Understanding the impacts of human migration on nature-based livelihoods and natural ecosystems 


The Great Lakes region of East and Central Africa is experiencing significant pressures from human migration. In a region already affected by many forms of natural resource and climate stress as well as conflicts, the growing socio-environmental impacts of migration could incubate or reinforce existing social tensions and institutional failures, threatening critical ecosystems and further undermining human livelihoods. Although policy-makers are largely unaware of the serious threats posed by human migration on natural ecosystems and nature-based livelihoods, these impacts can potentially be mitigated through appropriate planning and management strategies. For this reason, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) secured funding from the MacArthur Foundation for work aimed at understanding the impacts of migration on natural ecosystems in the Great Lakes region, with the ultimate aim of helping to prevent or reduce biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and to sustain ecosystem benefits for human well-being.

Migrating pastoralists in northern Kenya

Our contribution

To implement the Migration and Conservation in the Great Lakes Region project, CDC joined with IISD, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Frankfurt Zoological Society in carrying out research on the long-term impacts of migration in three critical natural ecosystems – the Buliisa District-Lake Albert ecosystem in western Uganda, the Bale Mountains in southern Ethiopia, and Mithoshi-Kabogo in the DRC. In order to identify the different migration processes taking place and opportunities for impact mitigation, the project developed practical methodologies to analyse both the drivers and impacts of migration on critical natural resources, human livelihoods and ecosystems, as well as a framework to facilitate the development of effective response strategies for policymakers and practitioners working on these issues.

Lake Albert fishing canoes

The Lake Albert case study highlighted the role of migration in driving the unsustainable exploitation of Lake Albert’s artisanal fisheries, while the Bale Mountains case study focused on the role of migrants in driving land conversion in and around the Harenna Forest, the largest remaining stand of moist tropical forest in Ethiopia. Both case studies led to the identification of possible response strategies revolving around strengthening and building support for local natural resource access regulations, empowering local communities through the promotion of sustainably sourced local products, and the protection of critical habitats. Based on the three case studies, IISD has subsequently developed a Migration & Conservation Toolkit, aimed at assisting conservation and development practitioners to assess the impacts of human migration on critical ecosystems, and to determine how best to protect ecosystems from these impacts. The toolkit can be downloaded here. A report of the findings of the three case studies can be downloaded here.