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4. Swidden improvement in Northern Thailand
4.1. Secondary forest swidden systems
4.2. Primary forest swidden systems
Chapter 2 outlined the characteristics of two major types of integral swidden systems in Northern Thailand. Chapter 3 then discussed the possibilities for improvements in swidden agriculture in general, based on experiences, findings, and recommendations in various parts of the world at various times. The present chapter will round out the analysis by discussing the possible applications of these findings and recommendations as they may apply to the two types of traditional integral swidden systems in Northern Thailand. The analysis here is intended to serve not just as a first step in exploring a new possible direction for development in the mountain areas of Northern Thailand but also as an example of the interactive process by which knowledge of possible swidden development might similarly be organized and focused on swidden groups in other areas of the world.
4.1. Secondary forest swidden systems
The "established'' secondary forest swidden systems of the Karen. Lawa, Khmu, etc., are probably the most amenable to the sort of swidden development discussed in the last chapter. From the information presented in chapter 2, it is likely that most local village swidden systems of this type in Northern Thailand have already passed through Datoo's critical phase (Datoo 1976, pp. 10-11) and are now actively taking steps to preserve their swidden systems: cropping fields for only one year in a row, actively suppressing escaped fires, promoting regeneration through leaving large trees alive in the swiddens, protecting watershed areas, etc. Thus the viability of this type of swidden system has been preserved. Most of these secondary forest swiddeners are becoming increasingly impoverished, however: few can supply their year-round subsistence needs from their swiddens alone; wage labour is now an essential supplement; and outmigration of individuals and families is increasingly common. Indeed, there is some tentative evidence for believing that the population of many of these villages is actually decreasing. Despite these hardships, however, there is little evidence that secondary forest swiddeners are abandoning swiddening or wish to do so. Rather, nearly all of the families in these villages, including those who own wet-rice paddies, still practice swiddening.
In the light of this, we can probably assume that people in secondary forest swidden villages would welcome the acquisition of knowledge and technological assistance that would enable them to increase swidden yields without harming long-term viability, thus allowing them to meet year-round subsistence needs. Secondly, other sources of cash income that would allow them greater market participation would probably also be welcomed if these did not conflict with subsistence swiddening activities and were as (or more) available and amenable to their lifestyles as is wage labour. For many of these groups, wage labour is erratic and undependable, especially if practiced only part-time during free periods in the swidden cycle. Most are also aware that they are paid less than ethnic Thai or Northern Thai in similar jobs and less than the legal minimum wage. Finally, improvements that reduce swidden labour, while keeping subsistence yield adequate, would probably be appreciated most if they were of such a type that the labour saved could be put into expanding the cash-income sector.
To achieve better subsistence yields, protect viability, and increase cash earnings among secondary forest swiddeners, it will be most important that initial assistance proceed from already existing local conditions. An all-at-once package system, no matter how certain its creators are of its worth, will probably not be adopted, whereas step-by-step improvements that fit into present conditions are much more likely to succeed. By focusing on the technical and human requirements of the present swidden systems, possible step-by-step improvements should become apparent. We have seen above what general resources are available and when they are available in the swidden year. The question to be explored, then, is how can these be best applied in particular local situations, and what outside inputs are needed in key areas, if any? Where technological effectiveness is in question, of course, local small scale pilot projects should be first accomplished, without cost to any local inhabitant.
Assuming various step improvements are technologically proven, the development researcher could explore the ways these could be locally initiated so that they fit into local requirements. It will be seen that, although all-at-once package recommendations are likely to fail, there is still a necessary consideration of the systemic aspects of improvements-i.e., how they fit together. For example, the researcher could first lay out the local labour schedule according to duration, type, and intensity of labour. (The general outlines of this schedule were discussed in chapter 2 above.) Next, suggestions for improving yields must be fitted into this schedule. Since wage labour pays mostly for rice shortfalls in main swidden yields, any labour for yield improvement that conflicts with wage labour must be expected to improve yields beyond the level of the rice-purchasing power of the wage labour, or the swiddener will not benefit from the "improvement." If a modest labour effort in otherwise free times could be used to improve yields, however, it would not be unreasonable to expect that, over a period of time, the swiddener would devote more time to improving yields and less to wage labour in these key periods. However, if the greatest effort for yield improvement must come during times of already heavy swidden labour, such efforts will probably never be adopted unless ways can first be found to progressively reduce this labour. Mulching techniques might be of help here, to improve yields as well as reduce weeding labour.26
Assuming techniques can be found to improve swidden yields and make swiddeners more self-sufficient in the subsistence sector, how can cash-earning capabilities be expanded? Again, recommendations here should take account of the local labour requirements of the subsistence cycle. not only as they are now but also as they will be if yield improvement techniques are progressively adopted. Of the various systemic components discussed in the previous chapter (or others), which ones will fit best into the existing schedules and can be progressively expanded in a way compatible with other changing elements in the system? A general cautionary principle might be: start small and then add on as each area improves. Similarly, if a cash-earning sector is adopted, works well, and is being progressively expanded, what portions of the subsistence cycle will it eventually conflict with, and how can improvements in these portions allow the swiddener adequate time to expand his cash-income sector?
