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Slash-and-Burn, Intensification of Rice Production, Migratory Movements, and Pioneer Front Agriculture in Southeast Asia

Marc Dufumier
p. 7-31

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1The critical challenge faced by the nations of Southeast Asia today is to sustain the livelihoods of more than 540 million inhabitants on only 4.5 million km2. This high demographic density is especially problematic given that 70% of the region is covered with mountainous areas that are hard to reach and even harder to cultivate.

2The populations of Southeast Asia have been traditionally concentrated along valleys and flood plains where it is easy to practice various forms of flooded or irrigated rice production: valleys and deltas of the Mekong, the Red River, the Mae Nam Chao Phraya and the Irrawadi, the alluvial basin of the Tonle Sap and relatively small coastal plains. Some peasants have set up irrigated rice paddies on terraces along the fertile piedmonts of volcanoes: the islands of Java, Sulawesi, Luzon and Mindoro offer strikingly beautiful examples. However, during the second half of the 20th century, a significant part of the population living among the plains, valleys and piedmonts had to migrate to distant mountainous regions to set up rainfed cropping systems on uplands.

3These migrations were primarily spontaneous, driven by the need to find new lands to cultivate in areas considered virgin or yet unexploited (Charras & Pain 1993). But they were also sometimes encouraged and organized by government authorities who wanted to empty out the regions where arable lands had become insufficient to satisfy the consumption and monetary needs of their residents. Frequently these resettlements also helped meet the governements’ strategic objectives to mark territories and “control ethnic minorities”, as Rodolphe De Koninck demonstrates in his article in this volume. Thus the high plateaus of Central Vietnam have been colonized by the Kinhs, populations from the Malay Peninsula settled in Sabah, and Javanese, Madurese and Balinese peoples “transmigrated” to the provinces of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Irian Jaya (Blanadet 1991).

4Migrant populations have often appropriated areas that still have extensive forest cover. But they have not been necessarily virgin forests. On the contrary, the lands settled by the new arrivals have usually been covered with secondary forests periodically subjected to slash-and-burn by indigenous populations. Cultivable lands thus have been diminishing gradually for these native populations, and the result has been reduced fallow periods. The expansion of agricultural activities at the expense of long-standing wooded areas appears to be the cause of the gradual savanization of their ecosystems and, consequently, a loss of biodiversity (Coulter 1998). In addition, the arrival of migrants frequently has culminated in ethnic conflicts between plains and mountain populations, especially in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Fear of being totally colonized by the new settlers indeed has nurtured separatist movements on the plateaus of central Vietnam, Borneo, Mindanao, Sumatra and Irian Jaya.

5Measuring the extent of deforestation is not easy (Durand 1994). Data collection methods and satellite imagery analysis offer little certainty when it comes to determining deforested surface areas. Furthermore, specialists still cannot come to agreement on what should be called “forest.” For example, should spontaneous shrub regrowth that appears just a few years after slash-and-burn be included in the definition? How does one distinguish between an “open woodland forest” and an “open wooded savanna”? Should coffee and cocoa plantations under shaded tree cover be considered forests? Based on statistics published by the FAO, forest cover in Southeast Asia went from 267 down to 229 million ha between 1961 and 1994, a decrease of 14% in 43 years. Abovementioned uncertainties notwithstanding, this percentage indicates that there is still a great deal of forest cover and its destruction is only just beginning in Myanmar, Cambodia, Borneo, Sulawesi and New Guinea. The significance of deforestation and its impact should nonetheless not be underestimated in regions like Sumatra, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand that population density continues to grow. It is in Thailand where cultivated lands appear to be expanding most rapidly, at the expense of forest cover, at around 2.8% per year between 1970 and 1993. Previously an exporter of undressed timber, the country has become a very powerful importer.

6In light of these figures, it appears critical to examine the sustainability of processes under way in the Southeast Asian countryside, in terms of food security, the reproduction of productive potentialities of ecosystems, and maintaining peace among the populations. Can agricultural yields continue to increase without exposing the most intensely planted valleys and alluvial plains to serious ecological consequences? Under what conditions can migration to less populated zones continue and not culminate in violent ethnic conflicts? What are the most effective policies for improving land access and tenure? These questions are addressed in the following articles. The answers are obviously not all the same, reflecting the great diversity of farming systems in this part of the world.

The Undeniable Successes of the Green Revolution

7Between 1970 and 1980, grain production increased more rapidly in Southeast Asia than anywhere else in the world. At around 3% per year, the rate of food production surpassed population growth (Pingali et al. 1997). Growth was so impressive that even countries considered to suffer from structural food insecurity (Indonesia and the Philippines) very quickly became self-sufficient in rice production—even occasional exporters—during the 1980s. A main importer of rice until 1988, Vietnam became the world’s second exporter during the 1990s, after Thailand, which had achieved surplus production years earlier.

8It is clear that these remarkable results have stemmed from the intensification of cropping systems in valleys and alluvial plains where collective irrigation and drainage infrastructure was established (Barker et al. 1985). Increasing food production was essentially the result of using new varieties of rice and maize with high genetic yield potential in experimental sites of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in Los Baños, Philippines, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), headquartered in Mexico.

9Selected for their high photosynthetic capacity per hectare and their relative insensitivity to variation in daylight in perfectly managed conditions, the new cultivars turned out to be quite greedy in their absorption of mineral elements, sensitive to water stress and not very tolerant of predatory insects and pathogenic agents. Ultimately, they only resulted in higher yields in regions that were already very fertile and only then by using large quantities of chemical fertilizer and phytosanitary products. This Green Revolution was not only limited to the dissemination of new varieties; it materialized in the complete modification of cropping systems involving new shifting cultivation techniques that were relatively complex and expensive. Only farmers with the necessary means to implement these techniques and living in regions with good water management infrastructure were able to use the new cultivars from the start.

  • 1 Only in Malaysia did governmental authorities refrain from interfering in the prices of food produc (...)

10To encourage the use of high yield varieties, most governments set up development projects that combined various activities: outreach, rural credit, irrigation, drainage, input supply, marketing of agricultural produce, land allocation, etc. Oftentimes they benefited from international aid and loans from multilateral institutions (World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc.). Indonesian and Filipino governments routinely subsidized inputs (seeds, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) and set price protection policies on grains for domestic markets.1

11It was not long before the various government programs began having an effect. Intensification techniques advocated by public authorities were quickly put into practice by increasing numbers of farmers in plains regions where ecological and economic conditions were stable. The result was a gradual increase of yields and greater food security. Towards the end of the 1980s the IRRI-issued varieties covered nearly 80% of all rice fields in Indonesia and more than 90% in the Philippines and Malaysia (Pingali et al. 1997). The increase of average yields was particularly remarkable in Indonesia (most especially in Java) where heavily subsidized fertilizers and phytosanitary products were used extensively on oftentimes very small parcels. Paddy yields around 1990 reached 4.3 tons per ha, with several harvests per year.

