(P03) Agrarian Transformations in Mainland Southeast Asia: Exploring the Intersectionality of Migration, Inequality and Environment
Wed 16:30-18:00 K14 | 2.07
- Michael Kleinod Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
- Nantawat Chatuthai Bonn University
- Oliver Pye Bonn University
- Michael Kleinod Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
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Going Organic: Challenges for Government-Supported Organic Rice Promotion in Thailand
Ian Baird University of Wisconsin-Madison
In recent years, there has been increased interest in organic lowland rice farming in Thailand. Farmers are becoming more wary about the human health impacts associated with using herbicides and pesticides. Farmers have also become more concerned about the negative environmental impacts of agricultural chemicals, especially on aquatic life, including fish, frogs and aquatic insects. In addition, rice consumers, including farmers themselves, and others in Thailand and abroad, are increasingly demanding rice cultivated without the use of chemicals. Finally, there is more interest in accessing local and foreign organic rice markets. With the above in mind, the Thai government rolled out a project designed to promote the conversion of 1 million rai (160,000 hectares) of lowland rice farms from being non-organic to becoming organic over a three-year period. They intended to do this by subsidizing farmers 4,000, 3,000 and 2,000 baht (US$133, US$100 and US$67) per rai for the first, second and third years of the program. This program was supposed to meet the increasing demand for organic rice in Thailand and abroad, and to support small-scale farmer desires to successfully go organic. Although the initiative was well intended, it has faced serious obstacles, and in some ways has negatively impacted the structures that support organic farming. These challenges and limitations are elaborated on here.
Inside the Banana Plantation: Bringing a Labour Geography Perspective to Agrarian Studies
Oliver Pye Bonn University
The expansion of banana plantations across much of Mainland Southeast Asia is representative of wider agrarian transformations across the region. While most research on these ‘land grabs’ has highlighted the social and ecological conflicts with local farmers, less work has been done on the new social relations inside the plantation. What happens when researchers enter the plantation? What stories can be told by agricultural workers? This paper uses the banana plantation as an example to sketch some conceptual points for research on agrarian transformations. By shifting attention from ‘local farmer’ to ‘agricultural worker’, a labour geography approach can make sense of new spatial dynamics and mobilities that increasingly define agricultural production. Not only are such agribusiness ventures part of global production networks that bring together groups of workers in new ways, they are also embedded within networks of social reproduction that span national borders. This has implications for understanding the intersectionality of agrarian change and the struggles that arise from its contradictions.
Rurally rooted cross-border migrant workers from Myanmar, Covid-19, and agrarian movements
Doi Ra International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam
This paper examines the situation of rurally rooted cross-border migrant workers from Myanmar during the Covid-19 pandemic. It looks at the circumstances of the migrants prior to the global health emergency, before exploring possibilities for a post-pandemic future for this stratum of the working people by raising critical questions addressed to agrarian movements. It does this by focusing on the nature and dynamics of the nexus of land and labour in the context of production and social reproduction, a view that in the context of rurally rooted cross-border migrant workers necessarily requires interrelated perspectives on labour, agrarian, and food justice struggles. This requires a rethinking of the role of land, not as a factor in either production or social reproduction, but as a central component in both spheres simultaneously. The question is not ‘whether’ it is necessary and desirable to forge multi-class coalitions and struggles against external capital, while not losing sight of the exploitative relations within rural communities and the household; rather, the question is ‘how’ to achieve this. It will require a messy recursive process, going back and forth between theoretical exploration and practical politics.
Thai Agrarian Change, Three Rural Populisms, and Two Dead Ends
Nantawat Chatuthai Bonn University
This paper examines how three strands of Thai rural populism –– the Assembly of the Poor (AoP), the Yellow Shirts, and the Red Shirts –– are embedded within dynamics of agrarian change in Thailand. The paper argues that the progressive rural populism developed by the AoP in the early 1990s led to two dead ends. On the one hand, we have the Yellow Shirts movement which can be defined as a reactionary version of alternative small-scale farming embedded within nationalist and royalist populism. On the other hand, we have a capitalist populism based on the modernization of rural Thailand, in the case of the Red Shirts. Both forms of populism are affirmative of capitalism and silence the voice of labour, particularly agricultural migrant workers. The paper would also like to argue that one could not be able to understand the development of Thai politics without having an insight of the dynamics of the Thai agrarian change, and vice versa.
The panel looks at different forms of agribusiness agriculture that shape new agrarian transformations in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Taking an intersectional approach, i.e. how gender, ethnicity and class interact, it explores the relations between migration, inequality and environment in key commodities such as bananas, palm oil, coffee, maize and sugar cane. As agriculture shifts from smallscale production to commercial farming and becomes embedded within global production networks, work on the farm or on the plantation is increasingly conducted by migrant workers.
Can we decolonialise our understanding of agribusiness by understanding and articulating the experience of this subaltern? What new class relations emerge from the triangle between small-scale farmers, agribusiness companies and labourers? How does this intersect with nationality or ethnicity, for example via crossborder or internal migration? How are gender relations constructed in the production process via an unequal division of labour. How does this connect to processes of social reproduction? What social inequalities are created in these new formations, and how? Lastly, how do these agrarian transformations create new social relations of nature within agriculture? We welcome papers that give in-depth insights into specific commodities, that explore agriculture as embedded within production networks, or that offer a comparative analysis across the region. We particularly welcome papers based on research with agricultural labourers.