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Has the rubber boom weakened households in the new rubber producing areas? A case study in Northeast Thailand

Poveda-Chambon B., Chambon B., Chambon-Poveda B., Promkhambut A., Tongkaemkaew U., Lai Dao X., Bosc P.M.. 2016. In : CRRI and IRRDB International Rubber Conference 2016, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap : CRRI; IRRDB, p. 1-13. International Rubber Conference, 2016-11-21/2016-11-25, Siem Reap (Cambodge).

High commodity price for a given crop such as cocoa, rubber etc. usually leads to its rapid expansion; farmers use all production factors for the crop having a high price resulting in quasi monoculture systems where all the lands are planted with this crop. On the other hand, diversification is a common strategy adopted by the farmers to increase their resilience. With the continuous and significant increase of rubber price in the 2000s, there was a rubber boom in several Southeast Asian countries: rubber plantations expanded in non-historical rubber producing areas. To which extent the rubber boom resulted in rubber farmers' specialization in these areas possibly weakening households by increasing the dependency to one commodity? And what are the consequences for rubber-based households in the current period of low rubber price? To address these questions, we used data from surveys conducted in the Northeast of Thailand, a region where rubber plantations largely expanded in the past decades. Data were collected in 2013-14 through individual interviews with 619 rubber farmers located in several provinces geographically distributed in this region. The results showed that only few farms specialized in rubber cropping (11%). Most rubber farmers adopted a strategy of diversification of farming activities either subsistence (12%) or market (24%) oriented. And 53% of the sample was characterized by diversification both on-farm and off-farm. However, in the farms with diversified farming systems, rubber plantations covered a large share of the total landholdings with differences depending on the strategy adopted by the household. While, at the time of the survey (still high price), rubber strongly contributed to the household income, food production remained important in these households oriented on commercial tree crops. During the period of depressed price, households who diversified incomes with off-farm activities were the most resilient. Diversification notably with off-farm activities could help households wait for the next increase of rubber price. In the current context of low rubber price, the challenge for Thai government will be to convince farmers to keep their rubber plantation, introduce technical innovations in rubber sector to improve returns to labour, and develop new opportunities of diversification on-farm and also off-farm. (Résumé d'auteur)

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