Land-Use Changes in the Upper Lam Phra Phloeng Watershed, Northeastern Thailand: Characteristics and Driving Forces

Khin Mar Cho, Michael A. Zoebisch


For a typical smallholder agricultural area in northeast Thailand, this paper describes the land-use changes, their main driving forces and their consequences over the last forty years -from the conversion of the original forest to the present agricultural land use.
The area has a relatively short agricultural history. From the 1960s onward, people started to settle in the area and began to clear-cut the forest to grow subsistence crops, such as upland rice and castor beans.After a relatively short period dominated by subsistence crops, the land use rapidly developed into maize-based cash-crop systems. Maize is still the main crop.Since the beginning of agriculture in the area, the farmers practiced continuous cropping. Shifting cultivation was never practiced. Initially, the soil was not tilled, and dibbling of seeds was exclusively practiced. All soil and crop husbandry practices were carried out manually. Due to the influx of more people, the agricultural land area expanded rapidly. Most of the land remains government property. Only recently, limited land-use rights for the farmers are being issued. With the change of the land-use systems over time, i.e., from upland rice to maize, and from subsistence to more market-oriented farming, the agronomic practices also changed adapting to the requirements of the new crops. The application of inorganic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides became standard practice. The use of these inputs led to a significant increase in land productivity. However, most farmers do not have su.cient capital to purchase all required inputs fore cultivation and they largely depend on private money lenders and middlemen for input supply at extremely high interest rates.
There is a general perception amongst farmers of a considerable soil-fertility decline and that more and more fertilizer needs to be applied to maintain the current yield levels. To realize more sustainable agriculture, land-use technologies need to be adopted at the farm level that increase the e.ciency of nutrient and organic matter cycling and reduce soil-degradation risks. Simultaneously, an enabling environment needs to be developed based on appropriate extension services and adequate credit facilities for the farmers.


cropping systems; forest clearing; land productivity; land-use change; Thailand

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