From the above rather general discussion, the methodology of development among secondary forest swiddeners can be seen to emerge. It requires, first of all, a detailed knowledge of the local swidden system, something most agriculturalists have heretofore deemed unnecessary but which is actually absolutely essential (see de Schlippe 1955). Second, it requires a carefully reasoned consideration of the systemic aspects of piecemeal recommendations, even though these recommendations cannot be presented as a fully formed, all-at-once package. Key areas for detailed knowledge will lie in the technological requirements and potentials of the agricultural system and all local resources, but also in the nature, amount, and distribution of labour. These alone will not be enough, however, since consideration will also have to be taken of the basic relationships among the swiddeners themselves as they now exist and as they are likely to change. Among many swidden groups, for example, cash-cropping activities. which begin on a "take as much as you can use'' basis on commonly held village land, can be expected to lead to "mining the soil" if there is no mechanism by which these lands can be fairly allocated and land rights established. Similarly, among most secondary forest swidden groups, no mechanisms exist for dividing profits from jointly undertaken enterprises, and thus village tree farms or similar undertakings are not likely to succeed. In other cases, technological improvements which seem to be available to all may in fact give excessive advantage to those few swiddeners with unusually large households or with wet-rice paddies, allowing them to outdistance their neighbours, whom they may then exploit from their position of greater income. etc. Thus, in addition to environment, agricultural systems, and labour intricacies, social relational patterns must be carefully observed. Research priorities and the information and technical assistance provided must be selected with these latter considerations in mind also-not seeking higher yields and increased income alone but rather asking, among other things: higher yields for whom? for what? increased income for whom? etc. As has been pointed out, this has been one of the principal failings of the Green Revolution. The task is difficult but not impossible. A consideration of swidden development rather than swidden replacement is already a first step in this direction. Once we have become sensitized to the importance of native agricultural systems where, presumably, modern systems could be used in the same environment, the next step is sensitization to the organizations of native societies, and the selection of technological components not only for their comparative technological worth but also for their social appropriateness and effects.
4.2. Primary forest swidden systems
Whereas it does seem possible that most local secondary forest swidden systems are amenable to swidden development, as implied in the first two chapters, it may well be that only some local ''primary forest'' swidden systems are amenable to such swidden-centred development. Others may exist in areas already so modified by their swidden practices that real swidden improvement is unlikely, except perhaps on a very small scale. In such villages, the component mix will have to contain larger portions of other types of resource systems besides swiddening. In any case, since conditions among primary swiddeners are so highly varied from place to place, it will be essential that each locality be considered on its own terms and appropriate recommendations be made available. Where secondary forest systems may indeed come to have a certain broad structural uniformity (a swidden subsistence sector, one or several of a relatively small number of cash source options, etc.), it is likely that primary forest swidden villages may indeed embark on rather different, diverging rather than converging, paths. It should be remembered, however, that primary forest swidden villagers are still swiddeners in that they are affectively attached to this mode of agriculture, their entire sociocultural system is adapted to it, and they will struggle against even very formidable odds to preserve this way of life.
Most primary forest swiddeners are familiar with secondary forest rotational swiddening and have even practiced it from time to time to grow subsistence crops when it was preferable to remain for a time in an area where opium yields were still good. As Keen (1972) has pointed out, even when they did this their methods were not very conservational, principally because of labour conflicts with corn/opium swiddening and because of the lack of large enough, adequately regenerated secondary forest areas. Where such areas are available locally, however, such systems could be much improved, but improvements here will have to take account of the conflicts with corn/opium and other cash-crop labour. Since these cash-crop swiddens are already established, it is extremely unlikely that the swiddeners would allow them to suffer to improve yields in subsistence crops. Even where it is feasible, then, secondary forest swidden systems among cash-cropping primary forest swiddeners will have to be improved in different ways from those of the established secondary forest swiddeners. Such improvement may yet be possible, however. Small cash outlays to improve the subsistence sector would be feasible, since much of this cash must go to buy rice at high cost (due to the transportation difficulties). An analysis of the conflicting labour requirements between subsistence and cash-crop swiddens might also show other areas where improvements are possible.
Improvements in cash-crop swiddens and in already established permanent land-use crops (fruit trees, etc.) are probably more likely to be desired by the primary forest groups. In some areas, it may be most feasible to convert cash-crop swiddens to permanent fields or ley farming with short fallow periods and crop sequences. Surrounding areas could then be used for cattle ranching, timber production, subsistence swiddening, etc. In many primary forest groups, the existence of lineage segments may offer a basis on which to manage corporately established ventures, although some degree of institutional assistance in bookkeeping or profit distribution, etc., would probably be required.
