(P18AB) Contested Spaces and Circuits of Mobile Trade in Southeast Asia
Part 1Session 7
Thu 13:30-15:00 K14 | 2.05
Part 2Session 8
Thu 15:30-17:00 K14 | 2.05
- Carol Warren Murdoch University
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In Pursuit of a Good Fish: Multisensory Experiences of Buying and Eating Fish in Rural Madura
Kyana Dipananda University of Amsterdam
Food quality and preferences are important components of food and nutrition security. Food sensory experiences, safety controls, and traceability systems represent different, often standardized ways to measure the quality of food products in global commodity chains. Apart from the food quality standards commonly accepted as appropriate and used in formalized global markets, quality concerns also exist in informal, local food chains, which are usually shorter. These quality issues are often undocumented, debatable, and context-specific, depending on certain food commodities and areas. Taking rural Sumenep as a case study, the practices of sensory assessment are an integral part of fish exchanges, from public spaces like markets and selling points to the kitchen and dining table. When mobile fish traders arrive in the village, usually by motorcycle or foot, it creates a vital space for exchange between traders and Madurese fish consumers, particularly those with no alternative access to fish. By focusing on the trader-consumer connection in the everyday routine of choosing fish, this paper highlights the relationship between taste, knowledge, and power. From this, it questions how different fish qualities, such as freshness, rottenness, origin, size, and taboo, affect individual consumer choices. How and why do different consumers make their unique selections? This paper argues that the idea of a good quality of fish (to eat) is a multi-dimensional and multisensory experience that allows us to seek an alternative understanding of fish consumer preferences in Madura.
Mobile Traders and Artisanal Gold Mining in Indonesia.
Andrew McWilliam Western Sydney University
The elevated global price for gold has prompted expanded artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) activities across Indonesia. The sector attracts many into the industry with prospects for lucrative financial gains, usually well beyond what can be gleaned from seasonal fishing and seasonal agriculture. In the wake of these developments there is typically an equally diverse and entrepreneurial collection of opportunists and traders who emerge to provide the diverse needs of the temporary mining camps. They include mobile traders (dagang keliling) and commercial sellers offering a wide range of goods and services The range of goods reflects demand as well as the scale of operations. They highlight the kind of multiplier effects and benefits that derive from the gold mining activity itself. In the literature on artisanal gold mining much of the focus is directed to the fortunes of the miners themselves and the mining experience along with the health and environmental risks of mercury amalgam processing. This paper reflects on these secondary effects of artisanal gold mining and the petty entrepreneurs who profit in its wake, drawing on case study material from eastern Indonesia.
The last mile: mobile traders, rural consumers, and access to fish
Sharon Suri AISSR, University of Amsterdam
Food and nutrition security comprises the availability, accessibility, utilization of food, and has expanded to include the stability of access, the agency of people, and the sustainability of the food system overall (HLPE, 2020). Since the green revolution, production volumes, particularly of staple crops, have increased significantly, leading to ongoing research on the nutritional aspects of food systems and diets. However, stable access to nutritious foods, such as fish, remains an issue in low and middle-income countries, where fluctuations and disruptions to supply chains disproportionately impact rural, poor people who have limited purchasing power.
Indonesia is a top fish producer globally, and fish make up a significant component of the diet, with many Indonesians dependent upon it both for animal protein and essential nutrients. However, despite the large volume of fish produced, much of this is exported, and undernutrition and stunting remain stubborn concerns.
This research is based on ethnographic fieldwork in North Sumatra following mobile fish traders who supply rural communities in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Through this focus on how fish reaches these consumers and the fluctuations and disturbances that traders navigate along the supply chain, we can better understand that which enables or impedes access to fish for both traders and consumers. This paper explores how mobile traders facilitate stable access to fish for rural poor consumers and how these traders manage the fluctuations they encounter along the chain.
