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3.Types of spontaneous pioneer settlement in Thailand

The causes of pioneer settlement
Expansion of farm land by local peasants within their village territory: the example of Nong Samong
Land colonization by peasants outside their village territory: the example of km 79
Colonization by medium- and large-scale farmers: the example of the Chon Buri Hinterland

Ulrich Scholz

The causes of pioneer settlement

Pioneer settlement in Thailand is closely connected with fundamental structural changes in Thai agriculture. Not only has the agricultural production of the country increased absolutely during the last three decades but it has even grown relatively, that is, per capita of the population, in spite of a considerable population growth (FAO 1984).

Unlike the experience of many other Asian countries, this production increase was reached less by means of intensification in existing farming areas than by clearing new areas for farming on previously untouched land (Fuhs and Vingerhoets 1972). Thus the increase in production, welcome in itself, had to be bought with the destruction of a large part of Thailand's forest reserves. The Thai development plan for 1977-1981 hints at the extent to which this happened. It states that in 1961 53 per cent of the total area of Thailand was still covered in forest. By 1974, however, this had been reduced to 38 per cent, and it is now down to less than 30 per cent.

Parallel to the drastic reduction in forest area during the last 30 years agricultural area has more than tripled in size. What is remarkable about this considerable expansion is the important role of a few upland crops, particularly maize, cassava, sugar-cane, and kenaf, all almost exclusively cultivated for sale and not for consumption by the farmer.

Besides upland crops the areas under wet-rice cultivation in Thailand have also been expanded considerably in the last 30 years, although this tendency has gradually been decreasing during recent years (National Statistical Office of Thailand 1984).

As regards organization, the process of land settlement is carried out nowadays in Thailand, as in other South-East Asian countries, in two ways (Uhlig 1984): (a) by planned resettlement schemes, organized and set up by the state and partly financed with foreign aid, of which there are now a number in Thailand, and (b) by spontaneous land colonization. The uncontrolled settlement considerably exceeds state-directed colonization in area. Thus between 1945 and 1975, only 0.5 million ha of land were cleared in Thailand for government settlement projects, whilst between 1960 and 1975 alone the agricultural area increased by almost 10 million ha-from 7.8 million to 17.4 million ha-and by today it has reached about 23.5 million ha. These figures illustrate the importance of spontaneous pioneer settlement for Thailand's regional development. It is all the more strange, therefore, that almost no empirical findings from investigation into this problem have so far been made available, whereas, on the other hand, the development of the state-directed resettlement projects of Thailand is quite well documented (Klempin 1978).

Certain structural conditions peculiar to Thailand may well have been decisive for the rapid expansion of farm land in connection with spontaneous pioneer settlement. Among these are the following:

1. Until recently there existed abundant land reserves. With 44 inhabitants per square kilometre in 1955 and 95 in 1982, Thailand was and still is not overpopulated by Asian standards (Uhlig, in 1972, even spoke of a "demographic low-pressure chamber" between the over-populated neighbours China and India). Between the relatively densely populated alluvial plains of the big rivers and the surrounding mountain ridges there are vast areas of a highlandlowland transition zone which so far have been used very extensively only as timber reserve or as forest pasture. Although these areas often have quite poor soil (especially in north-eastern Thailand), it is possible to use certain not-so-sensitive cropping systems on them.

2. Thailand has a relatively well developed system of infrastructure, in particular a road network that has been greatly improved during the past 30 years and has opened up even thinly populated regions.

3. Thai forestry policy, since around 1900, has resulted in the passage of about 30 laws to protect the forest. However, the government has never been able to put them to use consistently for many reasons (Khambanonda 1972).

4. The very favourable price development for a variety of crops such as maize, cassava, and sugar-cane on the world market induced many Thai farmers, who up until then had produced almost exclusively wet rice, to extend their activities to the unused uplands.

Certain characteristics of Thai farmers undoubtedly supported the process of spontaneous settlement, as, for example, their well-known weak ties to the soil, the looseness of their social duties outside the nuclear family, and their high degree of mobility and innovativeness (Piamphongsant 1971).

The spatial distribution of spontaneous pioneer settlement has not yet been recorded for all parts of the country. The best-surveyed area is probably south-east Thailand. A comparison of the present forest area (Klankamsorn 1978) with older aerial photographs and topographic maps gives impressive documentation of the extent of forest destruction in this region and the rapid invasion of pioneer settlers since the beginning of the 1950s (see fig. 1, p. 10). Without a doubt this process has been exceptionally rapid in this region (Uhlig 1984)-the main reasons certainly being the area's favourable location near Bangkok and its good accessibility, providing excellent conditions for marketing agricultural products. We have therefore concentrated our investigations on south-east Thailand. The sample areas are shown in figure 1, chapter 2.

