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Author Topic: Rice farming in the Northeast  (Read 203 times)

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Anton

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Rice farming in the Northeast
« on: December 23, 2017, 09:23:53 AM »

Results of an academic research conducted in Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen and Bung Kan provinces, shed light on real causes behind the phenomenon of "ageing" farmers and on reasons why they would stick to their land no matter what:





Who will tend the farm and grow the rice?

(...)

Farmers in Thailand are ageing -- they are now, on average, over 50 years old. Over the 20 years between 1993 and 2013, the proportion of farmers aged 45 years old or more doubled from 23% to 52%, and 12.5% of farmers are now more than 65 years old. Not only are farmers ageing, but the size of their farms is declining. In 2013, farms averaged 20 rai, effectively too small to support a family. This apparent ageing of farmers on the one hand, and farm size decline on the other, is also evident across the Southeast Asian region.

The government and many agricultural economists see these trends as problematic. Elderly farmers, it is assumed, are less amenable to adopting new technology and, as a generation, are putting the brakes on the modernisation of the farm sector, the vitality of Thailand's agriculture, and in the long term threatening national food security.

(...)

The longer we talked to our respondent households, however, the more it became clear that not only is the "problem" of the ageing smallholder not as problematic as it is often presented, but the very basis of the problem -- that farmers are ageing, driven by the migration of the young -- is also not quite as it seems.

The elderly were neither stubbornly retaining their land rather than passing it on to their children, nor were they, usually, working solo. The challenge for a researcher is that the categories we use -- namely, farmer and non-farmer -- do not reflect the realities of rural work and living.

(...)

To understand why farm households so often perform this complex choreography of work across space, sectors and generations, especially in a context when most farms are too small to make a decent living, we need to understand how farm and non-farm intersect. When we asked Ms Suk why she didn't just sell her land, given that her children have full-time, non-farm work she replied: "If I sold my rice land, where would we get our food from? At least if we farm rice we still have rice to eat."

She said she has seen people who sold their farm land. None of them can get their farmland back. "No matter how many rai we have now, it's our parents' land and I won't sell it," she said.

This response highlights that many of the small holdings in our three villages, too small to sustain a living, are being cultivated as subsistence or semi-subsistence farms. Elderly farmers are growing rice to feed their families, and not for sale.

(...)

The surprise of subsistence farming by elderly villagers becomes understandable when we view farming in the context of diverse household livelihoods. It is because some household members are working away from home in factory work and other occupations that others can stay behind and engage in subsistence farm work. There is a complex inter-locking of work, production, reproduction and redistribution and farming -- why and how it occurs -- has to be seen in the round, not in isolation.

This still does not, however, fully explain why ageing farmers do not sell their small holdings and give up farming altogether. After all, this is what happened in other countries as they industrialised. Once more there is no single answer to this question, but hidden behind the ageing farmer narrative lurks the precariousness of much non-farm work. As 74-year-old Thom Boonklang said: "Selling your farm is like cutting off your hands and your feet. Even though you might not get a job [at least] you still have rice to eat."

The elderly who stay on the land rarely have access to savings, social security or a pension sufficient to meet their needs; and younger household members who work away from home are always at risk of losing their job such is the precariousness of working in the modern economy. The livelihoods that gradually came into view as our study progressed revealed not ageing farmers stubbornly holding onto their land, thus preventing the modernisation of the agriculture, but households struggling to build secure livelihoods against the inherited vulnerabilities of farming, a thinly woven social safety net, and the precariousness of much non-farm work.

Bangkok Post full article
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Alfie

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Re: Rice farming in the Northeast
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2017, 01:32:55 PM »

... there is no single answer to this question, but ...

The elderly who stay on the land rarely have access to savings, social security or a pension sufficient to meet their needs; and younger household members who work away from home are always at risk of losing their job such is the precariousness of working in the modern economy. The livelihoods that gradually came into view as our study progressed revealed not ageing farmers stubbornly holding onto their land, thus preventing the modernisation of the agriculture, but households struggling to build secure livelihoods against the inherited vulnerabilities of farming, a thinly woven social safety net, and the precariousness of much non-farm work.


^ That's it in a nutshell, IMO, but I also think there's a cultural side to it and a hobby or pastime aspect to it.
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caller

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Re: Rice farming in the Northeast
« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2017, 01:57:18 PM »

Bring on the revolution!  :D

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00G1mS_fGWA" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00G1mS_fGWA</a>

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Hector

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Re: Rice farming in the Northeast
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2017, 03:10:22 PM »

It is an interesting article and I agree with Alfie's comment about the last para, except that there is precious little hobby or pastime aspects of farming; up here especially it is ruddy hard work!
I have lived in two rural areas over the last 20 years here; the first in Prachuap where the farming was mainly sugar cane and pineapple and the second up here where it is almost 100% rice.  In both areas there are large holdings of hundreds (or even thousands) of rai and plenty of small ones of from 10 to 20 rai.  In both areas though many of the farmers rent their land, either having sold it themselves or having had it sold by their parents.  The farmers are invariably elderly - as the study states - as their children work in the cities, but amongst all the farming families I have come across, there is what I can only call extended family cooperation when it is needed - eg at harvest time, so the young are still marginally involved.
I don't agree that 20 rai is insufficient land to support a family.  We have 4.5 rai down to rice and get a yield per annum of 3,500 - 3,750 kg, which is far more than sufficient for the extended family.  What I do agree with is the fact that elderly farmers are less accepting of modern methods.   They continue the overuse of fertilisers and insect and weed killers, with he result that their production cost per kg is 2-3 times higher than any other country in ASEAN and makes their rice uneconomical to sell.
In most countries in a similar situation I should think that the writing would be on the wall for the small family farm, but I am not sure this will happen here any time soon, at least not in the north east, although this may well change once those who rent land are too old to work it or the land owner decides to sell/redevelop.  I feel sure there are more farmers who rent than the study implies.
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Alfie

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Re: Rice farming in the Northeast
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2017, 10:59:30 PM »

It is an interesting article and I agree with Alfie's comment about the last para, except that there is precious little hobby or pastime aspects of farming; up here especially it is ruddy hard work!

By hobby and pastime, I meant that it's not their main source of income or their main form of work. They have other jobs and farming is done part-time, mainly at planting and harvest time, but a few hours here and there throughout the season; weekends and evenings.
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