12Just as in Taiwan and Korea, the successes of the Green Revolution in the Southeast Asian countries were almost always preceded by agrarian reform. Despite reforms being oftentimes partial or incomplete, they enabled the majority of peasants to intensify their cropping and animal husbandry systems under conditions that ensured land security. In their article, Camille de Lataillade, Nicolas Grondard and Alexandre Dumontier illustrate the positive effects that President Ferdinand Marcos’ land reform policies had in the Pampanga estuary (Luzon Island). As the article shows, agrarian reform and the protection of domestic markets from cereal imports have succeeded in creating the conditions necessary to develop work and input intensive cropping systems, with positive results on yields per hectare, work productivity, peasants’ wages and their investment capacity.

13These facts indicate that it could make sense to promote market-oriented family farms. Peasants who benefit from land tenure security and have free access to agricultural credit without depending on usury merchants are indeed quickly capable of developing Green Revolution-inspired intensive rice production systems that involve irrigation management, the multiplication of yearly crop cycles and the use of high yield varieties and chemical inputs (fertilizers and phytosanitary products). Once self-employed and free of exorbitant rent obligations, these farmers are usually able to generate enough income to feed their families, buy manufactured goods and invest in their operations. But by limiting redistribution policies to lands that are ordinarily planted with rice or maize and leased out, the agrarian reform of Ferdinand Marcos encouraged absentee owners to evict their sharecroppers in order to directly manage their lands, even when it meant setting up more extensive, non-food cropping systems like sugarcane and coconut tree plantations. Although it was possible to observe a relative hastening of land redistribution between 1988 and 1998 under the administrations of Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos, nowadays, agrarian reform only moves forward when land conflicts force it to by means of lawsuits, land occupation or police repression.

14The Green Revolution was slow to take off in Vietnam and then sped up considerably in the late 1980s after the decollectivization of agriculture and commerce. Major water management structures were nonetheless established early on in the Red River Delta by the Vietnamese government and in the Mekong Delta with support from French and North American aid. In her article, Sophie Devienne shows how agricultural production cooperatives in North Vietnam facilitated the organization of participatory efforts to establish large-scale water projects, but did not necessarily succeed in creating the conditions that encouraged peasants to take full advantage of these structures. Only when land was decollectivized, domestic trade liberalized and access to inputs and equipment made easier did peasants see the benefit in working their parcels more intensely. Once that happened, intensification of rice production was very quick, with average yields multiplied by 1.5 in less than ten years (Bergeret 1999). Once again, evidence shows that far from being an obsolete form of production condemned to immobility, market-oriented family farming can be progressive and economically efficient.

15In every region of Southeast Asia where the Green Revolution took hold, the use of new varieties almost always went hand in hand with increased integration of farmers into a market economy. However, not all farmers were able to easily acquire production means and thus did not equally benefit from the new cropping techniques. The social differences that emerged among the peasant class did not necessarily condemn the poorest to rural flight, however, even in countries with high population density. The intensification of cropping systems made it possible to create waged jobs for farmers who were no longer able to produce enough for their own subsistence. The gradual substitution of draft animals by small tractors among the wealthiest farmers did not, for example, result in less work per hectare since it helped speed up land preparation and thus made it possible to plant several cycles of crops each year. The socio-economic consequences of these transformations have not all been as negative as some might have expected (Maurer 1985).

16In Thailand, “high-yielding varieties” were effectively adopted by most farmers and yearly crop cycles multiplied in the plains regions where water management structures were already in place (Mae Khlong and Mae Nam Chao Phraya basins). Changes were much slower and difficult, however, in the peripheral regions like the Northeast provinces where it was necessary to first set up irrigated areas. Even farmers whose operations were situated within these areas did not dedicate their rice paddies exclusively to Green Revolution cultivars. Rather, they continued to use many varieties with different characteristics so as to stagger the heavy work periods, mainly transplanting and harvest (Tanabe 1994). Varieties promoted by extension services were added to the range of cultivars already used, but did not substitute them. Efforts to stagger the heavy work periods stemmed from the need to cultivate the maximum surface area possible with the oftentimes limited family labor force, given the available production means (hand transplanting, harvesting with a sickle, etc.). Today the average size of Thai farms ranges from 3 to 5 ha depending on the region and it would not be reasonable to practice cropping systems as intensive as those found in the Red River Delta or the coastal plains of Java. Paddy yields for the entire country barely exceed 2.5 tons per ha; it is therefore thanks to relatively extensive cropping systems that Thailand has managed to maintain its position as the world’s number one exporter of rice.

17The fate of Cambodian peasantry during the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979) is common knowledge. Land rights were totally abolished. Populations were brutally displaced from their homes and workers were grouped together according to age in large production cooperatives in which meals had to be taken together. The Angkar organized large hydro-agricultural projects of questionable quality (Martin 1981) despite the urgent need to carry out routine agricultural tasks like transplanting rice. The country was thus at risk of succumbing to a severe famine and the regime brutally collapsed when the Vietnamese troops arrived in December 1979. In her article, Anne Y. Guillou discusses the conditions under which lands were consequently redistributed, according to relatively egalitarian principles. But she also notes that the brutal return of the market economy along with usury loans and real estate mortgages has forced many peasants to sell or cede their lands to traders or other village elite. Making hydro-agricultural improvements on the vast flood plains is costly, and Cambodian peasants will probably continue to practice cropping systems that are not very intensive but dependable, in an effort to protect themselves against risks of drought or flooding. This is what Jean-Christophe Diepart et al. confirm in their article; each rice paddy is planted for only one cycle, with very moderate use of chemical fertilizers. Cambodian peasants often try to augment their income by looking for off-farm wage labor during the dry season, when paddies are left fallow.

18The situation is somewhat similar in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), where the more traditional type of Green Revolution does not have much of a future. (Sisoulith & Hara 2002). Silinthone Sacklokham et al. show how importing manufactured, bulky inputs and hauling them to the most isolated regions of Lao PDR has turned out to be too expensive for the majority of farmers in this mountainous, land-locked country. Hence it is necessary to design and implement crop protection modalities and soil fertility reproduction methods that do not require chemical inputs: adopting varieties that are resistant to or tolerant of disease and predators, using diverse types of organic fertilizer, maintaining close association between cropping and animal husbandry and taking advantage of sedimentation and natural alluviation phenomena, for example.