Our findings showed a clear differentiation within the process of pioneer settlement, which can be classified into the following three types: (1) the expansion of farm land by local peasants within their village territory, (2) pioneer settlement by peasants outside their village territory, and (3) colonization by medium- and largescale farmers. (Uhlig [1979] uses a similar classification. However, he distinguishes four types, dividing pioneer settlement by peasants outside their village territory into two types: that in which the settlers use their new habitat as a home only temporarily, alternating with their old home, and that in which the settlers give up their old home completely.)

Expansion of farm land by local peasants within their village territory: the example of Nong Samong

Not all recent land reclamation and pioneer settlement processes have been accompanied by a movement of farmers over long distances. In many cases clearance of new farm land takes place within the village boundaries, where local farmers gradually extend their land beyond an existing "infield" nucleus towards the periphery of village territory because of population pressure and the predominant custom of free divisibility of land upon inheritance. The above-mentioned extension of Thailand's wet-rice areas during the last 30 years is probably in the main the result of such a local farm land expansion. The propaganda made for profitable cash crops like maize, cassava, sugarcane, and kenaf in connection with the introduction of tractor ploughing has, however, speeded up this process considerably.

The basic requirement for this kind of pioneer settlement is, of course, the existence of sufficient land reserves within the village boundaries. Usually extension starts from the existing residence. Only when the newly reclaimed "outfields" lie further away do certain individuals or groups break away from the old village community and found new branch settlements in the neighbourhood of the old village nucleus. Later, an independent village community with its own territory can develop out of these.

An example of such a subsidiary settlement which grew up during land expansion is the village of Nong Samong. This village, which has about 500 registered inhabitants, is located on the southern edge of the Khorat plateau, close to the mountain range which separates north-east Thailand from the central plain and the southeast. It also lies approximately three kilometres east of National Highway 304 (SattahipNakhon Ratchasima).

The natural conditions are more or less in keeping with those in the whole of the northeast. The undulating relief rises gently southwards from 250 m to about 400 m above sealevel towards the mountains bordering the Khorat plateau. There are no obstacles to hinder agricultural use. Although the very flat ridges and depressions hardly stand out from each other in the physiognomy of the landscape, their agricultural values are very different. The alluvial material found in the depressions favours the cultivation of wet rice because of its waterlogging characteristics. On the flat ridges, however, we find a relatively poor, porous substratum. Until recently they were used only as forest pastures. For a few years now, though, they have been developed more and more for the cultivation of upland crops, in particular cassava.

The location of the village on the leeside of the mountain ridge bordering the Khorat plateau may have a negative effect on the rainfall. The average yearly precipitation is hardly over 1,200 mm. The critical months for agricultural production when there is less than 100 mm of rainfall are November through February but can also include March (Sternstein 1976).

The pioneer settlers in Nong Samong broke away from Nong Liom, four kilometres to the north, roughly 40 years ago in order to reclaim land in the forests for the cultivation of rice. The decision to colonize was influenced not only by the idea of providing food for their own consumption but also by the commercial aspect of charcoal production. Later this was complemented by the cultivation of sugarcane until about 1974 and finally, as in many other villages on the southern Khorat plateau, by additional cultivation of cassava. Today about 70 per cent of the farm land belonging to the community is made up of cassava fields and only about 30 per cent is taken up by wet rice. Some cattle are also kept on the forest pastures.

In contrast to the traditional Thai farming system based on the monoculture of wet rice which is still predominant in the central plain (Uhlig 1975), a dual type of farming has developed in the peripheral areas, with the cultivation of wet rice for the farmers' own consumption and in addition a cash crop. In Nong Samong this crop is cassava. Such dual farming systems have proved to be a relatively stable basis of subsistence for peasant families in many other regions of South-East Asia as well.

In spite of the changed economy the political and social organization of the traditional village community has remained more or less the same. The foundation of a subsidiary settlement does indeed lead to a new village community, but one which functions according to the inherited laws and which has a relatively homogeneous social structure. Similarly the physiognomy of the settlement is in keeping with traditional norms. Nong Samong is a clustered village with a loose grouping of farm houses and is surrounded by wet-rice fields. The houses are built on stilts and are each equipped with a rice granary and a large garden with various fruit trees, coconut palms, and a surprisingly large number of kapok trees. The houses are built solidly and have the character of a permanent settlement, that is, one which has been set up for future generations.

