Rural Northeast Thailand has been undergoing rapid change in recent years, a process that can be referred to as an “agrarian transformation.” This transformation involves a major restructuring of agriculture from being subsistence oriented to market oriented. It also involves concomitant changes in all components of the agricultural system, including technology, economic orientation, social relations, and cultural values. This paper presents a review of a large volume of recent research on several key dimensions of the agrarian transformation: (1) agricultural intensification, diversification, and specialization; (2) technological change and the continuing role of traditional technology in rural life; (3) the epidemiological transition and changes in health and disease risks; and (4) social system changes, including in the nature of rural-urban interactions, population structure, household composition and livelihood systems, community social organization, and cultural values and aspirations.
Agriculture in Thailand is undergoing significant change. The present paper addresses this change from a social perspective, focusing on the role of household dynamics and expansion of the capitalist economy into rural areas. It draws upon data from different sources. Changes in household dynamics over the past decades have resulted in not only unprecedented below-replacement fertility levels and small households on average but also labor and land constraints in most rural areas. In this environment, rural households are under pressure to modify their farming practices. Meanwhile, the expansion of the capitalist economy brought about by the Green Revolution and new socioeconomic policies since the early 1960s has opened up new opportunities and choices for rural households to participate in market-oriented production. It is the response of households to this environment that is leading to agricultural transformation in rural Thailand.
Key aspects of agricultural change identified in this analysis include a shift from subsistence production to market-oriented production; widespread agricultural mechanization and adoption of other new technologies; emergence of agribusiness and large-scale commercial farming; and structural change in land use and landholding, resulting in land concentration.
Changes in agriculture are likely to alter other aspects of rural life. It is, therefore, important to have a short-term safety net as well as long-term policy that will lead to a holistic agricultural reform.
As part of the agrarian transformation in Northeast Thailand, major changes have been occurring in the size, structure, and sources of income of rural households. This study, which is based on a survey of 303 households in a rice-growing village in Khon Kaen Province in Northeast Thailand, presents a detailed picture of contemporary rural households. Households have decreased in size while becoming more structurally diverse. Nuclear households, which were the most common structural type in the past, are increasingly being replaced by extended, skipped generation, and truncated households. Multiple factors, including the increased opportunity for earning income from local non-farm employment, provision of services within the village, prolongation of people’s life spans, increased education levels, delayed age of marriage, and an increase in the number of people who never marry, have contributed to these changes. At the same time as they are becoming structurally more diverse, rural households have become increasingly dependent on non-agricultural sources of income. Even truncated households, which are the most reliant on agricultural income of any structural type, derive only one-third of their total income from farming. Non-agricultural income sources, which include local non-farm employment, self-employment, remittances, and government support and pensions, are of growing importance. Many households are in debt, with two-thirds of skipped generation households having debts exceeding 100% of their annual net income. Government rural development and poverty reduction policies and programs intended to improve the social and economic situation of people in the Northeast need to take the changed nature of their households into account if they are to achieve their desired results.
Rainfed paddy fields cover a large area in Northeast Thailand. Rice production there is known to be highly variable, with generally low yields. With the Thai economy developing rapidly since the 1960s, an increasing number of farmers have sought employment in the non-farm sector. As a result, some worry that rice growing in this region might decline or even disappear. In reality, however, it continues to play an important role in ensuring basic food security to rural households. This study investigates technological advances in rice growing during this period of rapid economic growth in Don Daeng village using a dataset spanning approximately 50 years. The results indicate that farmers adopted small-scale agricultural machines, irrigation technologies, land consolidation, high-yielding varieties, chemical fertilizers, and the direct seeding method on their own initiative. These technologies and methods contributed to increasing rice yields and stabilizing production. They also appear to have substantially improved labor productivity, allowing farmers to procure their main food supply from their paddy fields while earning an additional income from the off-farm sector, which could then be reinvested in agriculture. Thus, the interaction between these sectors is currently supporting small-scale rice production in peri-urban villages in Northeast Thailand.
