Originally published at: http://humidtropics.cgiar.org/not-so-amaizing-the-need-for-agricultural-land-use-diversification-in-northern-thailand-2/
Life as a farmer in the mountainous north of Thailand is not easy. The land can be steep, soil quality is poor and water for irrigation is largely unavailable. Markets are also far away and inputs are hard to get by. Yet, modern life requires cash for nearly everything.
Against the backdrop, government extension introduced feed maize as a cash crop in the early 1980s. The crop is ideal for poor farmers as it requires little care, traders come to supply inputs and buy the output, and the government guarantees a minimum selling price. Maize has become an important source of income for many cash-strapped families in northern Thailand such as Nan province⎯one in five subsisted below the poverty line in 2012.
Land degradation on mountain slopes due to maize monoculture in northern Thailand.
Yet three decades after its introduction, the situation doesn't look rosy. Maize monoculture has depleted and eroded soils, particularly on mountain slopes. Maize expansion has been associated with illegal forest clearance and slash-and-burn agriculture, and average household debt has increased as a result of low selling prices and the ever-larger quantities of agro-chemicals required to grow maize.
Farmers, researchers and extension services generally agree that land use diversification is necessary, but a recent Situational Analysis by four researchers from Chiang Mai University shows that it remains easier said than done. Since 2004 the government has promoted large-scale rubber planting through subsidies, but local researchers and non-governmental organizations are skeptical as it replaces one type of monoculture with another. Various grass-root initiatives have sprung up that have introduced integrated farming of rice, vegetables, fruit trees and small-scale animal husbandry. However, widespread adoption of such systems would require large-scale improvements in water supplies and market access.
The alternatives being tried are nevertheless encouraging as they appear successful in providing low-risk income and create lots of enthusiasm and pride among farmers. Some of these initiatives will also have elements or principles that can be more generally applied to successful land use diversification. Humidtropics researchers have also been piloting small-scale vegetable farming, mushroom cultivation and integrated fruit tree-vegetable production.
Read the complete report entitled Situational Analysis in Support of the Development of Integrated Agricultural Systems in the Upland Areas of Nan Province, Thailand. The report is also available in Thai language
Blog and photo by Pepijn Schreinemachers, Agricultural Economist, AVRDC − The World Vegetable Center. Blog edited by Valérie Poiré, Communication Officer, Humidtropics.