Problems Brought on by the Green Revolution

19For nearly a decade, increases in paddy and maize yields across Southeast Asia have slowed down considerably, and tend to level off in regions where the Green Revolution was most touted a success (Santikarn Kaosa-ard & Rerkasem 2000). Indeed, everything seems to indicate that increased yields and gains in productivity per worker cannot be maintained due to the negative effects of the Green Revolution on the productive potentialities of the environment: precariously low water tables, waterlogging, increased salinity of lands that are often flooded and badly drained, the creation of hardpan, soil compaction, erosion of arable soils, deterioration of soil nutrient dynamics, depletion of certain trace minerals, proliferation of predatory insects and pathogenic agents resistant to pesticides, etc. (Pingali et al. 1997). The use of chemical fertilizers and phytosanitary products has often resulted in chemical pollution, much to the detriment of surface water, water tables and mangroves, with harmful effects on the reproduction of fishing resources and health of local populations. (Gubry 2000; Laird 2000). The reduced size of fish caught in the Mekong and Mae Nam Chao Phraya deltas testifies to these effects. The high paddy yields that came with the new Green Revolution varieties did not only require farmers to make major monetary investments; they also had a very real ecological impact on the society as a whole.

  • 2 Source: FAOSTAT database, 2003.

20The dip in cereal yields and the increase in costs inherent to the Green Revolution have come at a time when Southeast Asia is experiencing accelerated processes of industrialization and urbanization. A middle class is emerging and food habits are diversifying, with livestock products (meat, milk, etc.) making up a greater proportion of diets. Cereals are thus used more and more as animal feed and consequently regional demand continues to rise. Subject to more or less severe structural adjustment policies in exchange for rescheduling external debt, most governments have gradually removed a number of subsidies and liberalized foreign trade. Attempts to balance payments on current accounts and check public deficits with drastic devaluations and stabilization policies have resulted in decreased purchasing power for the poorest social strata and dramatic increases in food prices in urban markets. The riots that resulted in Jakarta and the large Javanese cities have revealed that the food security problem has not been resolved definitively, despite the undeniable increases in production induced by the Green Revolution. Consequently, Indonesia quickly became the world’s number one importer of rice (26% of all commercialized rice on the world market), followed by the Philippines (6%).2

21During the 1997-1998 financial crisis in Indonesia, only the richest rice producers who managed to constitute their stocks and sell when prices were good were able to benefit from the dramatic rise in rice prices (in national currency) on domestic markets (Bourgeois & Gouyon 2001). This increase in rice prices did not incite peasants to produce more, since the rise was also felt on the majority of inputs and manufactured equipment, especially those with mostly foreign components. Less well-off producers were not really able to take advantage of the increase in agricultural prices and intensify their cropping and animal husbandry systems as a result, since subsidies on inputs had been removed. The devaluation of the rupiah seems to have been more beneficial to farmers with perennial plantations on the peripheral islands (Sumatra, Kalimantan, Maluku, Sulawesi and Irian Jaya), where ecosystems are not yet degraded and thus large amounts of imported fertilizers are not necessary. The result has been to once again spark spontaneous migratory movements towards the forested regions of these islands (Ruf & Gérard 2001).

22Will it be possible for farmers residing in flood plains and valleys to evolve production systems that are both more intensive and respectful of the environment? And will the intensification of farming systems be enough to further increase agricultural production? Or will it be necessary to encourage migration to mountainous and hilly regions that still have forest cover, in order to expand cultivated areas on ferralitic soil that is sometimes very deep but with a low cation exchange capacity? But is this not to risk even more conflictual relationships with indigenous populations, many of whom today are already speaking out for their right to independence?

Slash-and-burn and Deforestation

23Rainfed agriculture on slash-and-burn is mostly practiced in the sparsely populated mountainous and forest regions in Southeast Asia. Known as ray in former Indochina, ladang in Indonesia and kaigan in the Philippines, slash-and-burn agriculture is nowadays denounced for its destructive impact on the environment when population density becomes too high (Manshard 1974; Gutelman 1989).

24We know, however, that this type of agriculture can be perfectly viable and reproducible when demographic density is low (less than 25 inhabitants per sq. km); cleared parcels may be cultivated for two consecutive years in rotation with forest fallow of more than fifteen years (Ruthenberg 1980). It is entirely possible to control weeds and reproduce fertility due to the length of forest fallow. After only one or two years of planting (rainfed rice more or less associated with other grains and a few legumes) the cleared fields are left to fallow during as many years as it takes to gradually reconstitute a dense forest cover under which shade organic matter (dead leaves, twigs, branches, etc.) gathers and prevents proliferation of herbaceous grasses. Although tree biomass may not be very dense, it becomes possible to plant without too much difficulty lands that were cultivated 15 to 20 years earlier. This is the case in certain isolated forest regions of Lao PDR and the Dayak zone of Borneo.

25Farmers often prefer to slash and burn secondary forest patches than clear new lands in primary forests because tree trunks are much harder to remove from the latter. In most cases, farmers choose to clear pans that will produce high yields, but that are located relatively close to their homes, so as not to waste time traveling back and forth to the cultivated parcel. It usually does not matter who cleared the land previously, although on occasion, peasants are unable to plant lands that, over the years, have become “property” of their families. With increasing population pressure, the length and surface areas of forest regrowth are reduced. The consequence is a gradual decrease of yields and productivity. Some young households are hence constrained to leave their villages and colonize new areas of primary forest. In the best case scenario, they manage to establish new villages in the heart of evergreen forests where they can develop cropping systems similar to those of their parents without damaging the environment. But those who are only able to settle the woodlands and semi-deciduous forests with shallow soils must often grapple with the spontaneous growth of bamboo that appears on their lands only two years after cultivation and do not provide enough shade to inhibit the proliferation of wild grass.

26The forest ecosystem thus tends to gradually turn into savannas of Chromolaena odorata and Imperata cylindrica when population pressure forces farmers to shorten fallow periods in efforts to increase the number of annual cultivation cycles (Coulter 1998). Weed competition makes slash-and-burn agriculture more and more difficult to practice and less and less productive (Van Keer 2003). Bush fires spread easily during the dry season and weeds tend to reappear in abundance at the beginning of the rainy season. The dramatic fires in numerous regions of Malaysia and Indonesia that materialized in the wake of the unpredictable weather patterns of El Niño in 1997 are testimony to the increasing weediness of former forest areas that had been subjected to too much slash-and-burning or increasingly frequent logging. In order to maintain cultivated fields, it has become necessary to use manual or attached tillage tools to plow the land and bury the weeds.

