Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

  • Catherine Maria Hepp
Traditional shifting cultivation systems are rapidly undergoing a broad land use transition towardscommercialized and market-oriented systems in the uplands of Southeast Asia – a transition widelyencouraged by governmental policies and development initiatives and with implications to bothecologically-sensitive upland areas and the livelihoods of an estimated 14 – 34 million people inoften marginalized and vulnerable communities. There are competing views on the fullimplications of this land use transition with either: i) commercialized upland agriculture promotedas a strategy for avoiding the environmental degradation said to be caused by shifting cultivationwhile simultaneously eradicating poverty; or ii) commercialization is seen as an exclusionarystrategy catered towards upland households with a certain endowment with increasing livelihoodvulnerability for some and, hence, leading to community inequality.Thus, the overall aim of this Ph.D. project was to study the effects to land productivity andlivelihoods as upland strategies undergo the transition from rice-based shifting cultivation towardssuch commercialized and market-oriented systems, with the broad objectives being: i) to documentthe effect on soil fertility restoration by the shortening of fallows, an initial strategy forintensification that occurs at the onset of agricultural commercialization; and ii) to identify anddescribe upland livelihood strategies and diversification trends of increasing commercialization todetermine the requisites required for household market integration and to assess the impacts tolivelihood diversity, food security and system productivity. The interdisciplinary nature of thisPh.D. project called for a comparative case analysis approach set largely in Northern Lao P.D.R., anagriculturally-dominated country undergoing this rapid transition with an estimated 20 % of itsrural population reliant on shifting cultivation; a minor portion of work was carried out in NorthernThailand, serving as a ‘full commercialization and market-integration’ benchmark, however, due toextenuating circumstances, comparisons made are broad and included only as a chapter in thisthesis.The effect of upland agricultural intensification through the shortening of fallows is addressed bytwo studies: i) one conducted at a laboratory-level to validate the permanganate method for thequantification of a more labile soil carbon sub pool in soils containing char (Manuscript 1); and ii) asecond set at the field-level addressing the ecological sustainability of intensification by evaluatingthe impacts to soil carbon (bulk and labile) and total nitrogen dynamics during a short-term fallow(Manuscript 2). Char will not influence the validity of the permanganate oxidation method and,thus, is suitable for the quantification of an oxidizable fraction of the labile carbon sub pool in soilsmanaged under shifting cultivation (Manuscript 1). Soil carbon and total nitrogen levels of threeyearfallows seemingly reach a plateau, suggesting short-fallow systems are initially sustainable,particularly if with minimal external inputs or soil disturbance (Manuscript 2). However, withrepetitive short-fallow cycling, coupled with more intensive management practices, soil fertility andyield levels will likely decline, as is observed in more intensive upland systems in e.g. NorthernThailand (Manuscript 2).Initial commercialization (i.e. maize cash cropping) effects to upland livelihood strategies anddiversification trends are addressed at a household-level with an aim of determining the requisitesnecessary for market integration with minimal risk to food security (Manuscript 3). Maizeintegration requires a guaranteed attainment of food security which for many households isdependent on land access; households with paddy land are more likely to be rice self-sufficient and,hence, are able to integrate maize into their agricultural system with minimal risk to food security(Manuscript 3). Additionally, farmers also rank land availability and good soil fertility as necessaryrequisites for maize integration (Manuscript 3). Inequality within a village can be enhanced byagricultural commercialization if households are not equally endowed in natural resources or inaccess to i.e. support services (Manuscript 3).The effects of continued commercialization, driven by infrastructure development and accessibility,are evaluated at the inter-community level to assess impacts on livelihood diversity, food securityand system productivity as households are increasingly market-oriented (Manuscript 4, Chapter 8).The diversification of livelihood strategies is a gradual process of progressive cash crop integrationand capital accumulation with increasingly less reliance on agriculture, i.e. a decoupling ofhousehold livelihoods from the land starts to occur (Manuscript 4, Chapter 8). Vulnerablehouseholds are those with strategies heavily reliant on agricultural production (i.e. minimaldiversification) and farm labour wage to meet their needs (Manuscript 4). While commercializationdoes generally improve food security and wealth, it does expose households to marketvolatilizations (Manuscript 4). An intensification in upland maize systems, via an increase inexternal inputs (i.e. herbicides, fertilizers and mechanization), does increase the risk due to thehigher costs (and is associated to more formal debt) and requires greater labour input; however,labour productivity does not diminish as the output (i.e. maize yields) does proportionatelyincrease to offset the greater labour requirements, thus, our study does not support Boserup’s‘decline theory’ (Manuscript 4).The main summarising conclusions of this Ph.D. project are: i) the function and importance offallow, both environmentally and socially, should not be underestimated and should be reflected inimplemented policies and development initiatives that are made specific to the local-contexts; ii)physical infrastructure development and accessibility should be prioritised if households andcommunities are to have equal opportunities to engage in upland commercial agriculture andmarket-integration; iii) food security is imperative in the minimisation of risk for householdstransitioning towards market integration and can be attained either through paddy land or reliablemarket access (and fair farm contracts); and iv) a pro-poor growth approach, meaning an equaldistribution of resources, fair access to credit and social services, and diverse income-generatingopportunities, coupled with the development of infrastructure, should be a priority of theGovernment of Lao P.D.R. and any development initiatives.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDepartment of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
Publication statusPublished - 2017

ID: 182223181