Hardly anything has changed in land tenure either. Most farmers are owneroperators, and the renting of land or share cropping are still exceptions. Dependence on other individuals due to indebtedness has so far remained within reason because, as owners of wet-rice land, most farmers possess a fixed title deed which enables them to take out credit from public banks under fair terms. This is also advantageous for their cultivation of cassava, although no title deeds have yet been given for the upland fields.

There remains close social contact with the old village. Several farmers in Nong Samong still own and work their rice fields in their home village of Nong Liom. The reverse is also true of certain inhabitants of Nong Liom who have an "outfield" for cassava in Nong Samong without ever having moved house to the new village. Contact remains also through labour exchange. The wage labourers for the cassava harvest come mainly from Nong Liom, whilst, conversely, several inhabitants of Nong Samong help out during the wet-rice harvest in Nong Liom.

Land colonization by peasants outside their village territory: the example of km 79

The process of colonization outside the settlers' original territory usually starts from long-settled and densely populated areas where the whole territory of the villages is divided up and under cultivation up to the border. This is especially true of the rice cultivation zones in the central plain and north-east Thailand. Reserve land is available only in far-away forest areas that have not yet been allotted to a certain community and are thus owned by the state, that is, the king. Because of the often considerable distance from his home village, the pioneer settler will establish a new home, which he will use either temporarily or permanently. In the case of temporary use, he keeps his old house in his former village and only commutes seasonally between the new field (with upland crops) and the old field (with wet rice). If he gives up his old home, he also gives up social connections. It often takes many years in the new pioneer settlement areas before a new, functioning village community develops.

The impetus for this kind of pioneer settlement, which has increased considerably during the last 30 years, is in many cases the building of new roads and thus the opening up of isolated forest regions.

An example of this process has been investigated by us in the district of Pak Tong Chai on the southern border of the province of Nakhon Ratchasima. The sample area includes 10 villages, grouped around the recently developed centre of San Chao Po (known popularly as "Km 79"). Just 20,000 inhabitants are registered. In addition there are a few thousand unregistered inhabitants, most of whom belong to the group of temporary settlers who have kept their old homes in their areas of origin.

The area lies on the newly constructed National Highway No. 304, about 300 km northeast of Bangkok, and roughly 80 km south of the provincial capital of Nakhon Ratchasima (also known as Khorat). It rests about 400-500 m above sealevel and belongs to the mountain ridges which surround the Khorat plateau. At this point the geological formation is determined by an eroded anticline, where the underlying crystalline rocks (mainly granite) are exposed between two escarpments of the Khorat sandstone plateau. The rather mountainous relief can be regarded as the main obstacle to agriculture. As a result of its exposed location south-west of the main plateau, the area receives a relatively high rainfall of about 2,000 mm per year. An indicator of the high rainfall is that the primary forests, of which only a few areas remain, belong to the evergreen humid monsoon-forest type. The seasonal character of the rainfall seems to be less pronounced here than in the great plains of Thailand. December and January are the only months which are really dry. In November and February there is rainfall of about 100 mm. In all other months there is distinctly more rainfall, so that there is definitely the possibility of farming almost throughout the year. Most of the soils are deeply weathered and have a yellowy grey to red colour. Where granite reaches the surface predominantly latosols have been formed, which are generally more fertile than the weathered soil on top of the predominant sandstone formations.

The colonization and settlement of the Km 79 area took place in two phases. During the first phase, before the road was constructed, that is, before 1964, there were only a few individual farmers, who practiced extensive shifting slash-and-burn cultivation in isolated clearings. Their chief objective was to produce food for their own needs and they mainly cultivated upland rice. Besides this they planted some chill) and collected products from the forest to sell at the markets in Pak Tong Chai and Prachantakham, two to three days away on foot.

The securing of food for self-sufficiency as the main motive for the first phase of pioneer settlement was supplanted by market-oriented production during the second phase which followed. The decisive moment for this development was the extension of National Highway 304, which connected the American military bases on the Khorat plateau to the back-up port of Sattahip on the Gulf of Thailand. The building of this new road took over three years and was completed in 1969. This date coincided with the boom of maize in Thailand as an export to Japan. During these three years and the following two years until 1971, large areas of the region changed from forest into a mono-cultivation landscape for maize. Just five years later the central market place, Km 79, had sprung up near a former road-building camp.

The following is a summary of the main characteristics of this settlement process. (For more details see R. Riethmüller, U. Scholz, N. Sirisambhand, and A. Spaeth, in Uhlig 1984.)

Most of the settlers came either from the area around Sara Buri in central Thailand or from the hinterland of Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat) in north-east Thailand. Maize growing was not unknown to the settlers from Sara Buri, but those from Khorat were almost all formerly wet-rice farmers. The reason for migration for most of the settlers was that the farms in their areas of origin were too small. A few of those interviewed also mentioned the fact that there was more rain in the new area as a reason for their move.

