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close this bookAgricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)
close this folder2. Spontaneous and planned settlement in south-east Asia
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThailand
View the documentClearing and settlement in the highland-lowland transition zone of northern Thailand
View the documentMalaysia
View the documentThe Philippines
View the documentIndonesia
View the documentConclusion: government-sponsored versus spontaneous settlement
View the documentReferences

Conclusion: government-sponsored versus spontaneous settlement

Klempin (1978:2) in his discussion of state-directed settlements on new land in Thailand (i.e. land requiring forest clearing before cultivation), raises the issue of state-directed versus spontaneous land settlement and compares the advantages and disadvantages of both types of settlement, drawing upon the experiences of other authors or project leaders. Together with comments based on our own experiences from current investigations, a list of the pros and cons follows.

Advantages of Directed Land Settlement

1. State-directed settlements serve the public interest more than others
2. They permit better protection of natural resources from uncontrolled exploitation
3. They allow for the selection of settlers from sections of society which corresponds to national development aims with respect to distribution of work places, economic circumstances of incomes, and security policies.
4. The settlers pay greater attention to instructions from and rules of the authorities
5. This type of settlement affords better opportunity to learn from trial and error
6. It promises a higher degree of integrated development

Disadvantages of Directed Land Settlement

1. High public costs
2. Susceptibility to political manipulation, to lack of continuity of direction, and to poor administration
3. Little flexibility
4. Reluctant repayment of credits
5. Irregularities or deviations in the allotment of resources or on the other hand standardized farm sizes without regard to differences in soil

The list reveals the seasoned practitioner, and Klempin did indeed run the Sara Buri project for several years; this author is largely in agreement but for point 5 under "advantages," "better opportunity to learn from trial and error," which would seem to be far truer in the case of spontaneous land clearances, even if there is a greater chance of abandonment subsequent to degradation of a field instead of an improved second attempt.

Advantages of Spontaneous Settlement

1. Lesser expenditure of public means
2. Smoother absorption of population growth
3. Higher proportion of experienced farmers and entrepreneurs
4. Better attitude among settlers in spite of the lack of capital and small administration capacity

Disadvantages of Spontaneous Settlement

1. Waste or destruction of natural resources (especially forests)
2. Extension of subsistence agriculture
3. Stagnation of technology at a low level
4. Low credit worthiness in international financing

Though in agreement with points 1 and 4 our experiences require some differentiation of the consequences of points 2 and 3. In the areas under investigation subsistence economy played only a subordinate role since the majority of even the small-scale settlers plant their crops with an eye to their commercial salability (particularly in the cases of maize and cassava), while products for home consumption (like dry upland rice, spices, etc.) were either given limited space or were not cultivated at all, but instead purchased. At the same time some subsistence agriculture was in evidence, especially where it is a matter of marginal additional cultivation (for example, dry upland rice in the vicinity of wet-rice areas where farm sizes are very small and there are high proportions of landless people) or among the meanest existences of the pioneer settlers; according to our experience, however, it is only a small percentage. Still less correct is the suggestion of subsistence economy being practiced among those quantitatively difficult to assess, that is, the large number of agriculturally progressive farmers whose cultivated areas in the new clearances produce exclusively for the market and, what is more, for export!

The objections to point 3, stagnation of technology, are to be seen in the same context. They too have to be restricted to the really destitute pioneers, whereas all the clearance and cultivated areas of the entrepreneurs, and even of the somewhat more successful farmers, especially when planted in maize and cassava (not to mention the already consolidated sugar-cane and pineapple plantations), are cultivated using modern technical means; particularly note the rapidly increasing usage of tractors. The small, new, central areas are greatly in evidence of tractor owners, tractor workshops, and tractor-hire firms. Here the tractor owners work their own largish farms with modern technical equipment and, at the same time, carry out contract ploughing, cultivating the fields of the smaller farmers who increasingly recognize the financial effort as more rational than the expenditure of time and energy in traditional ploughing or even hoeing-in most cases the new settlers have few, if any, draught animals-which would in any case be unable to achieve the deep working through which appears to be favourable for the permanent utilization of the tropical forest soils. Of course, one has to grant the fact that usually a very partial selection of techniques is applied-ones which have already been well proved in practice-whereas settlements which are subsidized by the state undoubtedly offer rather more room for experiments.

In conclusion a number of controversial questions are raised concerning an evaluation of the two forms of clearing and settling:

1. Which form achieves higher productivity and efficiency for agricultural production?
2. Which one shows greater readiness to accept innovations and is quicker to realize them?
3. Which one displays the more balanced growth?
4. Which form contributes more to the national aims of a meaningful distribution of jobs and incomes?

