Traditional Beliefs and Farmer Decision-Making in the Uplands of Northern Lao PDR
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AbstractThis dissertation reports the results of a year of anthropological fieldwork on agricultural decision-making and traditional beliefs about the land among upland farmers in northern Lao PDR (Laos). Ethnographic research in this region is rare. Laos is currently undergoing an economic and agricultural transition. There is a need to understand farmer perspectives in the midst of this transition. Using ethnoecological, anthropological and participatory photography methods I explore preferences and values associated with agricultural crops and land. More specifically, I elicit local perspectives at an individual level, across five different ethnic groups (Tai, Tai-Lue, Lao, Hmong and Khmu) and across two stakeholder groups (farmers and government staff). Broader outside forces and how they affect farmer choices is also considered. The political ecology of Laos, ethnicity, and international environmental discourse all affect farmer choices. I found that ethnicity affects rice preferences, but economic variables affect cash crop choices. Farmers in Laos apply a "safety-first" principle in an attempt to minimize risk. Upland farmers' livelihoods are dependent on subsistence farming, livestock rearing, and ecological knowledge about non-timber forest products as foods, medicines and cash earners. Farmers in Laos prefer to maintain subsistence crops and to have some cash income either by growing annual and long-term cash crops, collecting forest products, or through traditional cultural activities such as weaving. Farmers prefer to plant some trees to secure landholdings and to comply with government and international environmental ideologies to reduce deforestation. My research conveys the complexity of livelihood systems in the uplands of Laos. I show that farmers negotiate a number of variables and adapt their farming strategies as situations change. My research contributes information to the global issues of agrarian change and international development.