Ding 2009 – Seasonality and labour migration in China

Seasonal variation in agricultural and rural economy is a fundamental phenomenon characterising rural development in China. Socioeconomic consequences of seasonal patterns of household income, consumption and labour mobility need to be understood for designing appropriate interventions to smooth seasonality and to improve livelihoods. For example, policies encouraging seasonal migration for casual works during agricultural slack season will certainly help households improve economic wellbeing; timely arrangement for production loan during planting season will help households in input use in crops production. The seasonality of households’ earnings in rural China is characterised by the patterns of income generation from a variety of sources: sales of agricultural products, wages, family-based non-farm business profits, remittances and transfer payments. While households’ income from field crops will be markedly seasonal, production and sale of cash crops may balance the seasonality of its agricultural-related activities. In the same way, casual non-farm work may balance the seasonality of its productive activities. Small farm households have developed integrated systems of livestock-grain productions and farm-non-farm activities in reducing seasonality in household income and wellbeing. However, seasonal dimensions in agricultural and rural development in China are less empirically investigated, and strategies of small farm households in coping with seasonal variations are currently poorly understood. Using a data source on household monthly income, consumption and migration, covering 3300 farm households over 4 years (2004-2007), from Hubei, a province in south-central China, this paper aims to document patterns of seasonal migration from rural areas to urban cities in hunting for casual labour work; and to investigate the effects of seasonal migration on the changing patterns of households’ income and consumption. More specifically, we will firstly describe the seasonal variations of household income and consumption, this will be done by investigating household monthly income and consumption variations over the year; secondly we will document the patterns of seasonal/monthly migration, to look at the correlation of migration and monthly agricultural activities, this will be done by mapping seasonal migration with agricultural production seasons, namely the busy season and the slack season; thirdly we will investigate the effects of seasonal/monthly migration on the changing patterns of household income and consumption, this will be done in different ways including comparing monthly income and consumption changes between households with and without migrant labour, mapping out timing of migration and its sensitivities to household income and consumption, and econometrically modelling how household income and monthly consumption are determined/affected by seasonal migration, in other words, whether seasonal migration helps smooth household consumption. Moreover, a unique farm household case, which we collected during previous study, will be used to reinforce the conclusions and get in-depth understanding of the seasonal variation of household wellbeing in rural China. Findings and conclusions will be drawn and implications for designing interventions in protecting small farm households’ livelihoods will be suggested.

File: Ding 2009 - Seasonality and labour migration in China.pdf