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Policies for Agricultural Sustainability in Northern Thailand

With the collapse of Thai financial institutions in 1997 and its chaotic consequences for the industrial sector, agriculture is now regarded as the main strength for economic recovery. Food security and economic self-reliance, particularly for the excluded, have received high priority to cope with this economic crisis.For the first time, sustainable agriculture has been included in the 8th National Social and Economic Development Plan (1997-2001). Sustainable agriculture is expected to be the major thrust of agricultural development policy.With these new changes, it is anticipated that policies that would enhance integrated land use systems, production systems for economic self-reliance involving small and medium scale rural enterprises, and strengthen local organisations, will continue to be the main development programs. The objective of this research is to identify those policies, through understanding ‘islands of success’ - farming communities that have evidence of integrated land use, economic self-reliance and strengthened organisation.The study area covered the main agricultural landscapes of northern Thailand, with Chiang Mai Province being used for case studies to represent and highlight characteristics of sustainable agriculture in the region. In northern Thailand, rice farmers have been encouraged to transform their rice monoculture into integrated farming systems. The adoption and extension of the “New Theory” integrated rice-based farming system in the lowland by the governmental ministries has helped promote the principle and practice of sustainable agriculture and rural livelihoods (SARLs).Three main physiographic features were selected. The highlands, which constitute 72 per cent of land types and are inhabited by hill tribe ethnic groups, are facing many development dilemmas. They possess comparative advantage for production of temperate fruit crops for the market economy, but struggle to achieve food security and are often deprived of access to land and forest resources for sustainable livelihoods. The hillslope and rainfed uplands constituting 17 per cent of land and settled mainly by the ethnic northern Thai are seen as future prospects for developing sustainable land use and agricultural production. At present the areas are considered under-utilised due to mismanagement of land resources in the early settlement period. The lowland rice-based ecosystem occupying about 10 per cent of land and representing the most intensive and diversified land use system is regarded as an advanced agricultural zone with a market-oriented production system. Integration of production with marketing arrangements is seen as one approach to achieve agricultural sustainability.

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