27Nowadays, farmers routinely extend into many mountainous regions of Southeast Asia. Livestock rearing has become the easiest way to make use of these lands. Hmong populations from northern Indochina who practiced shifting agriculture in high altitude zones offer an example. These populations cultivated opium poppies on small gardens near their villages. Protecting poppies from weed competition and harvesting latex forced them to return often to their parcels. Plots reserved for planting food crops (rainfed rice, maize, vine plants, etc.) on slash-and-burn were thus understandably close to the village. These plots were therefore planted more frequently than those located deep in the forest (Dao 1975). Repetitive crop cycles in rotation with relatively short fallow and frequent use of bush fires during the dry season resulted in increased weediness and the rapid development of a carpet of cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica). Most families therefore opted to take advantage of the newly evolved savannas by raising bovines. This form of husbandry was not enough to sustain the dense population and farmers soon were forced to displace their villages periodically to conquer new lands in other forest regions. It would seem that in this very specific case, we have a clear example of shifting cultivation.

28Although frequently observed, the savannization of forest areas subjected to slash-and-burn agriculture should not be considered inevitable. It is important to recognize that slash-and-burn agriculture can take many different forms and does not always evolve in the same way, depending on land tenure systems in effect. In his article, Olivier Ducourtieux presents no less than three different types of slash-and-burn in the single district of Phongsaly in northern Lao PDR. And contrary to a commonly held belief in that country, the diverse forms of slash-and-burn agriculture do not necessarily correspond to the ethnolinguistic groups of the farmers. Jean Richard Laffort et al. remind us that slash-and-burn agriculture in Lao PDR is not practiced exclusively by mountainous ethnic minorities, but is also common among peasants of the ethnic majority. It serves to complement flooded lowland rice production when paddies are insufficient to ensure the family’s consumption needs. In this case, short cycle varieties that can be harvested earlier than transplanted varieties are usually cultivated, in order to bridge the gap between two harvests.

29In the hope of avoiding the gradual disappearance of forests in high altitude areas, the Vietnamese government allotted three small plots to each peasant family living in the northern mountainous regions, under the condition that the family would never clear new lands. The results of this policy have been mixed, even negative. Peasants who did not manage to set up perennial plantations saw their annual crops invaded by weeds and are unable to maintain soil fertility (Castella et al. 2002). The Laotian policy of settling mountainous populations along roads has had similarly unfortunate results. The policy involved permanently allocating a limited number of parcels to cultivate, and has the effect of distancing populations from their traditional village territories and blocking their access to forests that have become “protected.” Olivier Ducourtieux shows how the farmers of the Phongsaly district, concentrated in a relatively small area, are now constrained to cultivate their uplands far too frequently through the only means available to them: slash-and-burn. Here too, the result has been rapid invasion of wild grass cover, more labor intensive weeding operations and a very clear deterioration of productivity and remuneration per worker.

30Experiences involving the definitive settlement in valleys of populations that until now had been dispersed among the mountain slopes appear to be more positive. Setting up floodable rice paddies in thalwegs and valley bottoms has made it possible to transplant rice seedlings in more or less muddy water surfaces. This has enabled cultivation of the same parcels every year, without proliferation of weeds or decreased fertility. Once transplanted, the rice plants emerge without any competition from weeds which, due to flooding, no longer have light to grow. The paddies serve as sedimentation basins in which particles of fine earth and organic matter are brought in by faraway floodwaters or runoff from the nearby drainage basins. Even without any use of chemical fertilizer, this kind of flooded rice production suffices to meet the caloric needs of a peasant family with only 0.4 ha per worker. Despite not having many tools to work the land and improve the paddies (plows, harrows and draft animals), work productivity is easily twice that of slash-and-burn agriculture: 10 kg of paddy per work day instead of an average of 5kg on ray (Dufumier 1996).

  • 3 In his article, Rodolphe De Koninck nonetheless notes that Javanese migrants in Kalimantan and West (...)

31It goes without saying that the resettlement of mountain populations in lowlands can only be considered a success if there are lands that can be easily turned into rice paddies. From this perspective, Lao PDR is an exception in Southeast Asia, since elsewhere migratory movements go in the opposite direction, from lowlands to uplands.3

Deforestation and Forest Pioneer Agriculture

32The rapid deforestation underway in numerous regions of Southeast Asia is not primarily due to the expansion of slash-and-burn agriculture, nor to excessively short fallow periods. More often than not, irresponsible logging and increasingly prevalent perennial plantations by populations migrating towards areas with low population density are to blame (Iorns & Hollick 1998).

33In Southeast Asia, primary forests are dominated by trees of the Dipterocarpaceae family whose wood can be easily used to make plywood. Contracted forestry companies that exploit these species usually do not respect the norms imposed on them by governments. They cut many more trees than the proscribed limit and do not respect the theoretically obligatory replanting requirements. The result is excessive clearing and extensive regrowth of herbaceous plants that increase the risk of fires during the dry season. The enormous fires of 1997 that ravaged more than 800,000 ha in Borneo (Malaysian Sabah and Indonesian Kalimantan) and Sumatra appear to have affected not only the secondary forest regrowth that emerges after slash-and-burn, but mainly ravaged forests that were excessively logged by the large timber concessionaires (Piketty & Karsenty 2001).

34Resettlement of farmers from floodplains and valleys to uplands often goes hand in hand with the establishment of new forest roads. Designed primarily to facilitate logging and the harvest of non-timber forest products, these routes have become privileged paths for peasants seeking new lands to cultivate (Durand 1994). Displacing populations has thus led to significant expansion of cultivated lands at the expense of forest cover. Deforestation today is not so much the result of increased rotations and decreased fallow periods as it is the gradual increase of cultivated parcels behind true “forest pioneers”: a pushing back of the agricultural frontier at the expense of forest massifs that disappear forever.

  • 4 Hibiscus sabdariffa L.

35This has been the case in northeast Thailand, as Cécile Barnaud et al. show in their article: roads built to reduce the region’s isolation and permit the exploitation of timber and other forest products have quickly become places of settlement for young peasant households. The few lowland areas located near the roads have been turned into rice paddies to satisfy consumption needs. However, uplands zones have also been cleared –tree trunks hauled away and stumps removed– to make way for fields planted annually with root crops (maize, roselle,4 cassava, cotton or sugarcane), leaving soils increasingly exposed to aggressive rains. The use of electric saws and various motors pulled by tractors have not only facilitated the settlement of young farmers but have also enabled them to substantially increase the amount of lands that they are able to plant. The consequences have been an accelerated rhythm of deforestation in this region, now characterized by fragile soil, and rapidly appearing phenomena of erosion and lessivage.

  • 5 Coix lacrima jobi.