On the edges: Women mobile petty traders on the Thai-Lao border
Brett Le Saint University Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3
On the Isan-Lao border, petty trade and small economic transactions are not only an inescapable corollary of rice cultivation and agricultural activity in general—whose transformations have been widely documented—but structure an essential part of daily interactions. Trade and discussions about trade saturate social life at the border. This is particularly the case on Lao border sites where the differential value of goods and money, and the availability of desirable products on the other side of the Mekong River lead to the emergence of additional trade circuits that become entangled with conventional ones. Particularly risky, time-consuming, and yet made invisible, petty trade shapes daily Lao border lives, especially those of women who play a central part in the circulation of foodstuff.
In this presentation, I draw on a 15-month field research on the Thai-Lao border to describe the particular trajectory of one of these traders who, at different periods of her life, became one of the main intermediaries of a Central-Laos border village. From buying fruits in the opposite Thai village and selling them to small shopkeepers in the neighboring localities to bargaining the price of the fishermen’s catch on the Vientiane markets, her daily (and also nocturnal) life is shaped by the need to be constantly informed, available, and mobile. Caught between her aspirations, her material conditions, the changing local and national policies towards the border, and the gendered and generational distribution of roles within her family, she constantly needs to reassess her career to ensure the sustainability of the household and deal with financial risks. This presentation will show how both at the individual and village levels, cross-border and intra-border trade shapes women’s border lives, and simultaneously makes up a mean—central but often made invisible—to deal, on the edge of legality, with uncertainty
Spoilage as a driver of small, low-cost fish commodity chains in rural Indonesia
Thijs Schut University of Amsterdam
In rural Indonesia, consumers in relatively remote areas often buy from mobile vendors selling foodstuff and other necessities. Focussing on the low-cost fish commodity chain in East Sumba (NTT), I discuss how on the one hand this trade network is seemingly resilient and locally appropriate, yet on the other hand is ingrained with precarity. Using fish’s spoilage potential as a starting point, I highlight how traders use it as incentive to create such resilient and locally appropriate network. Without proper cold storage facilities on Sumba, fish needs to be sold quickly, pushing traders to creatively sell their wares. However, this same perishability also renders these traders subject to uncertainty and competition. Understanding these mechanisms is important, as rural trade networks enable consumers to have access to good food, which supports their food security and nutrition – a major issue in places like East Sumba.
In this panel, we discuss the contested spaces and circuits of mobile trade in (perishable) foodstuff, including fish, vegetables and fruit in Southeast Asia. All over Southeast Asia, mobile traders – often on motorbikes – are a common sight. These traders link relatively remote and poor rural consumers to regional centres and sites of production, providing necessities which are otherwise difficult to obtain to large parts of the population. We aim to discuss – using a comparative perspective – the importance of this trade, both for the communities they serve, as for the traders themselves.
We note that mobile traders are regular, efficient, predictable, and able to deliver on a daily or weekly basis. For millions of lower income consumers, they provide fresh necessities at home. The mobile trader combines the extremely mobile with the static; the timely with the incidental; the perishable with freshness; and the ‘structural’ with freedom and ad hoc household decisions. They are efficient brokers and petty entrepreneurs, make money as a trader, yet save costs for households. They are often risk takers, providing goods on credit, are flexible in their portions and operate largely beyond state control.
Despite these observations, we also note that mobile traders are often equated with tradition, and with economic backwardness, obscuring the importance of these traders in providing reliable access to basic foodstuff. There is a lack of studies into mobile food traders. Who are these traders, and what do they trade? How important are they, for example, for
the nutritional security of rural poor? Moreover, how do they provide, with their mobile trade, in their livelihoods? How do their activities fit into imagined career trajectories, and how do trading futures look like? Which regulatory frameworks are at stake, and how do traders navigate an ever-changing landscape of technological change, government regulations, quality controls, competition, taste, and social mobility?
Together, these questions make visible the sophisticated mechanisms underlying mobile trade and the vital role petty trade plays in rural Southeast Asia. To address them, we aim at bringing together a number of scholars working on mobile food trade in Southeast Asia. We invite papers on mobile trade and particularly on trade in (perishable) food, fish or fruit in all Southeast Asian Regions. This workshop aims to publish a special issue journal or edited volume.