21 November 2011

The Last Farm: The Next Generation of Farmers and Land Rights

Coming off of the agriculture unit, we learned that many Thai farmers are worried about whether there will be a next generation of farmers. As farming becomes a more difficult and less financially stable livelihood, fewer youth are interested in pursuing it as an occupation. Moving into the land unit, questions about the next generation of farmers continued to come up. We learned that this issue is even more complicated for communities who have been evicted from their lands by the government and are currently illegally squatting. It is not just a matter of getting youth engaged in agriculture but also ensuring that the community has the land for them to farm.

The communities that are struggling most to keep the youth engaged in the fight for land reform are those that have also internal conflict within the community. Huay Ron Ha, a community in conflict with the national park and government established wildlife sanctuary, has had problems with divorce, drugs, and alcohol. Meh Die, a representative from the NGO who is working with Huay Ron Ha, explained that “land issues have created domestic problems that drive many youth in the community to use drugs and alcohol.”

The communities succeeding the most are those who have an organized structure that promotes the success of the community as a whole with a focus on helping youth develop an appreciation for the land. In the Baw Kaew community, villagers hold each other accountable to a list of standards, have regular village meetings, and are currently working with the Isaan Land Reform Network to obtain a 1500 rai community land grant that would include a 150 rai community farm. Kao Baht provides education for the youth about farming and has grown one of the last varieties of sugarcane in order to teach the younger generation about the history of agriculture in the area.

Even with these efforts, all of the communities are struggling to grow a next generation of farmers. Many depend on youth to get jobs in order to financially support the family. Land rights battles have resulted in villagers having to pay bail when they are put in jail, money for their court cases, and other emergency needs. Although communities want farming to continue long-term, teenagers and young adults must go to the cities to support their families in the short-term. As a result, youth are forced into the cycle of working in the city and often never learn the skills to be a farmer.

Some villages are confident that the youth will return when they get too old to work in the factories. Witchoonai Silasee, a community organizer in Baw Kaew, says, “farming is in their blood so it won’t be hard for them to re-start that way of life when they come back”. Others, however, are worried that their farms and the fight to take back their land will not be sustainable. As Pie Toon, a villager from Kao Baht emphasizes, “we are worried...the government is always trying to advertise people to go in and work in the labor sector. We are fighting to get the land back but the government is trying to steal our land back. But because we don’t have land and nowhere else to go, we have to go to the labor and the industry.”

It is scary to think about the long-term effects of losing land (that may not be so far away). We are dealing with very similar issues in the United States as the “average age of farmers climbs to 57 and farmers under 25 drop by 20 percent” (npr). Losing land means losing farmers, and when the farmers are gone, we no longer have a voice over where our food comes from. It is time to remember the importance of being connected to the land, the source of our survival. As Paw Muung, a farmer from Kao Baht emphasized, “the relationship between land and people is not just reforming the land but reforming the mind of the people”

Kaitlin Roberts
Davidson College


Sara Stiehl said...

The value of generation to generation transferring of knowledge is not only important for the continuation of an occupation, but it transfers cultural knowledge and values that can be gained through the meditative practices of farming. The impacts of a generation gap is seen in many if not all types of villages that we have visited: agriculture, land, water and mining. In many of these villages, the villagers produce food for themselves and for others too either as a primary occupation or they grow a cash crop to support their family. A question that frequently crosses my mind is, if the younger generations of villagers continue to leave and not return, who will grow the food that is being distributed throughout Thailand and the World? Is the growing generation gap a sign for a change from local food producers to a growth of corporate production of food? I witnessed this in a small dosage at a home-stay where the mother worked for the government, the grandparents watched the kids, the land was reduced to cash crops, and we would have french fries and packaged foods for dinner while neighbors were still farming rice and crops to sell at the local market. The long term impacts of the generation gap are still too far down the road to theorize them all, but it is most defiantly an issue to watch. From food production, child rearing, cultural practices and values, and economics, the movement towards urbanization promoted and emphasized by the government is happening and ever one of these areas will be effected as well as many more by the change in family structure as this gap of youth/young adult ages 16-35 are missing from the villages.

.moo.cow.5. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liza Wood said...

When discussing the benefits and disadvantages of the community land title in Baw Kaew, I remember a particular comment made by a villager that struck me. He mentioned that the shared land would not only strengthen their current community, but it would also draw youth back from the city. He said this would be the case because the younger generation would feel more secure in their land ownership, and now be so concerned about losing their land and source of income – which is the current case of Baw Kaew. I think it’s really interesting that the land isn’t just about the crops they grow on it, but rather, what it symbolizes in terms of a stable community. Hopefully, the community will gain the community land title so they can reclaim their livelihoods, and also build their community back up by providing a space for youths to feel secure working on the land.

LaurenBH said...

While I remember the comment that was made in Baw Kaew Liza I wonder how accurately that statement reflects the feelings of the youth in the area. We have heard a lot of adults voice that idea that people will return if the land is there for them but I wonder how much this might be wishful thinking. This weekend I went home with my roommate and her cousin. We toured the mooban and I saw practically everyone's rice fields. I asked both of the girls if they would be interested in taking care of the land when their aunt no longer could and they both flatly rejected that idea. They said that everyone they know is hoping to have enough money to hire other people to work their land when they inherit it. I wonder what this type of a development would mean for local populations? Maybe these people would move into the mooban as our generation of educated persons moves out but holds onto the land.