36The same scenario seems to be repeating itself on the other side of the border in Lao PDR, in the southern province of Xayabury, a region where slash-and-burn agriculture still predominated up until a few years ago. The shift from intensive cropping systems with repetition of root crops (maize, cotton, Job’s tears,5 etc.) and more frequent rotations with very short fallow were systematically encouraged by governmental authorities through land allocation policy. But, as Jean-Richard Laffort et al. show, farmers have had to use tractors and disk plows to work the land and bury ever-increasing weeds. Exposed for too long to aggressive rains, plots that have been allocated to families are already subject to severe erosion. The small size of the parcels makes it impossible for young households to settle on their parents’ lands. They are thus obliged to find new lands to settle, at the expense of theoretically protected forest areas. Here again, slash-and-burn agriculture has given way to “forest pioneer” agriculture. Silinthone Sacklokham et al. reveal the speed with which almost the entire Vientiane plain has been deforested due to the land allocation policy and resettlement of new populations from mountainous provinces. Indeed, if the government manages to enforce the law that prohibits clearing new parcels on sloping areas, the probable results will be increasing numbers of landless peasants. This would have been unimaginable when it was still possible for anyone to practice slash-and-burn agriculture in the dense forest areas.

37Whether spontaneous or organized by government “transmigration” programs, colonization and the cultivation of new lands at the expense of forest cover in equatorial zones have often resulted in establishing perennial cash crops generally intended for export. Thus the considerable increase of coconut plantations in Luzon and Mindanao islands, cocoa trees in Sabah and Sulawesi, coffee trees in Kalimantan, rubber trees in Sumatra and in southern Thailand and oil palms in Sumatra and on the Malaysian peninsula.

  • 6 Sacks of around 45 kg of green coffee beans.

38Rural migration to the high plateaus of Central Vietnam has always been encouraged by the government (Gubry 2000). The resettlement of roughly one million Kinhs over the last twenty years, most from the Red River Delta region and coastal plains, has been accompanied by intense deforestation of the region and establishment of robusta coffee tree plantations on newly cleared lands. Vietnamese coffee production has gone from 1 up to 13 million sacks6 in a little less than a decade. Growth has been so impressive that in very little time Vietnam has become the world’s second exporter of coffee beans, leading to a drastic drop in world market prices in the late 1990s. This “colonization” of areas where indigenous populations used to practice various kinds of slash-and-burn agriculture has not gone unnoticed by ethnic minorities, some of which have gone as far as to demand their autonomy and political independence (see the article by Rodolphe De Koninck).

39A similar movement of rapid expansion of coffee plantations can be seen nowadays on the Boloven Plateau in southern Lao PDR. Farmers usually start by planting their parcels with seeds and cuttings of grains and food tubers during the first two years of cultivation after slash-and-burn. The young coffee trees are planted in association with annual crops and banana trees that provide temporary shade. Once the latter are harvested, only the coffee bushes remain, under whose shade little else can be cultivated. Peasant families thus clear a new forest pan every year to establish food crops and extend little by little their coffee plantations.

40In almost all of Southeast Asia, the expansion of lands for establishing tree and bush plantations results in the increase and expansion of small- and medium-sized producer holdings on which farmers still manage to cultivate a few food crops, albeit in small quantities, for their own consumption. Family farms have proved to be very flexible in times of crisis, and are quite efficient in terms of production. In their article, Wayan R. Susila and Robin Bourgeois highlight the role that the expansion of small tree plantations has had in Sumatra in terms of agricultural production, rural employment and the fight against poverty. With their permanent vegetative cover, the perennial plantations recreate a “forest environment” that protects soil from rain erosion and recycles leached minerals that have accumulated deep in the soil to the upper horizons.

  • 7 Melaleuca leucadendra.

41Unfortunately this is not the case in the flooded forest regions, also touched by colonization. The article by Pierre-Yves Le Meur and Timothée Leurent on cultivating the Plaine des Joncs in the province of Kien Giang (southern Vietnam) calls for careful reading. The Vietnamese government made efforts to settle farmers in this region, after investing in drainage and irrigation canals that have considerably reduced the expanse of Melaleuca7 forests. Although the government played a particularly decisive role in building hydraulic infrastructure and attributing lands to various categories of producers, the perfecting of new techniques adapted to acid sulfate soils and the implementation of two cycles of annual crops appear to have emerged from the peasants themselves.

42In Cambodia, lowland rice production along the edges of the Great Lake, upstream of Tonle Sap, has expanded spontaneously without much government intervention, at the expense of submerged forests, the essential spawning grounds for renewing fish stock. Unfortunately this uncontrolled colonization is gradually diminishing a major portion of the country’s fish resources (Grunewald 1993). Similarly, the construction of numerous fish farming operations along the coasts of most Southeast Asian countries has led to the disappearance of once abundant mangroves, with damaging effects on salt-water fishing.

Increasing Intensification and Diversification of Cropping Systems in the Plains

43The colonization of new areas and consequent deforestation can only be slowed down, if not stopped, if plains and mountain populations find ways to sustainably intensify their current production systems. Several recent studies tend to show that such intensification is not at all impossible and often goes hand in hand with diversification in the most fertile plains.

44The central plain of Thailand is particularly illustrative. Long considered uninhabitable, the delta situated at the confluence of the Chao Phraya and Mae Khlong rivers was only settled in the late 19th century, after large canals were dug for drainage and boat travel. Fishing and rice production were the main activities of peasants for many years, with rice surpluses sent to the nearby capital. Hence emerged the appellation “Rice Bowl,” still used to refer to the region. Settlement in the region intensified starting in the 1950s, when the government built a vast gravity irrigation network. The Greater Chao Phraya Project not only made it possible for peasants to adopt traditional Green Revolution techniques and increase paddy yields, it also enabled an incredible diversification of cropping systems.

45Efficient water management made it possible to set up labor and input intensive production systems, at least in regions where peasants had some land security and easy access to markets. This was the case on the former flood plains of the Mae Khlong basin, where sugarcane that had been cultivated for large sugar mills gradually gave way to legumes, baby corn and dairy operations (Srijantr 2003). In her article, Blandine Cheyroux examines how peasants who once cultivated floating rice for Damnoen Saduak’s famous floating markets were able to establish poldered fields in which raised bed systems were set up, making it possible to cultivate aromatic plants, vegetables and fruits, including grape vines. Similarly, in the heart of the delta, numerous rice paddies were converted into shrimp farming operations whose produce was intended for export (Szuster et al. 2003); the production value of these operations is 25 times higher than that of two cycles of rice per year. But all of these new systems are resulting in more chemical pollution of soil and water than did the Green Revolution. Irresponsible use of pesticides has led to the proliferation of insects and pathogenic agents that are resistant to them. And the need for water (for irrigation and fish farming) is ever increasing, making it a very sought-after resource for which peasants have not yet developed an effective distribution system (Molle 2003).

