This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu
Contents - Previous - Next
2.2.4. Ecological and socio-cultural constraints
It has been shown in section 2.1 that the secondary forest system is not proceeding in the direction of permanent-field agriculture, as many might have expected, nor has it caused extensive environmental degradation, whereas in this section it has been shown that the pioneer, primary forest system has generally not proceeded in the direction of secondary forest swiddening but rather in many areas is now tending toward a sort of ley or permanent-field system, although still in a transitional or experimental stage. In this stage, the former "pioneer" swiddeners are desirous of developmental assistance and are responding favourably to efforts such as those of the UNPDAC Project for Crop Replacement and Community Development which has been promoting cash crops (particularly coffee) in an enlightened, non-coercive manner. However, it should be stressed, lest other more authoritarian-minded developmentalists see this transitional period as a good opportunity for massive reformulations, that the direction the "pioneers'' take from this point on will depend largely on a variety of factors already present in what has gone before and in specific, local environmental and socio-cultural constraints. Only in cases of dire poverty and disillusionment will villagers allow themselves to be manipulated by forced resettlement, directed cropping, or other such dictatorial schemes. Even in such cases there is grave danger of unanticipated backlashes. The worst possible mistake in judgement would be to assume that such constraints on the future course of events do not exist simply because we cannot, from our current vantage point, see what they are. This is complicated by the fact that, in their present transitional situation, pioneer swiddeners in Northern Thailand will be affected by exogenous influences. Such outside inputs may even be eagerly sought. Many experiments will be attempted. But it is quite doubtful whether any research or group of researchers will be able to predict the future course of events from present initial conditions and inputs. We know that inputs will matter, but we cannot be certain in what ways they will matter, and thus a good deal of caution must be observed. In more normal situations, the development authority can expect the client population to reject the more ill-conceived development notions, but, in a situation such as now exists among pioneer swiddeners, it is not at all certain that ill-conceived schemes will be quickly filtered out in implementation. Mistakes now will not simply mean more development money down the drain, but will adversely affect future conditions in Northern Thailand for many years to come.
With the above in mind, a few general observations will be attempted concerning ecological and sociocultural characteristics and constraints. To begin with, some contrasts can be drawn between the pioneers and the established secondary forest swiddeners. Many of these contrasts developed as a result of the different adaptations when primary forest was still available to the primary swiddeners; others developed as a result of competition between the two for the increasingly scarce resource of good swidden land. Kunstadter and Chapman (1970, p. 152 ) have already delineated several contrasts between the hill Lawa and Hmong, noting, for example, that the established swiddeners lived in permanent village territories at "middle elevation'' farming rice as a primary crop, weeding by hand, with wage labour common to supplement their income. The pioneers, on the other hand, lived at higher elevations in temporary villages until soil was exhausted, emphasized corn and opium, used deeper cultivation (hoeing ), and did not ordinarily accept wage labour. Keen (1972) went further in contrasting the two adaptations, stressing that the characteristics of each were appropriate to the different methods of farming and to environmental conditions, and were logical, integrated adaptations.
A number of dimensions can be used to sum up some of the principal contrasts between the two adaptations. These are: (1) household size, (2) social organization and identification, (3) necessary supplements (cash sources), (4) population density and migration patterns, (5) system type and viability, (6) local environment, and (7) cultural factors/acculturation.
1. Household Size
Clearly significant differences here exist between the larger average household size of pioneers (6.7 persons/household) and the small household size of the established swiddeners (5.4 persons/household ). The range among pioneers is from .5.8 for the Lahu to 7.9 for the Yao, whereas the range among established swiddeners runs from 5.3 among the Karen to 6.2 among the Khmu (computed from TRC 1974). These differences, although now influenced by cultural norms, would seem to stem from systemic considerations when the primary forest adaptation was still viable. In a situation where virtually unlimited amounts of primary forest are available, it is advantageous to have as many people as possible in the household (many children, but also other relatives or acquaintances who can be persuaded to join). The more people, the better the household can protect itself (by pooling resources). Accidents and sickness (common among swiddeners) are less likely to cause serious economic setbacks since the labour pool is relatively large. Among secondary forest swiddeners, however, limited amounts of land mean more mouths to feed from the same resources so that no advantage accrues to larger households. Lacking such advantages, the desire of the swiddener for maximum independence and equality leads to the nuclear family household becoming the mode. A small number of offspring is desirable for similar reasons: large numbers of children are difficult to feed when labour of the parents is already taxed by weeding requirements.
2. Social Organization and Identification
Among the established swiddeners, identification with the local area is quite important. Most marriages occur between people living in the same local area (lijima 1970, p. 27; Hamilton 1976, p. 334; Marlowe 1969), very few couples change residence after marriage (Hinton 1973, p. 246), and the swiddeners are affectively attached to their locality (Hinton 1969, p. 64; Marlowe 1969, p. 55). Thus friends and relatives can almost all be found living locally and identification with other members of the same ethnic group living in distant places is far less important. Among the pioneers, however, the mobile pattern often means that individuals and families are tied into kinship and alliance networks spreading over vast areas. Extra-local marriage is often preferred (e.g., Geddes 1976, p. 81), there is little tendency for lineages to localize (Binney 1968, p. 328), and the importance of these networks often overrides even ethnic group identification. For example, there is no prohibition against "Blue'' Hmong marrying "White" Hmong; indeed, it is quite common (Bernatzik 1947, p. 109; Geddes 1976, p. 21). Lisu/Lahu intermarriage is also not uncommon. The situation among the pioneers is quite complex, however-different among different groups and further complicated by the increasing scarcity of good swidden land which is certain to be an important influence. Different advantages under changing conditions have prompted a great deal of variety in response. Identification with the local area, for example, could conceivably become quite important for some "pioneer" groups in the near future.
