AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 271

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Session 271: Exploring Agrarian Transformations in Southeast Asia: Session 1

Organizer: Jeff Fox, East-West Center, USA

Recent years have seen renewed interest in agrarian change, provoking debates about the directions and directionality of agrarian change. Rural areas of both Southeast Asia are being rapidly re-shaped by forces of economic and social change. Researchers are describing variously: rapid deagrarianization as young people seek to escape farm work; growing ‘pluriactivity’ that combines agrarian and non agrarian livelihoods; extensive displacement by extractive activities and boom crops like shrimp, oil palm, and rubber; decentralization in the administration of development funding and natural resource management; the remaking of gender and intergenerational relations; the urbanization of many rural areas; and finally a possible flexible ‘repeasantization’ through a revitalization of small farms, expanding rural market places, and a renewed emphasis on low-input agriculture. This panel explores the multiple pathways and directions that these transitions are taking in the diverse socio-ecological sites (forests, coasts, peri-urban, deltas, etc.) and distinct national contexts of Southeast Asia. We will examine the implications of these changes for livelihoods, development, space, the environment, and the remaking of rural places. Using conceptual lenses such as scale, livelihoods, spatiality, and collective actors we will explore processes of agricultural intensification, expansion, or de-intensification; market integration or de-integration; urbanization; industrialization; and ecological transformation.

Thaksin, forest conservation and the question of illegal land occupation: The birth and destruction of a less coercive forest policy?
Jean-Philippe Leblond, University of Montreal, Canada

Since the end of the communist insurgency, the double problem of forest conservation and illegal occupancy has been at the center of many conflicts and debates in Thailand. It is generally understood that the long-term trend during the last three decades has been one of increasing pressure on illegal occupants, with a frequent use of military or paramilitary personnel to evict populations and limit their access to land and other resources. In this paper, I explore recent changes in forest policies and focus on two aspects: conservation-induced displacements and the demarcation of new protected areas. In both cases, I document a major shift in the de facto forest policy which apparently occurred mostly during Thaksin premiership (2002-2006). These policy shifts, I argue, signaled a desire to do away with overtly coercive and top-down approach to forest conservation. More precisely, I first demonstrate that the risk of displacement for forest occupants was greatly reduced since 1996, and in particular since 2000. This latter reduction was in part the result of a conscious efforts starting in 2002 to abandon forceful evictions. I also show that under Thaksin the trend towards the rapid demarcation of new protected areas ended. This, I propose, is related to the introduction of a more stringent and democratic protected area demarcation procedure, which is described based on fieldwork in Phetchabun province. I discuss the merits and limits of the policy changes and conclude by outlining how they have been undermined since 2006.

Resource Governance at the Margins: Experiences from the mangrove-estuary communities of south-western Cambodia
Melissa Marschke, University of Ottawa, Canada

This paper explores Cambodia’s transition towards forms of decentralized fisheries governance in the mangrove-estuary communities of south-western Cambodia. A longitudinal study (1998-2010) illustrates how villagers in south-western Cambodia have cycled through various resource exploitation opportunities, none of which have really helped them to ‘land on their feet’. They then turned towards resource governance as a way of enhancing ecological productivity, but just as successes in resource governance were being felt in areas such as mangrove reforestation, outside business entrepreneurs – foreign fishing fleets and mining entrepreneurs – once again showed their interest in this area in ways that shut local people out of this resource extraction loop. As a result, the future of small-scale fisheries in this area is precarious. The study illustrates how there is both the need and the interest, spanning multiple levels, to ‘do something’ about resource governance, but also how many policies, at this point, are manipulated at best or ignored at worst. Working towards new norms for resource governance, with buy-in across levels and spanning hierarchies, is an important angle for ensuring that there will be fish, forests and land for people to draw upon to supplement their livelihood.

Resettlement, rehabilitation and differentiation in northern uplands Vietnam
Nga Dao, York University, Canada

Resettlement sites of the Son La dam in Vietnam with new infrastructure systems and new farming practices have replaced the old ones, causing cultural and landscape transformation in the upstream area of the Da River. The state’s dam building project can be considered as a process of “dispossession by accumulation” in the upland areas. Changes in resources access and control are also expected to bring about changes in relationships within and among the upland communities. Since experiences and outcomes of resettlement are very different among and within resettlement villages, it is important to understand the nature and dynamics of the differentiation process itself as well as how it unfolds. Due to a serious land shortage, resettlers have had to learn to diversify their production activities. There are new classes of wealthier peasants and of small farmer peasants in these resettlement villages. My aim is to explore what are the key factors contributing to this differentiation process. Understanding of differentiation should go beyond the boundaries of village and commune, even district and province. This paper focuses on livelihoods reconfiguration and differentiation process in the two resettlement villages of Thái and La Ha people in northern uplands Vietnam.

Agrarian change in Vietnam: the view from the city
Jonathan Rigg, Durham University, United Kingdom

In this paper, I explore agrarian transitions from the perspective of migrants in Hanoi. The intention is to understand processes of connection and disconnection as migrants engage with urban areas as social and economic spaces, and what this means for source communities. Based on field work among poor migrants in Hanoi, the paper seeks to see whether a 'view from the city' affords us a different vision of processes of agrarian transition than that generated by rural-based research.

Expansion of rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) in Mainland Southeast Asia: What are the prospects for small holders?
Jeff Fox, East-West Center, USA

The rubber tree is native to the humid tropics and has traditionally been cropped in the equatorial zone between 10°N and 10° S; in mainland Southeast Asia this included portions of southern Thailand, southeastern Vietnam, and southern Myanmar. In the early 1950s, China decided that in order to secure its economic development it needed to produce its own natural rubber. The Chinese government subsequently invested heavily in research on growing rubber in marginal environments and eventually established state rubber plantations in Hainan and Yunnan provinces in areas that lie as far north as 22° north latitude. China’s success in growing rubber in these ‘non-traditional’ environments greatly expanded the habitat in which rubber was perceived to be productive. Today entrepreneurs from China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand are investing heavily in rubber plantations in non-traditional rubber growing areas of Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, northwest Vietnam, and northeast Thailand. The paper describes the different types of rubber farming that are developing in the region, where they are occurring, how extensive they are, and their impacts on local livelihoods. In particular, I am interested in understanding differences between rubber plantations run by state enterprises or large commercial companies and those run by small holders, the role of land tenure, and how state policies on a host of issues such as natural resource access, land appropriation, land titling, forest conservation, trade liberalization, regional economic integration have affected the expansion or rubber and the roles of state/private commercial enterprises and small holders.