46Yet, since the mid 1980s, another trend has emerged on Thailand’s Central Plain. Industrial expansion in Bangkok and the growing availability of urban jobs have pushed up agricultural wages and opportunity costs for the family labor force. Rural populations are increasingly moving to the cities and manual labor is being replaced by machines, resulting in more extensive cropping systems. Peasants are thus increasingly using rotary tillers, motorized threshers and sprinklers, fruit graders, etc. The wealthiest among them started using small machinery early on as a way to increase the cultivable areas per worker and not necessarily, as was previously the case, yields per hectare. Indeed, the use of small rotary tillers and steel cage wheeled tractors helped speed up the land preparation process and level rice paddies, making it possible to direct seed pregerminated seeds and eliminate the particularly long and tedious transplantation process (Isvilanonda 2003). The direct seeding technique, along with the use of herbicides for weed control and the mechanization of harvest and threshing, made it possible to yield eight hectares of paddy per worker, an advantageous situation for families with large landholdings but less so for peasants with limited land. Obviously, only time will tell if this new trend will continue, and if it will lead to types of agriculture that are more respectful of the environment. It is nonetheless an example of the responsiveness of peasants in light of market changes and government intervention.

  • 8 According to Pascal Bergeret, foreign companies are behind one quarter of imports and exports in Vi (...)

47In Vietnam, trade liberalization that began in 1986 has led to a private sector providing input supply, distribution of goods and processing. Removal of price controls meant higher earnings for farmers who were thus able to acquire the means necessary to intensify their rice production. Sophie Devienne shows how the land security offered by the 1993 land tenure law has incited families to buy new equipment (motor pumps) and make land improvements in hope of being able to reap the yields of these investments in the medium or long term. Hence numerous fish farming operations have been set up in the Mekong and Red River deltas, as well as along the coastal plains. Similarly, orchard-gardens have expanded within village limits, on the hills and rice fields situated in upland areas. The raised bed system, practiced in association with fish farming has enabled the expansion of orchards areas to former paddies on lowlands. These systems appear to generate four to six times more income than rice production (Cao Van et al. 1997). Of course many families still prioritize rice production to meet their consumption needs: food security demands it! But a number of farmers have started to diversify their cropping and animal husbandry systems to produce goods and generate income based on the prices offered in the marketplace: fruit, legumes, fish, shrimp, pork, poultry, etc. Moreover, certain commercial activities are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a limited number of operators and foreign capital (in the form of joint ventures with state-run companies) is becoming more and more prevalent (Bergeret 2002).8 More and more Vietnamese peasants are thus finding themselves dealing with companies that hold a monopoly.

48Camille de Lataillade et al. tell us how many wealthy peasants from the Pampanga estuary (Philippines) have also managed to diversify and convert their production systems as has been done on the plains of Thailand and Vietnam. Establishing fruit gardens, animal husbandry operations and fish farms has proved to be quite lucrative. But for lack of financial means and land security, the poorest farmers and sharecroppers on the islands of Luzon and Cebu have not been able to make the investments necessary to convert their systems. Many have been forced to look for off-farm work. A rural exodus has been taking form in the Philippines, turning it into one of the most urbanized countries in the region, despite the uncertainty of finding a job in the city. Many peasants have also started to look for work abroad, in the Middle East or Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, etc.). These emigrants live in extremely precarious situations, however, as the deportations during the 1997-1998 economic and financial crisis testify.

49In Java, many wealthy and periurban peasants began converting their rice paddies to orchards, market gardens and fish farms more than a decade ago in order to sell products that offer much higher profit margins per unit of land (Jeanguyot & Ahmadi 2002). Such conversions continue today. The fact that Indonesian domestic markets are nowadays barely protected from rice imports is probably behind the decision to abandon rice production for farming systems that are much more lucrative. But here again, transforming paddies into non-hydromorphic lands is often costly and inaccessible to the poorest. The expansion of urban areas and road infrastructure at the expense of the countryside has led to a significant increase in land prices and many peasants have decided to sell their lands to look for work in the city or migrate towards the peripheral islands.

Towards New Tree Plantation and Agroforestry Systems on Uplands

  • 9 These systems are commonly called agroforest systems due to the many different tree species that ca (...)

50In the least populated mountainous regions of Southeast Asia where various types of rainfed agriculture on slash-and-burn predominate, the challenge is to create favorable conditions for populations to gradually set up agroforest9 systems that are more intensive and permanent than those set up on slash-and-burn, without having to go through a phase of savannization. History shows us that such transitions have already taken place in other parts of Southeast Asia, where populations who practiced slash-and-burn gradually managed to protect and encourage the spontaneous regrowth of the most useful species during the fallow periods.

  • 10 Today these rubber tree jungles cover more than 1.5 million ha (Michon 2003).
  • 11 Styrax benzoin and Styrax paralleloneurus.
  • 12 Shorea javanica (Dipterocarpaceae family).
  • 13 Lansium domesticum.

51Some families in Sumatra, Sulawesi and Kalimantan have perfected cropping systems associating grains, tubers and perennial tree plantations whose long term viability appears ensured thanks to the large amount of tree biomass, the depth of soil reached by roots and the occasional use of legumes for biological nitrogen fixation in the air (Pelzer 1978; Cairns 1997). On the eastern plains of Sumatra, many peasants who practice agriculture on slash-and-burn have planted rubber and diverse fruit trees in association with food crops, and have systematically protected their growth and development as part of the forest regrowth, to the extent of establishing genuine rubber tree jungles (Gouyon 1995).10 This practice aimed not only to bring in more income; it probably also made it possible for the first farmers to mark their territories and secure definitive and inheritable lands rights on the lands. Styrax forests11 in the northern part of the island were probably established for similar reasons. In the southernmost part of Sumatra, in the region of Krui, peasant families also established some 60,000 ha of damar-producing agroforests.12 These agroforests are not only planted and maintained for their resin, they also supply a wide variety of fruit, such as langsat,13 as well as all kinds of foods and timber (Michon et al. 1995).

  • 14 Essentially paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), teak (Tectona grandis) and styrax trees (Styr (...)

52Such evolutions are surely possible in some mountainous regions of Lao PDR where farmers are already making efforts to plant or protect on cleared forestlands certain tree species considered particularly useful,14 between two cycles of annual crops (Kousonsavath & Lemaître 1999; Savathvong et al. 1997). The question is how to set up new agroforest systems in which short cycle food crops are periodically planted in rhythm with occasional and partial clearings of tree cover, without totally clearing or burning lands. Then again, it is unlikely that the Laotian government’s current land policies, already designed to prohibit all form of slash-and-burn agriculture, will favor an evolution of this sort.

  • 15 Amomum villiosum var. xanthoides.

