chapter of this dissertation. The findings based on the migration origin are presented in chapter four and those of the destination in chapter five. Key informant perspectives are interspersed with those of migrant groups in both chapters.

In the UWR, I found an increasing outmigration of people to middle-belt destination areas of Ghana, mostly resulting from climate change effects such as reduced/erratic rains and deteriorating soil fertility, combined with the colonial and neocolonial legacies of extreme poverty and deprivation, lack of economic opportunities and livelihoods, food insecurity, and poor educational opportunities in UWR. These migration dynamics tend to be gendered, and are further influenced by factors such as age, (dis)ability status, health status, sociocultural norms, and family/household type and size. Although many migrations out of the UWR tend to be permanent, semi-permanent or cyclical/temporary, a few participants report migrating just once in their lifetime. For non-migrants and return-migrants in the UWR, gendered and sociocultural norms regarding family and communal continuity, care for older adults and gendered notions of the impropriety of migration are cited as the main reasons why they never migrated, or migrated but returned to UWR. A few participants mention unmet environmental and economic expectations as the reasons why they returned. Participants in the migration origin add that remaining in or returning to the UWR did not result in significant improvement to their lives, and in some cases, worsened their agricultural, economic and health outcomes. Further, the majority of non-migrants and return-migrants report having no knowledge of MLI (activities) in the migration origin, and consequently, few people in the UWR report working in/with MLIs. Participants in the migration origin also mention climate change effects (such as poor and unpredictable rainfall patterns, degraded lands, heat waves, and water and food scarcity), as well as economic deprivation, poor infrastructural development and lack of social amenities as the main challenges facing them in the UWR. Several participants report that these conditions are causing or exacerbating physical and mental health ailments and distress for them. These return-migrant and non-migrant perspectives are supported by key informants, who report that despite their best intentions to help improve the lives of people in the migration origin, policy neglect of the UWR and substandard working conditions – mostly resulting from poor political/governmental will and resulting lack of resources needed to work effectively – are impeding their work and institutional/organisational goals.

In the middle-belt destination areas, mainly the BR of Ghana, my findings reveal substantial in-migrations from the UWR to these areas, as evidenced by the national census surveys and predominant UWR migrant enclaves within the region. Migrants in the middle belt cite climate change effects such as poor rainfall and declining soil fertility, as well as the same economic challenges facing return-migrants and non-migrants in the UWR, as their main reasons for relocating to the middle belt. In addition, migrants report land unavailability and the imperative to send remittances to families in UWR as added motivations for relocating to the middle belt. Similar to their counterparts in the UWR, very few migrants report working in/with MLIs in the middle belt. In fact, some migrants report relocating from their original settlements due to the activities of some MLIs. Although migrants in middle-belt destination areas report relatively better rainfall, land access and soil fertility, food and water security, and educational, economic and livelihood options, as compared with return-migrants and non-migrants in UWR, they also indicate that they experience isolation, discrimination, precarity and unmet expectations (from themselves and family/community back in UWR) as trade-offs for enjoying some of these benefits. Consequently, migrants in the middle belt report high levels of physical and mental distress, similar to those in the migration origin.

In both origin and destination areas, these vulnerabilities are more pronounced for women, older adults (particularly the elderly), people with disabilities, those living with chronic health ailments, and those who have even more limited access to resources. Based on these findings, I suggest some macro-level policy recommendations such as improving infrastructural development of rural migrant sending and receiving communities, providing better economic/livelihood options for migrant communities, and instituting urgent climate change mitigation strategies to address the rapidly deteriorating climatic conditions in these regions, particularly in the migration origin (UWR). I also propose better monitoring and evaluation of MLI, NGO and governmental initiatives in rural sending and receiving communities of Ghana, more equitable, targeted and stringent conditions associated with domestic/foreign investment in the country, increased responsibility, accountability and political will of Ghanaian governments, and better gender equality, climate change, MLI and migration programming to meet the informational, environmental, economic, health and other specific needs of people living in vulnerable conditions in the UWR and middle belt. Importantly, as my study findings show, it is crucial to involve people living in rural migrant sending and receiving communities in the design and implementation of any interventions and policies at both the local and national levels, to avoid implementing interventions and policies that are disconnected from the everyday lived experiences and needs of the individuals and groups most disadvantaged by ongoing climate change, MLI, migration and development activities. I conclude my dissertation with some directions for future research.

Summary for Lay Audience

In this doctoral dissertation, I explore how climate change and foreign and domestic investment interact to influence people’s decisions to migrate from rural areas in northern Ghana (the migration origin) to rural areas in southern Ghana (the migration destination), and the gendered and intersectional differences in these experiences. Using various research methods, including by interviewing people of diverse backgrounds, I identify who migrates, where they migrate to, and what work they do in the migration destination. I also try to understand why some people never migrate, and why some migrate but return to the migration origin. I chose to study migrant communities in sub-Saharan Africa because my own parents migrated from northern to southern Ghana to provide me with better educational, economic and health opportunities. I focus on rural communities and rural-to-rural migration because four out of five people living in poverty globally are rural dwellers. I expect my research to inform economic, social and health policies that can help to improve the lives of people living in rural areas in Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa.

Available for download on Saturday, August 31, 2024