Smallholders worldwide continue to experience processes of displacement from their lands under neoliberal political-economic governance. This displacement is often experienced as “slow”, driven by decades of agricultural policies and land governance regimes that favor input-intensive agricultural and natural resource extraction and export projects at the expense of traditional agrarian practices, markets, and producers. Smallholders struggle to remain viable in the face of these forces, yet they often experience hunger. To persist on the land, often on small parcels, families supplement and finance farm production with family members engaging in labor migration, a form of displacement. Outcomes, however, are uneven and reflect differences in migration processes as well as national and local political economic processes around land. To demonstrate “slow displacement”, we assess the prolonged confluence of land access, hunger, and labor migration that undermine smallholder viability in two separate research sites in Nicaragua and Guatemala. We draw on evidence from in-depth interviews and focus groups carried out from 2013 to 2015, together with a survey of 317 households, to demonstrate how smallholders use international labor migration to address persistent hunger, with the two cases illuminating the centrality of underlying land distribution questions in labor migration from rural spaces of Central America. We argue that smallholder farming family migration has a dual nature: migration is at once evidence of displacement, as well as a strategy for families to prolong remaining on the land in order to produce food.
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