53Why would it be necessary to renounce all forms of rainfed agriculture on slash-and-burn in upland regions? After all, rice production on slash-and-burn appears to yield relatively good results in sparsely populated mountainous zones, mainly due to the rise in value of products extracted from hunting and gathering in secondary forests. Moreover, negative environmental impact is minimal, especially when fallow periods are sufficiently long and lands can return to dense forest cover from time to time, protecting them from weediness and enabling them to reproduce the rate of humus in soils. In some regions in Lao PDR such as Phongsaly, it even seems feasible to stabilize certain types of slash-and-burn by introducing medicinal cardamon15 under the shade of forest regrowth. This would help farmers earn extra income and enable them to buy more rice, as consumption will increase given population growth. Cultivating rattan and raising buffalos in the forest could play a similar role (Ducourtieux et al. forthcoming).

54The extent to which farming systems can be intensified obviously differs in regions where forest cover has all but disappeared due to encroachment of forest pioneer farming. In Thailand, the rice premium, whose goal was to considerably lower prices paid to producers, probably also pushed farmers to diversify their cropping and animal husbandry systems. This was especially true in regions where peasants could settle and clear the totality of upland areas in order to plant rainfed crops: sugarcane in the Mae Khlong valley, maize and cotton on the edges of the Central Plain, cassava and sugarcane in the Northeast, rubber trees on the southern peninsula, etc. While small producers were mainly behind crop diversification, it was nonetheless part of a much larger shift involving the greater integration of farmers into the agro-industrial sector. Thai peasants thus became dependant on credit and marketing channels offered by agribusinesses interested in purchasing their produce. A case in point, Cécile Barnaud et al. show how peasants in the Northeast cultivated cassava and sugarcane, financing operations with capital put up by processing companies.

  • 16 The Charoen Pokhaphand Group now works with seed production, shrimp farming, polyvinylchloride (PVC (...)

55Primarily a producer of livestock feed, one of these integrated companies, the Charoen Pokhaphand Group, is behind the immense expansion of intensive rearing of monogastric animals in many provinces in Thailand. Having prospered with its strategy of vertical integration of poultry and pork industries, Charoen Pokhaphand has considerably diversified its activities16 and now maintains a presence in twelve Asian countries (Falvey 2000). Thanks to it abundance of arable lands, Thailand has become the world’s number one exporter of cassava and rubber, a top exporter of maize and poultry, while still maintaining its privileged position on international rice markets.

56It is easy to understand why this net exporter of agricultural and agrofood products is a member of the Cairns Group and lobbies the World Trade Organization against trade barriers to agrifood products on world markets. But the cropping and animal husbandry systems favored by the integrated companies and their intermediaries are often destructive to the environment. The cultivation of cotton offers a case in point: irresponsible use of pesticides leads to the multiplication of pesticide-resistant insects and the extinction of their natural predators (Castella 1998). This is why cotton producing regions often change; profits drop as outbreaks of resistant insects appear. Indeed, Thailand has become a major importer of cotton fibers.

57The intensification and diversification of agricultural production systems in already densely populated regions where uplands predominate depend largely on land structures. In their article, Guy Trébuil et al. show how the diversification of farming systems and off-farm activities in upper northern Thailand illustrate the very strong adaptive capacity of small highland farmers. Different from small agroforest landholdings, large single-species tree plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia are essentially capitalist farms run by waged workers. The Malaysian government has never questioned the existence of large plantations, set up under British rule, the produce of which is destined for export. Rather, its first concern was to buy the shares held by foreigners and citizens of Chinese origin, so that the balance of economic power would tip in favor of the Bumiputras, considered the true Malaysians (Gomez & Jomo 1999). Similarly, the development of new specialized plantations was encouraged along the coasts of the Malaysian peninsula and the states of Sabah and Sarawak (Régnier 1993). Oil palms gradually replaced rubber trees in replantation programs. Cocoa trees, once planted under the shade of coastal coconut plantations, were subsequently planted in areas colonized by forest pioneer farmers at the expense of dense forests.

  • 17 Rapeseed plants with more than 35 % laurate acid in their oil have been produced by Laurical (Calge (...)

58Despite being quite extensive, for reasons having to do with economies of scale, large landholdings run by waged workers continue to predominate in Negros and Cebu islands (Philippines). Owners of large agro-export operations have diversified only slightly, and for the most part, limit themselves to extensive production systems that generate few jobs. Sugarcane producers must deal with increasing competition from high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners on the international market. The large coconut tree plantations are also in danger. The recent authorization in the United States to cultivate transgenic rapeseed, capable of producing an oil rich in lauric acid, promises to be a serious rival to coconut oil in the soap industry.17 It is difficult to know if threats of competition will be enough to convince owners of these large landholdings to convert their farming systems, or if it will be necessary to threaten them with eviction, in the name of agrarian reform.

  • 18 Areas of red earth on the basalt plateaus in the Northeast, the ridges of river banks, etc.
  • 19 By directing the silty waters from the river towards the floodplains located behind the banks inste (...)

59In Cambodia, where Green Revolution-inspired intensification of rice production on the vast floodplains would be difficult and costly, it is crucial to identify a new model for agricultural development on fertile uplands.18 But, as Anne Y. Guillou shows in her article, the government’s current tendency to grant vast areas to a handful of companies does not appear very favorable to true intensification. There are great risks involved in expanding huge single-species tree plantations that generate few jobs and limited income. It would probably be far more beneficial to help river populations along the Mekong and Bassac expand their home vegetable gardens (chamcar), by widening the ridges of the banks with an already proven technique: the digging of canals (prek) to encourage the gradual silting up of lowlands situated behind these alluvial ridges.19 It would be necessary, however, for the government to trust the know-how of its peasants.

Towards a Regional Agricultural Market?

  • 20 Agricultural productivity is 100 times higher in industrial countries where agriculture is already (...)

60Protest demonstrations that multiplied across Southeast Asia’s largest cities since the economic and financial crisis of 1997-98 are revelatory of the fact that agriculture has not been able to slow down a rural exodus by guaranteeing farmers a decent standard of living and favorable production conditions. There is concern that this phenomenon will only escalate in light of policies that brutally expose farmers to international competition without any type of protection or subsidy, such as those favored by the World Trade Organization and Bretton Woods institutions. Indeed it appears illusory to want to solve the problems of poor peasants by allowing the price of rice for domestic markets to be set at the same level as that of grains (rice included) from countries where agriculture is already extremely productive (United States, Europe, Australia, etc.),20 in hopes of reducing the cost of renewing the urban labor force and thus attracting foreign capital.

61We have seen that the increasing openness of the People’s Republic of China to international markets has resulted in many multinationals transferring their industrial activities to the country, to take advantage of cheap labor. And based on the substantial rural exodus that is currently underway in the country, it is likely that the flight to the city will continue for many more years to come. Similarly, setting agricultural prices in Southeast Asia at the level of those in industrialized countries could lead to the impoverishment of increasing numbers of peasants, an intensification of a rural exodus and, consequently, greater insecurity in the cities, which would only dissuade potential investors.