It does seem likely that, at some future time, those primary forest swiddeners presently committed to opium farming could suffer as a result of over-reliance on producing this particular crop, as some do now. It is most unlikely, however, that they will suffer later as much as they would suffer now if any attempt at opium eradication were pursued in earnest. The promotion of cash crops other than opium is an enlightened approach, but certain difficulties are involved. First, few cash crops are so well suited to the environment, to transportation requirements, and to the market conditions, and opium thus remains the most popular cash crop among these groups. Cash-earning activities that can be begun on a modest scale in labour-free periods, however, and are of a type that could then be expanded during times normally devoted to opium field labour, would allow the swiddener a start in these areas without having to choose initially between the new activity and opium. The more successful the new activity, then, the more it would be pursued at the expense of opium. Opium production could then be expected to die a natural death, presumably mourned by none. In any case, the promotion of more diversified, higher-yielding, more profitable, and more viable resource systems among the primary forest swiddeners can be expected to raise their standard of living, offer more alternatives to opium production, and increase both welfare and satisfaction. If this course is pursued, the opium problem is likely to be solved in the process. Any course focusing on opium eradication, on the other hand, is likely to be ill-advised.27
This study has argued that the development of swidden agriculture in general and swidden agriculture in the marginal mountain areas of Northern Thailand in particular may be best accomplished by improvements within the context of swiddening itself, not by its replacement. Before such an approach can be applied, it is necessary to study the characteristics of existing swidden systems (discussed in chapter 2). It is hoped that the information in chapter 2 will not only give some idea of the general characteristics of integral swiddening in the hills of Northern Thailand but will also encourage the more detailed study of local village swidden systems to explore the ways in which these systems may be susceptible to improvement in terms of increased productivity and viability. Chapter 3 discussed some possibilities for the improvement of swiddening in general, and chapter 4 has made some preliminary effort in meshing the general paths available for improvement with the existing conditions in Northern Thailand. With the information available to the author, this could be done only imperfectly. The next step, if the general approach is to be further pursued, is to establish small research projects and pilot projects in order to learn more about local systems and to experiment with possible improvements in the light of this knowledge.
It has been stressed, without great detail however, that the technological improvement of swiddening cannot be accomplished without attention to the socio-cultural realm, both in terms of the likely changes that various directions in technology would cause in the society and in terms of the necessary socio-organizational prerequisites that various economic adaptations would require in order to be successful. This is still the most important problem facing the improvement of swiddening and it is one that has no easy answers. Sociologists and anthropologists will be needed to delve into this problem. Among the Karen, for example, present secondary forest swidden system viability is seemingly maintained in part by norms and rules and in part by the heavy weeding requirements that effectively prevent the use of a swidden for more than one consecutive growing season. If technological improvements were to remove this latter constraint, careful attention would have to be given to alternative constraints protecting viability. To what extent will these be necessary with the technological improvements and how easily could the swiddeners adopt new constraints? If the answer is "not easily" or "not at all" or ''not without heavy regulation from outside,'' then perhaps the wrong technology is being recommended. If such constraints do not develop in the agricultural system, either through some other limiting factor or through norms and rules within the village, it is not recommended that the government or the development authority step in and impose such constraints except to the extent that they may be necessary to protect the larger interests of the society (i.e., to prevent ecological cataclysm). Otherwise, since such efforts would presumably be carried out for the good of swiddeners themselves, it would be far better to let the swiddeners do it themselves in the first place. In time it should become apparent, not only to developers but also to the swiddeners, which technological possibilities are best suited to their organizational capabilities, and which of these capabilities are most congruent with their lifestyle.
Finally a few concluding remarks are warranted, in a larger context, concerning the overall style of development explored in this monograph and the political or organizational framework in which this type of development could succeed. Two facets of what is perhaps the same problem are relevant. First, the need has been stressed throughout for intimate, detailed knowledge of local systems in order to "feed forward" information which will help to tailor the content and delivery of research, extension, and development assistance in general. The problem is how to organize such a system, given the limited resources of developmental or governmental agencies. Second, it has been mentioned (section 3.3) that there is a need for adequate political representation of marginal groups so that felt needs can be meaningfully expressed and adjustments made for tensions and imbalances as they may occur over time. These two facets affecting locally appropriate development are related at least in the sense that the latter influences the former: adequate representation helps assure that local problems are given adequate attention. In any case, an urgent matter of national policy concern for all nations should be how to structure the organization of development efforts aimed at disenfranchised people-whether poor lowland rural dwellers or high mountain inhabitants-so that locally appropriate participatory development can occur, assisted by the human and technological resource capabilities of the larger society.
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