New Mandala readers in Canberra may be interested in my seminar on Wednesday:

“Now the companies have come”: local values and contract farming in northern Thailand

Andrew Walker
Resource Management in Asia Pacific Program

Anthropology Seminar
9.30 am Wednesday 14th May
Seminar Room A
Coombs Building
The Australian National University

Over the past five years the farmers of Baan Tiam, a small lowland village in northern Thailand, have participated in a rapidly changing agricultural sector. By far the most important change has been the adoption and rapid expansion of contract farming. Farmers who previously grew crops on their own account are now commonly entering into contracts with companies to grow crops according to predefined schedules and techniques. This paper examines the ways in which Baan Tiam’s farmers have participated in this agricultural transformation. Those looking for outright resistance to what might be portrayed as a process of rural proletarianisation will be disappointed. Overall, the arrival of contract farming in Baan Tiam has been welcomed as providing a range of low risk agricultural alternatives for cultivators. Farmers have actively participated in what is often clumsily described by academic commentators as the ‘penetration’ of capital into the countryside. But their agency and enthusiasm is not unqualified. Far from it. Farmers draw on an array of values to assess and critique their new forms of agricultural practice, and the role of corporate and government actors in agricultural transformation. My aim in this paper is to show how this new phase in the commercialisation of agriculture intersects with local perceptions about appropriate forms of economic activity and ongoing farmer commentary about their changing relationships with corporations and the state. I suggest that acts of resistance, to the extent they are evident in Baan Tiam, need to be understood in terms of a broader ‘experimental’ orientation to agricultural change.