Accepted paper:

Indigenous knowledge, farming, market pressures and food security in S.E. Asia


Ian Douglas (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

S.E. Asian shifting cultivators are changing farming practices as access to markets improves, abandoning some fields and cultivating others. Their vulnerability to market prices, fertiliser costs and soil degradation is increasing. Conservation schemes requiring additional labour.

Paper long abstract:

Throughout the hilly and mountainous areas of S.E. Asia former shifting cultivators are abandoning some of their fields and cultivating others on an almost permanent basis. Those with access to roads and thus to urban markets are often concentrating on the production of one or two commercial crops and are ceasing to grow the hill rice that was the mainstay of their family's nutrition. Thus even in these economies the problem of "food miles" is growing and local crop diversity is decreasing. This leads to greater community vulnerability to both vagaries in market prices and environmental change. Continuous cultivation in areas of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo,has degraded soils and reduced yields, requiring expensive fertilisers to be used. In the Lao PDR, migration following war and conflict has forced people into areas with which they are unfamiliar and their traditional cultivation methods are unsuccessful. Efforts to introduce improved soil conservation to enhance crop yields are often unsuccessful because the work required to maintain such systems is far greater than the effort required in tradition shifting cultivation. Economic returns mean a lot to small farmers and if conservation methods are too expensive, either in the labour cost or the cost of hiring tractors to plough, they tend to be abandoned. Nevertheless there are some community schemes with appropriate leadership that have successfully adapted indigenous knowledge to enhance production and have reduced degradation and waste of water resources.

panel PE03
Food and environmental security: the imperatives of indigenous knowledge systems