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