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Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

From World City to the World in One City: Liverpool through Malay Lives
Tim Bunnell
Chichester and Malden: John Wiley & Sons, 2016, xvii+284pp.

One day in September 2005, this reviewer was enjoying “authentic Malaysian cuisine that is 100% HALAL Food” at Mawar (“Rose”) Restaurant on Edgware Road, London, thanks to the hospitality of the localized Malaysian freelance journalist/broadcaster Wan Zaharah Othman. The restaurant was then the only Malaysian restaurant in London, and Malaysian and Singapore clientele formed a large portion of its regulars. So, in addition to Malay food, customers could also enjoy conversation in Bahasa Melayu (the Malay language). On that particular night, Art Fazil, a Malay singer of Singapore origin, was singing his original song “Anak Melayu di Kota Inggeris” (Malay diaspora in an English town) to the accompaniment of his own guitar. He was one of the committee members of the London Malay Festival held just one month earlier, “showcasing the diversity of the Malay diaspora in one festival, a sort of regathering of the tribe,” in his words. Incidentally, Anthony Milner reports that advertised participants in the festival were from Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and South Africa as well as Southeast Asia (Milner 2008, 184). I was visiting the UK chiefly to extend my anthropological field of interest to the Malay diaspora in that country.

Before starting my review of Tim Bunnell’s book, let me give a brief history of my encounter with the Malay diaspora/Dunia Melayu (Malay World) movement led mainly by the late Professor Ismail Hussein of the GAPENA (Malaysian National Writers’ Association). While I was engaged in anthropological fieldwork on a different research theme in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, the first Malay World Assembly was held in Melaka (Malacca) in 1982. I happened to be invited to take part as an observer. It was only after the 1990s and the early twenty-first century, however, that I became really conscious of the importance of the movement and conducted my research on the topic, as a result of which I published a paper based chiefly on the GAPENA activities (Abdul Latiff 2002; Tomizawa 2010).

Since I met Wan Zaharah in London I have not seen her again, but after more than a decade I was able to meet her again in Bunnell’s book From World City to the World in One City: Liverpool through Malay Lives. In contrast with my main approach to the Malay world focusing on Malay elites and culturists, Bunnell’s basic focus seems to be on the ordinary subaltern strata of the Malay diaspora. His “Malay Routes” research project provided the basic data for the book, which formally began at the National University of Singapore in 2004. It is noteworthy that his interest in “a long-standing Malay seafaring presence in England” was triggered by a Malay-language film titled Dari Jemapoh ke Manchester (From Jemapoh to Manchester) as well as his grandfather’s death in the UK a couple of years before he started the project. His grandfather had worked in the merchant navy, shipping out of Liverpool to spend some time in Singapore during and after World War II before finally returning to the UK. So Bunnell’s memory had been sustained by the painting of a Blue Funnel Line ship set against the Liverpool waterfront that was in the room where he always ate during childhood visits to his grandparents’ home. Probably that formed the root and route of the author’s strenuous efforts to launch into the huge ocean of the Malay world and Malay Routes project.

This book elaborately and carefully depicts people who met at Liverpool’s Malay Club over a period of more than half a century until its closure in 2007. The author examines, in particular, the maritime linkages that made possible the formation of the Malay Club and the worlds of connection that the club in turn sustained. The original objective of the Malay Routes research project was to examine historically shifting connections between Liverpool and the alam Melayu (Malay world) through life histories and geographies of Malay ex-seamen. As his research went on, however, he realized the importance of the present life realities of the ex-seamen and shifted his main focus of research to their ongoing life geographies. Then the memories and stories of ordinary “non-expert” individuals, families, and other social groupings seemed to constitute largely undocumented archives of everyday or subaltern forms of historical urban worlding. These are lived archives of memory, not only yielding insights into connected geographies of a bygone era but also leading to consideration of how historical connections inhabit contemporary imaginings, practices, and worlds in the city.

Examining Liverpool’s urban geographies through Malay lives, the author attempts to advance three key sets of arguments in the book concerning the relational and territorial dimensions of cities, and historically sensitive ways of studying them. The first concerns Liverpool’s long-distance social webs or networks, and the wider geographies of connection with which they have been intertwined. The author’s important theoretical contribution here is his assertion that Malay social webs spun in late colonial times not only exceeded formal political economic linkages but also preceded globalization and transnationalism and even outlived the imperial world city of Liverpool. A second set of his arguments has to do with the territorial grounding of transnational social webs or networks. The author argues that Malay transnational urban networks in Liverpool were anchored or locally grounded in the successive sites of the city’s Malay Club, connecting them to other maritime centers including in Southeast Asia and across the Atlantic to New York. His third set of arguments has to do with what the lives of people who met at the sites in Liverpool reveal about the relational (re)making of cities. In this connection, life histories and geographies of the people concerned can also tell us about multiple worlds in cities according to the author.