A decisive role in the change-over to maize cultivation around Km 79 was played by traders, who supplied the pioneer settlers at the start with seeds, food, and credit, and thus made them dependent from the very beginning of their new lives as colonists. According to our investigations, around 80 per cent of the farmers are in debt today. Credit is necessary mainly for contract ploughing with a tractor, for food, and in order to employ wage labourers for the maize harvest. The farmers have no legal ownership deeds, as their occupation of the land was illegal, and so they are not entitled to credit from a bank. Thus they are dependent on the traders' credit, which has an average monthly rate of interest of 5 per cent. As a result of the pressure of paying back debts and the obligation to deliver the yield to the trader right after the harvest, the farmers have practically no choice but to cultivate on the whole of their farms the crops that the trader wants-in this case, maize. This also explains the lack of rice cultivation. Furthermore, besides the purchase of maize, the sale of rice to the settlers is an important part of the traders' business. Thus, it is not in their interests that the farmers should grow their own rice.

On average, the size of the pioneer farm plots varies between four and seven hectares. As opposed to the dual production system of the pioneer farmers in our first sample area described above, the maize monoculture farms in the Km 79 area lack any subsistence-oriented production and are thus extremely sensitive towards every fluctuation in the price of maize on the world market. This situation does not, however, apply to those settlers who did not move here permanently but kept their old wet-rice land in their area of origin and now commute seasonally, twice a year, between their old wet-rice fields and the new upland plot of maize. Somewhat surprisingly there is only a little renting of land or share cropping. Similarly there is little ownership at large estates. Farms of more than 20 ha are exceptional. The explanation for this can probably be found in the unstable legal situation regarding ownership of land. In principle all land reclamation in the Km 79 area was illegal because it took place in an area which had been declared "reserved forest" by the Government in Bangkok. According to the existing legal code all new settlers could be driven from their land immediately. (For the legal situation see S. Ratanakhon in Kunstadter, Chapman, and Sabhasri 1978.) For this reason the traders are still hesitant to hoard land. They prefer to wait for the land reform which has already been announced by the Government and which proposes the allocation of title deeds to the farmers. For the time being control over the producers and the products is enough for the traders' leaving control of the land to the farmers.

The unstable legal situation has a very disadvantageous effect on the methods of land cultivation. The fear of one day being driven from their land makes the farmers exploit the natural resources as rigorously as they can. Measures to conserve or improve the soil, for example terracing of slopes, crop rotations, the use of fallows, the cultivation of perennial bush and tree crops, and the use of fertilizers, are only taken in exceptional cases. Thus one can hardly speak of real farming with foundations built to last. Only a few settlers, in particular those who were among the first in this region, have planted orchards.

It is remarkable that the continuous planting of maize without the use of fertilizer has not yet resulted in declining yields. Our enquiries showed that occasional decreases in the yield could be traced mainly to bad weather conditions, in particular to dry periods and only to a lesser extent to a decrease in soil fertility. One of the reasons for this phenomenon might be that deep ploughing with tractors means better suppression of weeds (especially of the ill-famed imperata grass called "communist grass" by the local people) and enables better utilization of deep-lying soil nutrients than would be the case in the traditional application of the digging stick or hoe.

The input of capital is quite high, although it is almost exclusively used for laboursaving production means, in particular to rent a tractor for ploughing. The tractors are provided by contractors at fixed rates of hire. These contractors sometimes live a great distance away, in some cases in Chon Buri (south-east Thailand), 250 km away. Those farmers with very small holdings who cannot afford to rent a tractor and therefore work their land with the hoe usually have serious problems in combatting the weeds. Large areas of waste land, covered with Imperata cylindrica and other weeds, show that here the struggle against the weeds has been abandoned and that the former farmer has left.

The lack of permanent dwellings as a result of the unstable legal situation, previously mentioned, also shows in the appearance of the villages. The simple architectural style of the houses with their cheap building materials indicates their provisional character. Many of them resemble a primitive hut rather than a real home. Unlike the traditional clustered villages of the Thai, the irregular, scattered settlement pattern with individual farms or small hamlets is predominant here. There are hardly any gardens attached to the houses.

As a result of this settlement structure no real village communities have yet sprung up. This is made even more difficult by the different origins of the settlers. Similarly there is a lack of any type of co-operation. In spite of social fragmentation, no distinct formation of classes amongst the peasants has come about. Probably the main reason for this is that land is still relatively fairly divided up amongst the settlers.

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