Again, our experiences lead us to believe the answers are varied. Regarding each of the four questions, directed land settlement essentially depends upon equipment and infrastructure (besides integrity and efficiency of the executive organs). Striking examples may be found in the differences (and corresponding successes) among the Indonesian Transmigrasi-especially in their earlier pioneer-like phases as described in Pelzer (1945)-and in the Malaysian FELDA settlements with their very well-developed infrastructure and huge investments, matched by an accordingly faster and fuller improvement in the settlers' conditions and a production oriented towards a world economy. The question, however. remains: How profitable, measured by economic standards, are highly subsidized clearance schemes compared with the yields of rationalized large-scale plantations? From the viewpoint of reasons of state this is of secondary importance since, apart from their economic aspects, settlements and the opening up of land are part of a comprehensive bundle of social, demographic, and political aims. A comparison of the efficiency of Transmigrasi (especially in former years, whereas recent developments reveal greater investments and a remarkable improvement in efficiency) with that of FELDA will also have to consider that the Indonesian programme, though idealistic, has until now been only partly successful, for having to operate with modest means and over great interisland distances as well as natural and human geographical differences, whereas the state-directed programmes in Malaysia have been favoured by the immediate contiguity of large land resources and relatively light population pressure and supported by massive investments and a high degree of organizational effort; their economic efficiency appears to be favourable but their social and political effects will only become evaluative in the more distant future.

It is worthwhile quoting from Collier's (1980) discussion of similar questions with regard to the reclamation and settlement of swamp lands for new wet-rice sawahs and combined cropping systems of rice cum coconut cultivation: "If we compare the government sponsored migrants with the spontaneous migrants in the swampy land of Kalimantan, the income and the welfare of the spontaneous migrants is considerably higher than that of the transmigrants. Of course, natural selection among the spontaneous migrants means that the best have survived and prospered which has not occurred among the transmigrants."

In Thailand, the dualism of planned and spontaneous clearance has developed in the free interplay of forces, among which the former is bound to produce the socially and politically more favourable effects.

A true pioneer settlement type (Khorat escarpment, Km 79 area) contrasts with the Chon Buri hinterland, which has been characterized by massive inputs by entrepreneurs of (mainly Chinese) capital investment, larger farming units, specialized production and immediate processing, and a more expressed social stratification. The experiences in favour of or against spontaneous colonization cover a wide range.

There are merits to a highly enterprising and innovative, export-oriented modern agriculture in large as well as in medium-sized farms, partly connected to new agroindustries like sugar mills, pineapple processing, etc., but there is also a clear disregard of forestry interests. The latter may be infringed upon by the tendency to expand continuously the larger holdings or by a re-emerging shifting cultivation on ecologically valuable patches of forest remaining on hilltops and in watersheds practiced by smaller settlers and labourers to earn extra income or supplement their food.

Class differentiation has grown and now paid labourers and smallholders face a class of large entrepreneurs with additional incomes from trade and industry. This has disrupted the former social homogenity of the Chinese ethnic minority, which grew from immigrant wage-earners. However it is the dependent Thai labourers who suffer still more from the rapid rise of a Chinese upper class. Thus incomegroup conflicts could well grow into ethnic conflicts! Increasing mechanization accompanied by the loss of jobs and yet an increase in productivity may alienate the groups from each other. Large-sized farms have proved most productive, especially for sugar-cane. Ownerfarmers invest their profits in labour-saving measures whilst traders who own farms tend to speculate with their capital. Farmers' innovations aim at intensification and improvement. Traders and entrepreneurs tend to experiment with new crops, cattleranching, etc., sometimes without proper consideration of ecological conditions. If experiments fail, this group are prepared to quickly sell the farms.

Clearly the risks with regard to ecological responsibility, social justice, or even law and order, and political conflicts will be greater in spontaneous pioneering. Examples of a serious dependence of settlers on traders and middlemen, for example in the maizegrowing region of the Khorat escarpment, cannot be denied. Likewise the gradual alleviation of the indebtedness of many small farmers by the organization of cooperatives and marketing organizations, sometimes successful in well-conducted settlement schemes, is lacking in most spontaneously cleared regions. .

A certain degree of government control or, better, of government support should ease this. The main advantage of spontaneous land settlement is the incentive given by the chance to freely invest initiatives, means, and hard work with the goal of establishing a promising economy and habitat as soon as possible without being hampered by bureaucracy and various restrictions.

There are many cases of new, prospering agro-economies and of newly opened regions which offer promising prospects for pioneers at various socio-economic levels as well as valuable diversification and extension for national economies too.

In any case most of the (originally partly illegal) clearings and settlements will be more or less irreversible. In the interests of political stability, economic prosperity and development a realistic recognition of the situation by government on all levels of administration is called for. All possible support through development of a sufficient infrastructure, creation of improved security, and the provision of appropriate property rights should be given in the national and socio-economic interests. This certainly should include efficient controls against social injustice and further ecological damage. A clear division of protected and managed forest reserves from de facto agriculturally utilized areas should be an important aim. Preventing spontaneous pioneering, however, under the prevailing pressure of population surplus, land-hunger, and the persisting predominance of agriculture in the national economies would only be feasible if government-directed settlement were to be accelerated to such speed and raised to such a standard of efficiency and attractiveness that the desirability of spontaneous pioneering would be surpassed by obviously better chances!