Paddy fields in Northeast Thailand are unusual in that they contain large trees. In recent years, however, in concert with major changes in the agricultural system of Northeast Thailand, including the shift from subsistence to cash crops, mechanization, use of chemical fertilizers, and increased reliance of rural people on manufactured consumer goods, the role of trees in paddy fields has also been changing, leading to a decline in tree densities. This study was conducted in Khok Kwang village, Khon Kaen Province, in order to examine factors influencing variations in density, canopy coverage, and origin of trees in paddy fields there. In recent years, the rate of tree cutting appears to have been increasing and the density of trees declining. This decline reflects many changes in agricultural practices in the village. Farmers now rely on chemical fertilizer rather than litter from the trees to maintain soil fertility. They no longer value any increase in rice yield during dry years in the parts of their fields that are close to the trees because they are now able to pump irrigation water to maintain productivity; and trees are seen as an impediment to the use of four-wheel tractors, which have difficulty working efficiently in paddy fields with many trees. In addition, several farmers have begun to plant their paddy fields with sugarcane, which is less shade tolerant than rice. The density of trees in paddy fields planted with sugarcane (5.7 trees/ha) is much lower than in fields where rice is cultivated (9.6 trees/ha). In upper paddies that are still planted with rice, the trees are retained because they provide valuable goods and services to the farmers and rice yields there are in any case low and unstable. This study illustrates at the micro level how changes in farmer goals, choice of crops, and production technology that are part of the agrarian transformation of Northeast Thailand are reshaping the rural landscape.
Cropping intensification in rainfed rice-based farming systems through multiple cropping after the rice harvest by using residual soil moisture and supplemental irrigation offers a way to increase agricultural productivity and boost rural incomes in Northeast Thailand. This study identifies localities, planted areas, types of crops, and number of households growing crops after rainfed rice in Khon Kaen Province; it also analyzes some of the physical and social factors associated with the occurrence of this system. A questionnaire survey was conducted in 2013 of 198 agricultural extension officers in each subdistrict (tambol) in the province to collect data on multiple cropping. An area of 10,384 ha (2.9% of the total rainfed rice area) was used for multiple cropping by 16,184 households (10.9% of all rainfed rice farming households). Both field crops (e.g., cassava, crotalaria, field corn) and vegetables (e.g., sweet corn, watermelon, Chinese radish) were grown. These crops generated USD414–49,072 per hectare per crop for a total revenue of USD32 million, which is three times higher than the value of rice grown in the same field area. However, the area that can be utilized for multiple cropping in different subdistricts may be limited by physical conditions, including availability of irrigation sources and soil texture, as well as social and economic factors such as availability of markets, institutional support, and farmer skills.
Hybrid tomato seed production after rice is a way of intensifying agriculture in rainfed areas in Northeast Thailand. Although this type of intensive high-value contract farming has been developing for the last 30 years, there has been little research on it. This study describes the historical development of this system and identifies factors influencing increases and decreases in the number of production sites and farmers producing hybrid tomato seeds. Although production of hybrid tomato seeds was initially adopted by a large number of farmers in many villages in both rainfed and irrigated areas, in recent years it has been carried out only in a smaller number of villages, mostly in rainfed areas. The decision of growers to continue or discontinue production is influenced by both the benefit they gain from production and their relations with the seed companies. The local availability of highly skilled hired workers also affects the concentration of production in certain sites.
This paper describes changes in the pattern of land use in two riverine districts of Nakhon Phanom Province between 2006 and 2010. A great deal of land use change occurred in these five years. In Mueang District, about 12.1% of the area (9,477 ha) had a different use in 2010 from that in 2006. In That Phanom District the magnitude of change was even greater, with about 27.3% of the area (9,326 ha) changing use between 2006 and 2010. Much of the land use change in both districts resulted from the conversion of natural forests, orchards, and rice paddies into rubber plantations. At the same time, rapid urbanization led to the conversion of large areas of farmland into housing estates in the peri-urban zone around Nakhon Phanom City and, to a lesser extent, around That Phanom district town. Most of these land use changes are reducing overall agroecological diversity. Several factors have influenced these land use changes, including lack of secure land titles, urban growth, and changes in the costs and benefits of growing different crops.