The book consists of nine chapters including the introductory and concluding ones. The seven main chapters (Chapters 2 to 8) are organized in broadly chronological terms, beginning from the tail end of the era during which Liverpool was a prominent imperial maritime and commercial center—a world city. Chapter 2, “From the Malay World to the Malay Atlantic,” shedding light on Malay transatlantic mobilities, traces the shipping routes that connected the alam Melayu to Liverpool, positioning the city and seafaring Malay men in world-spanning commercial and social webs.

In Chapter 3, “Home Port Liverpool and its Malay Places,” the author focuses on the social geography of Liverpool as “home port” to men from the alam Melayu with varying degrees of attachment to the city. This chapter provides us with precious ethnographic data concerning the realities of Malay diaspora daily life. For example, we can learn that food became central to members of the Malay Club. Having a taste for spicy food was the common denominator marker of Malayness in the mid-twentieth century, and Muslim food taboos (typified by babi /pork-free practice) tended to be kept by the first generation but rarely extended to second-generation Malay girls and boys. After all, for children of seamen as well as (ex-)seamen themselves, the club was the place where they could be—at least partly—“Malay,” typically through the Malay-language conversations and food provided there, showing the interaction among food culture, religious beliefs, and ethnicity. In this way, children of Malay seamen experienced the club as a place to “be Malay” and as a site of connection to Malay worlds.

The following three chapters are set in the context of Liverpool’s repositioning in the new international division of labor and in relation to the concomitant political economic development of independent nation-states in Southeast Asia. Chapter 4, “Merseyside Malaise and the Unmaking of British Malaya,” examines changes to the social composition and transnational connections of the Malay Club associated with the post-independence remaking of territories of the former British Malaya and Liverpool’s interrelated post-maritime economic transformation. In Chapter 5, “Diasporic (Re)connections,” the author turns his eyes anew to recent Liverpool as a destination for students, tourists, and diaspora seekers from Southeast Asian nation-states as they have become more affluent and, especially in the case of Malaysia, increasingly concerned with transnational Malayness. This chapter interestingly depicts histories of non-seafaring travels to the site of the club, including both individual searches for seafaring ancestors and politically driven interest in diaspora communities among Malay nationalist elites in Malaysia. Furthermore, Bunnell’s precious historical insight teaches us that the existence of visitors showing interest in the Malay diaspora in Liverpool can be traced back as far as the 1960s. He also suggests that encounters among diasporic Malays in Sri Lanka, South Africa, Madagascar, and so on had already occurred decades before the Dunia Melayu or Malay diaspora movement that was dramatically activated in the 1980s and after. On the other hand, we are also informed that it was during the period after the first Malay World Assembly in Melaka in 1982 that Malays in Liverpool and elsewhere in Britain began to attract the interest of prominent Malaysian political figures. This chapter is especially important and illuminating for Malay diaspora studies, providing stimulative data on global-scale dynamic interactions over Malayness between “old Malays” and “the Islamized New Malay.” Subsequently, the “return” journeys of Liverpool-based ex-seafarers to newly emerging centers of urban modernity in the Malay world in Southeast Asia form the focus of Chapter 6. Although a recurring theme of this book is how diverse individual life experiences and associated geographies defy group generalization, the author does not deny the fact that among Malay ex-seamen in Liverpool it is possible to identify a prevailing trend toward increased religiosity in later life.

The last three chapters mainly highlight the rather new positioning into which diaspora communities and ethnic groups in general have been thrown in the context of local administrative cultural policies and urban regeneration strategies in the UK and other nations. Chapter 7, “Community in the Capital of Culture,” pays special attention to recent and ongoing culture-led urban regeneration strategies in Liverpool, particularly the city’s rebranding as “the World in One City.” The author analyzes opportunities for Liverpool-based Malaysian students to make Malay(sian)s visible and fundable in the context of community-led urban governance regimes. Chapter 8, “The Last Hurrah: From Independence Celebrations and Interculturalism to Club Closure,” contains a detailed description and analysis of local celebrations of Merdeka (Malaysian independence) in two events intended to heighten community visibility in the lead-up to Liverpool’s year as European capital of culture around 2008. This symbolically reflects the essential transformation of Liverpool from “World City” to “World in One City,” which took place over the last half century. In other words, Liverpool itself has also been thrown into a new positioning in the present phase of globalization as well as the local Malay diaspora. In Chapter 9, the author concludes the book by revisiting the main arguments and comparative contributions of the study.

