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Trapped in the margins of Southeast Asia: Swidden farmers struggling to cope


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Presented by Grace Wong, from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), at the Resilience 2017 conference in Stockholm (Sweden), August 20-23, 2017.

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Trapped in the margins of Southeast Asia: Swidden farmers struggling to cope

  1. 1. Trapped in the margins of Southeast Asia: Swidden farmers struggling to cope Grace Wong, Maria Brockhaus, Moira Moeliono, Indah Waty, Cynthia Maharani, Shintia Arwida, Pham Thu Thuy, Rob Cole, Le Ngoc Dung
  2. 2. Research context • Swidden (shifting cultivation) is a prevalent land use in frontier forests and uplands throughout Southeast Asia • A marginalized form of land use, both politically and socio-economically • Also traditionally a biologically diverse, locally managed landscape of forest-agriculture mosaics … but this is changing • Placed within a highly dynamic region in terms of economic growth, trade, movement of finance, migration, and environmental change Are farmers “trapped” within the swidden socio-ecological systems? Extending analysis beyond the persistent state of the poor swidden farmer in declining ecological conditions towards understanding the broader mechanisms and institutions that influence and/ or reinforce traps (Haider et al. 2017, Boonstra and de Boer 2014)
  3. 3. Research sites • Sites: West Kalimantan, Indonesia (4 villages) and Houaphan, Laos (3 villages) • Swidden communities who are/have been actively managing forest- agriculture land use mosaics in frontier regions, near protected areas • Highly different social-cultural contexts and political systems between the two countries
  4. 4. Changing agriculture landscapes Kalimantan • Swidden is still a prevalent land use, practiced by over 75% of hholds • Despite expanding oil palm and rubber plantations (-23% forests and +430% plantations since 2000) • Land is maintained for fallows as part of a cultural heritage • Rely on extensive use of fertilizers (50%) and herbicides (83%) Houaphan • Swidden is losing hold (32% of hholds), largely due to illegality and land reallocation policies which restrict fallows and reinforce degradation • Replaced with corn for markets in China and Vietnam, as livestock feed (-16% forests and +77% annual crop fields since 2000) • Little use of inputs but high dependence on commercial seeds
  5. 5. Initial results on shocks and coping • Swidden farmers face a wide range of shocks: • market factors (prices!) in Kalimantan • environment factors (drought, pests) in Houaphan • Shocks are largely co-variate, perceived to be a prolonged event and commonly occurring • Primary coping strategies include off-farm wage labor (Kalimantan) and increased reliance on forest resources (Houaphan) Early evidence that Houaphan farmers appear more vulnerable and “trapped” in perpetual shock-and-coping cycles Data collected by CIFOR ASFCC project, 2016 0.00 10.00 20.00 30.00 40.00 50.00 60.00 70.00 80.00 90.00 100.00 Kalimantan Houaphan Are coping strategies adequate? No Yes, partially Yes, fully
  6. 6. Some thoughts on coping and traps Development aid as old wine in new bottles “…we undertake the poverty reduction, shifting cultivation stabilization initiatives, … still the old job but with a new concept” Discourses that constrain, or pre-define, possible choices and alternatives: swidden as “environmentally destructive” and an “impediment to progress and development” Cole et al. 2017, Salk et al . 2016, Kallio et al. 2016
  7. 7. Some thoughts on coping and traps Rapid conversion to cash crops and agriculture/ landscape homogeneity (rubber and maize in Houaphan), vulnerability to crop diseases and boom- and-bust cycles Narratives of modernization and available “unused” land to support transnational investments into commercial crops, cross- border markets for crops and wage labor Cole et al. 2017, Salk et al . 2016, Kallio et al. 2016
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