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Households' livelihood strategies facing market uncertainties: How did Thai farmers adapt to a rubber price drop?

Nicod T., Bathfield B., Bosc P.M., Promkhambut A., Duangta K., Chambon B.. 2020. Agricultural Systems, 182 : 11 p..

DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2020.102846

Tree crop growers are particularly sensitive to commodity price fluctuations. Since 2012, rubber prices have been decreasing. This article provides a comprehensive analysis of how Thai family farms responded to that continuous decrease in rubber prices. The originality of this work was to combine a farming system approach for decision making with the sustainable rural livelihoods' framework for resource endowment and strategies to benefit from the complementarities of these two theoretical approaches. An existing database was used characterizing the rubber farms and farmers' practices in 2011 when the rubber price was at its maximum. A subsample of farmers was interviewed again in 2017 after six years of price decreases to characterize the new situation and to identify and explain the changes. Fifteen flexibility mechanisms to face the crisis were implemented at three different levels: rubber cropping system, farming system and activity system. Combinations of these mechanisms identified eight strategies of adaptation to the crisis, classified on the reversibility of the changes. Three major types of strategies were identified: (i) reversible adjustments at the level of activity system variables, (ii) mobilization of available production factors to be invested in an activity that allows, over a longer time perspective, compensation for the disturbances caused by the crisis. This type of adaptation was reversible, but its implementation expressed motivation in the medium and long terms; (iii) reallocation of the production factors already mobilized at the level of the rubber cropping system toward other activities, to compensate the disturbances caused by the crisis. This last type induced a deeper transformation in the distribution of the production factors in the activity system and was anchored in a long-term vision. The first type corresponded to a dynamics of disturbances absorption to maintain the smallholders' systems and overcome the crisis; the two other types corresponded to dynamics of compensation with more or less reversible changes. Overall, this study confirmed the capacity of adaptation of family agriculture when facing shocks. It also showed that the flexibility of these households relied greatly on rubber cropping systems through possible technical change and through the adaptation of the share-tapping labor contract. This highlighted the importance of considering farmers' practices (and changes of practices) to understand their strategies.

Mots-clés : plante à caoutchouc; volatilité des prix; moyens d'existence; sécurité alimentaire des ménages; exploitation agricole familiale; agriculture familiale; adaptation de la production; stratégie pour faire face à une crise; thaïlande

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