Food Sovereignty and Food Security: Livelihood Strategies Pursued by Farmers during the Maize Monoculture Boom in Northern Thailand

Author :  Sayamol Charoenratana ,Cholnapa Anukul and Peter M. Rosset


Northern Thailand is the center of a number of controversies surrounding changing cropping
patterns, in particular related to deforestation driven by the expansion of maize monocropping
by peasant farmers. Growing demand for maize by the global livestock industry has driven the
conversion of land from forest and/or shifting cultivation to chemical-intensive maize, with associated
environmental (i.e., forest encroachment and annual burning of fields) and social (i.e., farmer
indebtedness) problems. Over the years, some of the same farmers have been exposed to ‘alternative
development’ programs and projects, initially motivated by pressure to substitute for illegal crops
and more recently by concerns over deforestation and particulate matter air pollution from the
burning of crop residues. This scenario is made more heterogeneous by a variety of land tenure
situations and greater or lesser degrees of community control over land and forest. Faced with varied
situations, peasant families can pursue different livelihood strategies, particularly in reference to the
degree to which their production is market oriented. Based on surveys and interviews with farmers
in Nan and Chiang Mai provinces, over a range of the aforementioned circumstances, we contrast
families who pursue what we define as food security (cash cropping to earn money to buy food), food
sovereignty (primarily production for self-provisioning) or mixed (a combination of both) strategies.
In terms of indicators such as indebtedness, we find greater benefits from the food sovereignty and
mixed strategies, though we also find that these are limited by security of land tenure issues, as well
as by the degree to which community management of resources is or is not present.

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