Agrodiversity Lessons: Examples from the Highlands of Northern Thailand

Agrodiversity Lessons: Examples from the Highlands of Northern Thailand
Kanok Rerkasem
PNlab Group, Chiang Mai University
Chiang Mai 50202, Thailand Email: [email protected]
Over the past 30 years, a great deal of change has taken place in the mountainous areas of
Southeast Asian sub-region, i.e., the Montane Mainland Southeast Asia (MMSEA). In the
lowlands, i.e., the core areas of the sub-region, Green Revolution has altered agricultural
landscape and biological diversity in the lowlands with the dominant of high yielding rice
varieties (HYVs) in intensive cropping practices. In the hinterland, smallholders on the
highlands are struggling with the shift to alternative cash crops, both annuals and perennials.
Their production systems are moving away from traditional practice of shifting cultivations.
The area in northern Thailand was once remote and inaccessible, and major supplier of illicit
opium. It is now connected with large-scale infrastructure, with successful reduction of
opium and is becoming a new economic development zone in the region. Alternative land
use and agricultural practices have been introduced and encouraged with heavy support and
subsidies. As a consequence, the traditional systems of shifting cultivation are disappearing
and large tracts of land have been opened up for permanent cash crops. The similar trend is
being observed in Yunnan, China where opium was totally eliminated since the late 40s.
However, expansion of cash crops is more pronounce with larger-scale plantation of perennial
cash crops such as tea, rubber and sugarcane.
PLEC is interested in agrodiversity, the management of this mountainous area by indigenous
inhabitants who are of diverse ethnicity in the sub-region. With their traditional practices and
rich cultural heritage, the local communities have in the past conserved much of richness of
domesticated and wild species. This presentation focuses on the capacity of local people to
manage and conserve biodiversity in the face of change. It also provides a brief background
of the sub-region and its significant changes. Examples of farmers’ management of
agrodiversity cover the range from household-managed rich biodiverse plot to communitymanaged landscape at village and local watershed scales. The significance of community
management and institutional arrangement to enhance biodiversity conservation will be
discussed. Based on local innovations, lessons from the above examples will be drawn for