"Changes in Human Adaptive Strategies in Rural Northeast Thailand"

Dr. Somluckrat Grandstaff (CSEAS Visiting Research Fellow)
Dr. Terry B. Grandstaff (CSEAS Visiting Researcher)
15:00-17:00, July 12 (Tue), 2005
Room 207, CSEAS East Building

Northeast Thailand is a large region, nearly half the size of Japan, in the center of mainland Southeast Asia. Over twenty million people live in this region, most still living in rural areas.

This presentation is an interim report on a current research project to overview change in human adaptive strategies in rural Northeast Thailand over the past twenty years. Many of the changes that took place were not anticipated, and indeed stunned many academic observers.
Reconceptualizing our understanding of these changes may help us to better understand the situation.

In the mid-1980s, human adaptive strategies in rural Northeast Thailand exhibited a high degree of economic diversity at the micro level (within the household), despite rising incomes. This was seen as an ongoing response to the opportunities and constraints of micro environmental variation (within the rainfed "mini-watershed"), and a risk minimizing strategy against uncertain pay-off in any one particular activity, primarily in response to highly variable rainfall. The typical household "portfolio" included raising more than one type of rice on more than one type of paddy land, livestock, cassava, vegetables or tobacco in the off season, fishing, hunting and gathering, handicrafts and seasonal off-farm employment.

The portfolio was dominated and controlled by the rainfed rice cultivation strategy. The rice strategy was a highly elaborated one, with different photoperiod sensitive varieties selected for and adapted to differential niches within the holding: later-maturing species on lower paddies, quicker-maturing species on higher paddies, etc. By the mid-1980s, the rice strategy seems to have been increasingly elaborated and fine-tuned in response to increasing population pressure on the subsistence rice base.
All other economic activities in the portfolio had to be "fitted" to this rice strategy, in their timing, their labor requirements, land use, etc.

Today rice is still widely grown in rainfed paddies throughout the Northeast, and there are other similarities as well, but this does not mean that human adaptive strategies have not changed much over the past twenty years. They have undergone very major change, arguably: structural change. This was in large part a result of Thailand's economic boom in the late 1980s up until the economic crisis of 1997, even though that boom mostly took place in the greater Bangkok area and along the Eastern seaboard. The economic crisis of 1997 complicated but did not reverse this change.

Using government data, including some year-by-year graphs, some photographs, and various published materials, this presentation will overview the changes that took place, and attempt to reconceptualize and better understand them (including the role of rice). If we can better understand how and why things have changed over time in the past, we may be in a better position to anticipate the future.

21st Century COE Program -Aiming for COE of Integrated Area Studies-  HOME