|Agricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)|
|4. The forest colonization process: case studies of two communities in north-east and south-east Thailand|
|Case study 2: history of settlement|
The study area is located in King Amphoe Bo Thong, which is about 60 km east of the district centre. The first record of forest exploitation is from as early as the 1930s, when natives sought jungle products, especially yang oil (black lacquer), which later became commercialized by a Chinese trader living in Phanat Nikhom. At that time sugarcane was already being grown in the area surrounding Phanat Nikhom, supplying brownsugar mills operated by the Chinese. The area under cane did not expand into Bo Thong until the 1960s because lumbering was still very active. Sawmillers extracted timber from the forests of Bo Thong even before the 1940s. Extensive extraction of timber occurred in the 1950s, during which three more sawmills were established in the adjacent amphoe (district). In addition, two timber concessions were granted, covering an area of about 850 km2 encompassing parts of Ban Bung and Bo Thong. The first course of deforestation through timber felling lasted almost 40 years, of which the last concession ended in 1970.
Sugar-cane farmers (brown-sugar processors) started to penetrate the area in the 1960s by claiming old felling locations along logging routes. These people were the first to put this frontier land to cultivation. The tract of land claimed was not less than 500 rai (80 ha). It was also this group of brown-sugar processors who began the luk rai system.
When the area proved to be suitable for sugar-cane, upon the exhaustion of commercial timber supplies, the lumber-mill owners used the land for speculative purposes. As they were not farmers, these "land controllers" introduced the pa boei system, by which small or landless farmers are granted permission to work on a piece of claimed land over a certain period of time, generally three to five years (contract farmers). They are allowed to clear and till the land to grow any crops and to reap the harvests without any interference from the land controllers until the due time, as previously agreed. After this the process is repeated on other plots of land. This system was a contributing factor to the clearing of forests in the hinterland and, at the same time, encouraging the in-migration of small or landless farmers. The land controllers are not only lumber owners but rich merchants and businessmen who have claimed and control large areas of land but are not their legal owners. Their control can be exercised only if government agencies collaborate or ignore their illegal activities; that is, control depends on wealth and political influence and on the tolerance of their activities by the Government.
The development of road networks and the introduction of a new variety of cane led to the development of processing techniques and equipment required for the establishment of white-sugar mills. The rate of deforestation increased rapidly as more settlers moved in. Local records revealed that from 1973 to 1978 the population doubled from about 11,000 to 22,000.
As Bo Thong began to attract wage labourers when white-sugar mills were developed, the mills started buying fresh cane directly from plantation owners through a quota system.
The settlers of Bo Thong differ from those in Km 79 as they are mainly indigenous to the district of Phanat Nikhom, which was once a sugar-cane growing area. Through the process of land colonization different groups of population emerged:
1. The rich and large-scale plantation-type farmers or brown-sugar processors
2. Luk rai, farm labourers who work on the long chu farms
3. Small farmers (pa boei farmers) who clear forest for landlords and grow cassava and subsistence crops on small holdings of 10-20 rai (1.6-3.2 ha) in the hinterland
4. Medium-sized farmers with holdings of 200-400 rai (32-64 ha) who entered the area when it was more established
5. Seasonal wage labourers who are mainly wet-rice cultivators from the northeast. They were brought in by the long chu when white-sugar mills began buying cane and labour was much needed during harvests. Apart from this, the labourers could earn incomes from this work during the slack period of paddy cultivation.
Bo Thong owes much of its development to the sugar industry, which has generated various sources of income for its people. Besides crop production there is a commercial sector supporting and interrelated to the former which includes:
1. Shopkeepers and traders, who were attracted to settle in Bo Thong when the
area started to develop into a large production center for cash crops,
especially after 1967
2. Crop brokers, who opened shops at the Om Phanom market to buy whatever smallscale farmers produced (excluding sugar-cane), such as cassava, ground-nut, sweet corn, and tumeric
3. Truck owners, who play an important role in the cassava network as they are shopkeepers or cassava cultivators renting out their vehicles for transporting cassava from the hinterland area as a sideline
To conclude, in the production system in the Bo Thong area all population and occupational groups are interrelated. The long chu provided the luk rai with board, lodging, and protection and in turn received services and labour for the brownsugar mills. The latter were also provided with land ranging from 20 to 50 rai (3.2-8 ha) depending on the number of workers in the family. This pattern of relationships formed an inter-class bond, with each party needing the other. Gradually this system began to decline when the brown-sugar industry ceased. It was replaced by one of seasonal wage labourers because the cost of production rose. Thus a new work system, mao raksa, was introduced under which seasonal workers came for three months to cultivate and care for the cane until the first weeding was done. These workers were paid on a piece-work basis of 700 baht per rai (U.S. $168.00 per ha).