  • 21 Signed in 1992 and amended twice in 1995 and 1998, the treaty defining the ASEAN Free Trade Area (A (...)

62It would appear to be in the interest of the member states of the future ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) to protect their peasants and create conditions for the development of farming systems that employ the abundant rural labor force, for whom opportunity costs are generally close to zero. This protection of peasants vis-à-vis agricultural imports from high productivity countries could gradually be applied within a framework of a common regional market similar to what exists in the European Union.21 The fact is there is still a long way to go to reach this point, given the extremely nationalistic and incongruous measures taken by the different governments during the financial and economic crisis of 1997-1998: quotas on selected imports, uncoordinated devaluations, foreign exchange controls, deportation of immigrant workers, etc.

63As a whole, the countries of Southeast Asia offer many advantages and are quite complementary on the agricultural front. There is still room for substantial progress in Thailand and Myanmar to increase yields and productivity in flooded and irrigated rice paddies. The most densely populated countries (Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines) have relatively deep and very fertile alluvial and volcanic soils capable of sustaining a wide variety of cash crops for export. Their peasants, we have seen, do not lack the know-how. Indeed many families have already set up agroforest production systems associating a variety of crops with tree plantations, ensuring the long term viability of these systems thanks to the significant amount of tree biomass generated, the depth of soil reached by roots and use of legumes for biological nitrogen fixation in the air. If exchanges between the region’s different ecological areas became easier, even isolated mountain populations could produce and market merchandise of high value added per unit of weight and volume (resin, spices, etc.). The produce and work seasons in the region’s tropical and equatorial zones complement those from the plains and mountainous regions—surely a good reason to argue for a more developed regional customs union in which each country could make the most of its “comparative advantages.” However, because they are constantly solicited by North American, Chinese and European governments, not all Southeast Asian nations are in favor of such an evolution. And if their diverging positions within the WTO are any indication, there is no sign that they will be any time soon.

Fig. 1: Southeast Asia: Use of “High Yield Varieties” and hemical fertilizers (1989 - 1991)

Average 1989 – 1991

New varieties
(% of surface area)

Average doses of fertilizer
(in kg per ha)






















Fig. 2: Southeast Asia: Cereal Balance Shee

(calories per person per day)

Grain self-sufficiency in %
(animal feed included, beer excluded)







































































Fig. 3: Evolution of Forest Cover (1961-1994)

Fig. 3: Evolution of Forest Cover (1961-1994)

Fig. 4: Evolution of Rice Paddies in Southeast Asia

Fig. 4: Evolution of Rice Paddies in Southeast Asia

Fig. 5: Evolution of Paddy Yields in Southeast Asia (1961-2000)

Fig. 5: Evolution of Paddy Yields in Southeast Asia (1961-2000)
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1 Only in Malaysia did governmental authorities refrain from interfering in the prices of food production; rice production was really only encouraged within a very limited number of irrigated areas. Starting in 1984, the Malaysian government accepted import barriers on food products, in an attempt to enable the specialization of agricultural exports in accordance with the comparative advantages of each region. This partially explains why rice production has developed along the well-drained and irrigated coastal plains and the spectacular growth of cocoa and palm plantations whose produce is destined for export (Pramanik 1997). Malaysia quickly became the world’s number one producer and exporter of palm oil and palm-seed, responsible for a little more than 50% of the world’s production. Second largest supplier of rubber on international markets, the country also exports copra oil, black pepper and pineapple, but imports nearly 75% of its cereal needs (FAO 1998).

2 Source: FAOSTAT database, 2003.

3 In his article, Rodolphe De Koninck nonetheless notes that Javanese migrants in Kalimantan and West Papua (former Irian Jaya) and palm oil plantations have also been resettled in lowlands.

4 Hibiscus sabdariffa L.

5 Coix lacrima jobi.

6 Sacks of around 45 kg of green coffee beans.

7 Melaleuca leucadendra.

8 According to Pascal Bergeret, foreign companies are behind one quarter of imports and exports in Vietnam.

9 These systems are commonly called agroforest systems due to the many different tree species that can be found within them. All the species are cultivated or at least carefully protected and maintained and usually demand very intense labor per unit of land (Huxley 1999).

10 Today these rubber tree jungles cover more than 1.5 million ha (Michon 2003).

11 Styrax benzoin and Styrax paralleloneurus.

12 Shorea javanica (Dipterocarpaceae family).

13 Lansium domesticum.

14 Essentially paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), teak (Tectona grandis) and styrax trees (Styrax tonkinensis).

15 Amomum villiosum var. xanthoides.

16 The Charoen Pokhaphand Group now works with seed production, shrimp farming, polyvinylchloride (PVC) manufacturing, telephone services and fast food chains.

17 Rapeseed plants with more than 35 % laurate acid in their oil have been produced by Laurical (Calgene LLC) and are now marketed in the United States. The new plants are expected to provide a cheaper alternative to coconut and palm kernel oil.

18 Areas of red earth on the basalt plateaus in the Northeast, the ridges of river banks, etc.

19 By directing the silty waters from the river towards the floodplains located behind the banks instead of flowing up along the natural distributaries, these canals make it possible to gradually fill in the plains with fertile silt, thus widening the ridges of banks where various kinds of grains, fruits and vegetables can be cultivated.

20 Agricultural productivity is 100 times higher in industrial countries where agriculture is already mechanized, than in countries where cropping and animal husbandry systems are still primarily manual.

21 Signed in 1992 and amended twice in 1995 and 1998, the treaty defining the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) aims to gradually lower customs duties on manufactured products and agricultural merchandise being transported within the member states of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). But tariff protections on imports from non-signatory countries of AFTA depend on the policies of each country. Thus one cannot refer to a true common agricultural market like that which exists in the European Union. During the Summit of Bali in October 2003, however, the member governments projected to create a single market by 2020.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 3: Evolution of Forest Cover (1961-1994)
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Titre Fig. 4: Evolution of Rice Paddies in Southeast Asia
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Titre Fig. 5: Evolution of Paddy Yields in Southeast Asia (1961-2000)
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Référence papier

Marc Dufumier, « Slash-and-Burn, Intensification of Rice Production, Migratory Movements, and Pioneer Front Agriculture in Southeast Asia », Moussons, 9-10 | 2006, 7-31.

Référence électronique

Marc Dufumier, « Slash-and-Burn, Intensification of Rice Production, Migratory Movements, and Pioneer Front Agriculture in Southeast Asia », Moussons [En ligne], 9-10 | 2006, mis en ligne le 29 janvier 2013, consulté le 28 mars 2017. URL :

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