3. Necessary Supplements (Cash Sources)
As Kunstadter and Chapman (cited above) have pointed out, established swiddeners commonly must supplement their swidden system through wage labour at certain times in the swidden year. whereas pioneer swiddeners have overwhelmingly not turned to this source of income. Instead, cash-cropping, particularly of opium, has been the characteristic response. No integral swiddener likes to be in a situation where someone else can order him around, telling him what to do and when to do it (e.g., see Marshall 1922, p. 87, on Karen distaste for wage labour). The very different responses to necessary supplements to the swidden livelihood are better viewed instead as a result of the different capabilities and constraints of the two types of swiddening, not (as some have suggested) in the differing cultural characteristics of the various groups.
4 Population Density and Migration Patterns
A 1965 Thai Government survey found that the Karen were by far the most residentially stable of the integral swiddeners and the Hmong the least. This is as expected from the different adaptations. As time progressed, however, the least "stable'' of the pioneers were in reality those that had managed to keep the system working as long as possible by more frequent movement to the few good spots remaining. But now the whole system is quickly grinding to a halt. These more successful. more mobile pioneers ended up with rather more severe population densities than others as a result of having to get in and grab a share of the good land before the next man could. But others could not be excluded from the few remaining good areas-they could only be excluded from the plots actually being worked. Farmed in pioneer fashion, such densities would have been acceptable had the swiddeners been able to find some new area to move on to once the land was exhausted. The loss of this opportunity, however, together with the relatively greater population densities of pioneer villages, and the manner in which they have used the land thus far, makes the continuance of swiddening, on a rotation system for example, highly problematical. All pioneer swiddeners are not in such dire straits, however, since many, in effect, dropped out of the race before the more competitive Hmong and now have relatively less severe population densities and less degraded environments.
5. System Type and Viability
Two types of land use contrast strikingly, as seen in the discussion of each above. The established swidden adaptation is environmentally conservational (Sabhasri 1970; Zincke et al. 1970) but quite taxing on its operators' labour, whereas the pioneer adaptation is no longer adaptive as such, but has facilitated the increase of cashcropping and has been environmentally taxing. In some areas this has probably foreclosed on the option of adopting established secondary forest swiddening in its stead.
6. Local Environment
In the established swiddening areas, secondary forest is maintained, as are pockets of primary forest. A certain amount of environmental complexity has thus been maintained. In pioneer areas, bush forest is more common, as are grasslands. Water supply is a common problem in such areas. Environment is more simplified.
7. Cultural Factors/Acculturation
There is some evidence to suggest that acculturation to Thai society has been of a somewhat different nature for established swiddeners and pioneers (see Grandstaff 1976). Among the Karen, social interaction with the nearby North Thai farmers is common and is also a principal source of wage labour opportunities. Language acquisition, however, is not as high as might be expected, given this interaction. Among pioneer groups, acculturation is highly variable, some families and villages having entered Thailand quite recently. Among those that have been in Thailand for some time, language acquisition seems comparable to that of the Karen, or even better, but the learning of Thai social interaction forms (for appropriate behaviour in interpersonal interaction) is lagging. Contact is most frequently not with North Thai farmers but with merchants and small businessmen (truck drivers, etc.). This is understandable in terms of the different economic adaptations. It should be stressed, however, that most integral swidden groups, whether established or pioneer, tend to be culturally conservative. The acculturation skills learned are used as tools to facilitate the economic adaptation, not as appropriate behaviour to be used within the village among one's own group.
It can be seen from all the above that development of swiddening in Northern Thailand cannot be approached by a ''single solution" method. At the very least, two different general approaches will be necessary. The outlines of such approaches will be discussed in the final chapter. It should be pointed out here, however, that the two different approaches should not be aimed solely at the two different types, pioneer and established. Rather, an assessment of resources locally available will be necessary in order to determine what directions are possible. It may be possible, for example, that some pioneer villages may have sufficient resources available to operate a conservational secondary forest swiddening system, although clearly there will be many cases where this is not feasible. Finally, it will be seen that the most important aspect of this determination will be what existing systems are already being operated and, perhaps most important of all, the desires and aspirations of the operators themselves. All in all, conditions at the local level will be the most important, and thus, although generalizations can be used to foster an appropriate approach, "package'' solutions are to be avoided.
The next chapter will review ''package'' approaches to swidden agriculture that have been attempted in various places at various times throughout the world. Other findings and recommendations concerning the development of swidden agriculture will also be reviewed.
Contents - Previous - Next