Today the term luk rai is used to describe any farmer dependent on the long chu for loans or a share in the sugar-cane quota. The pa boei, or contract farmers, clear forest land for land controllers. This system protects the controllers from the risk of raids by government forestry officers. Traders, crop brokers, and truck owners are important in the production system as they provide services and market outlets for smaller enterprises.
The brown-sugar processors were the first group to settle permanently. They formed a cluster of settlements of row houses near the road intersections which eventually became shop houses and a market centre, Om Phanom. When more migrants moved into the area in later years, settlements began to disperse into fields and also occurred in small groups lining the roads. Owing to the lumber businesses and plantation owners, road networks in the area were well developed and accessible to most locations. Those having land near the road chose to build their houses at the intersections.
In 1979 Bo Thong consisted of eight villages, of which the most important was Om Phanom. By 1984 the number of villages had increased to 10. The interesting feature of each village community is that each has a small centre of shop houses near road intersections selling groceries, food, and drink as well as serving as a meeting place. The degree of interaction and contact between villagers varies among various groups.
However, in such a cash crop area the sugar-cane and cassava farmers are occupied almost ail year round. Most social contact tends to evolve in the crop-production area or where the farmers live, when, for example, mutual help is given in clearing land. Unlike in the traditional wet-rice community, however, the wet and schools perform only limited, basic functions and do not carry out other economic or social roles. This is because the agricultural production system in Bo Thong has embraced all aspects of farmers' livelihood. In addition, the new settlements of Bo Thong are composed mainly of people who moved from within Chon Buri and have similar backgrounds; they are accustomed to this system of cropping and its social livelihood.
The two case studies share some characteristics with regard to the stages and process of forest colonization, starting from the exploitation of forest resources at the subsistence level to the commercialized logging business and extensive cash-crop cultivation, maize in the case of Km 79 and sugar-cane in the Bo Thong area.
However, there are differences in the degree of development. The economy of the Bo Thong area is more established in terms of investments (e.g. industries and trade) than that of Km 79. Development in Km 79 depends mainly on the maize trade, which fluctuates according to world markets, not to mention the environment and climatic conditions which directly affect production. Development in Km 79 has decreased because resources have been exploited and drained by farmers and traders who are primarily from other areas.
In Bo Thong the large-scale sugar-cane farmers and brown-sugar processors (ethnic Chinese) invested in extensive cultivation. As a result land speculation for agricultural development in the area has increased. The process began earlier here than in Km 79, which developed only when maize was introduced in the 1950s. Large tracts of forest land in the Bo Thong area were claimed by the rich and influencial sawmillers, who controlled and regulated spontaneous land clearings through the luk rai and pa boei systems.
Under the tok khao phot system the farmers in Km 79 are more independent in terms of acquisition of land since maize traders do not control access to land. However well these systems functioned to serve the needs of the two parties concerned in forest clearing, growth began to decline and the relationship between farmers and their supporters (e.g. the long chu and luk rai relationship) began to loosen. One obvious reason is the higher risk involved when more capital investment is needed for production. By implication, for such a system to exist there should be natural resources. As seen in the case of Km 79, when maize yields declined due to low soil fertility, profits decreased because of increasing input costs. Traders became more cautious in giving loans and in the Om Phanom area, for example, the long chu now prefer to keep wage labourers in place of the luk rai.
This problem of depleted resources is felt not only by the farmers but also by the government. Previous development in the agricultural sector was by "area expansion," which has now to be replaced by the "increasing yield per rai" strategy stated in the Fifth Development Plan. A review of past agricultural development shows that the rate of growth in the agricultural sector has declined to about 3.5 per cent due to the degradation of natural resources. It is anticipated that unless conservation measures are taken the rate of decline will further decrease. The areas most affected will be those in the upper north and the north-east of Thailand. It is obvious that Thailand has now reached the point where "no more frontier land" is available for exploitation. What the government has proposed as one of the aims of the Fifth Development Plan is to increase the production potential of farmers by giving priority to projects such as those connected with soil, water, and forest conservation.
It is time that we ceased taking natural resources for granted or as a free means of production. Although it may be time-concurring, Thai farmers should be trained and guided with firm and persistent support from the government in adopting technologies on intensive rather than extensive use of land.