Overall, this book is a well-written transnational urban geography through Malay lives. The author’s sincere and tireless attitude in always turning his eyes to every detailed reality is especially praiseworthy. As far as the Dunia Melayu movement is concerned, no doubt Bunnell’s work has added an important contribution to a series of academic endeavors in this field so far. As Milner properly suggests, Dunia Melayu is a continuation of the process of redefinition that has been under way over the last two centuries; furthermore, there is a post-nation-state dimension to the movement (Milner 2008, 185). This is precisely why the movement is so interesting, and Bunnell’s proposition regarding “transnationalism from below,” which preceded today’s globalization according to him, might correspond to this comprehensive understanding of the movement. Lastly, if I dare to point out what is a little bit wanting in his work, discussion on the intranational (not international or transnational) aspect of the Malay network and interactions in the UK does not seem to be satisfactory. For example, the Malay Association UK (Persatuan Masyarakat Melayu UK, or Melayu UK) was formed around the beginning of the twenty-first century as “the first UK-wide Malay society” to directly address the welfare of Malays resident in the UK. I wonder what sorts of interaction or lack of interaction could be detected between the Malay Club in Liverpool and the newly instituted Melayu UK or other dispersed Malay communities in that country. I also wonder whether there was any causality between the establishment of the Melayu UK and the closure of the Malay Club in Liverpool. The author’s diligent attempt at drawing our attention to the world-spanning historical urban interrelations and circulations in and through Malay places is satisfactorily successful, illuminating and inspiring further challenging studies in this field of research.

Tomizawa Hisao 富沢寿勇
School of International Relations, Global Center for Asian and Regional Research, University of Shizuoka


Abdul Latiff Abu Bakar. 2002. Ismail Hussein bersama GAPENA: Biografi & koleksi [Ismail Hussein and GAPENA: Biography and collection]. Kuala Lumpur: GAPENA.

Milner, Anthony. 2008. The Malays. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Tomizawa, Hisao. 2010. Old and New Aspects of Malayness in the Contemporary Dunia Melayu Movement. In Tinta di dada naskhah: Melakar jasa Dato’ Dr. Abu Hassan Sham [Issues on Malay literature and material: Festschrift in honor of Abu Hassan Sham], edited by Hashim Ismail, pp. 29–44. Kuala Lumpur: Jabatan Penerbitan Akademi Pengajian Melayu, Universiti Malaya.


Vol. 6, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, TERAUCHI Daisuke


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

The Oil Palm Complex: Smallholders, Agribusiness and the State in Indonesia and Malaysia
Rob Cramb and John F. McCarthy, eds.
Singapore: NUS Press, 2016, xvi+470pp.

The Oil Palm Complex: Smallholders, Agribusiness and the State in Indonesia and Malaysia consists of 14 chapters written by 16 contributors. Each chapter has its own topic and independent conclusion, especially Chapters 3 to 13. And the final chapter (Chapter 14) provides a conclusion based on the key findings of each chapter. Therefore, I will summarize each chapter and then discuss Chapter 14.

Chapters 1 and 2 provide a framework for the following chapters, including a systematic overview of the ways in which land, labor, and capital have been mobilized and combined in different modes of production. In Chapter 1 Rob Cramb and John F. McCarthy explain the aim of the book: understanding the oil palm industry in Indonesia and Malaysia as a complex whole from the perspective of political economy. To provide the context for the following chapters, the authors clarify the economic differences between Indonesia and Malaysia; the different political backgrounds and characteristics of Indonesia, Peninsular Malaysia, and Malaysia’s Borneo states (Sabah and Sarawak); and the regionalization that means a fusion of the Indonesian and Malaysian oil palm industries and formation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) on a global scale. In Chapter 2 Cramb and McCarthy explain the agro-economic features of oil palm production. They examine the mobilization of land, labor, and capital within and across the oil palm industries in Indonesia and Malaysia, and their incorporation in different modes of production; as well as estates, managed smallholder schemes, nucleus estate and smallholder (NES) schemes, joint venture schemes, assisted smallholders, and independent smallholders. The authors clarify two contradictory trajectories in production modes. On the one hand is “capitalist convergence,” which means the expansion of the estate mode and pursuit of the joint venture scheme; on the other hand is the surge of independent smallholders.

Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 explore the different modes of oil palm production in practice and the circumstances that give rise to different livelihood outcomes, both within and between given modes. In Chapter 3 Zahari Zen, Colin Barlow, Ria Gondowarsito, and John F. McCarthy reveal the NES schemes that were implemented mainly during the Suharto period and contribute moderately to rural socioeconomic improvement. In addition, the authors explain new phenomena from the post-Suharto period, namely, increasing individual smallholders, new private companies’ initiatives for local contributions such as a community oil palm area, and the partnership model (joint venture scheme in Chapter 2). The authors maintain that the role of the state remains critical in socioeconomic improvement. The challenge remains making initiatives even more effective. In Chapter 4 John F. McCarthy and Zahari Zen analyze the processes of inclusion/exclusion or adverse incorporation regarding the oil palm boom in Jambi, Sumatra. NES scheme projects help to create agrarian differentiation in which rural elites and entrepreneurs accumulate economic and social power (inclusion process). Successful transmigrants, in-migrants, and village and district elites bought local private/common lands. Some local farmers who lost their lands/livelihoods became wage laborers (exclusion process); others who established oil palm fields by themselves were suffering from low productivity because they did not have the techniques and capital for buying high-yielding seedlings and agrochemical inputs (adverse incorporation). In Chapter 5 Lesley M. Potter searches for alternative smallholder pathways in Indonesian oil palm production and for methods and techniques that are “smallholder-friendly.” Based on case studies in Costa Rica, Cameroon, and Ecuador, the author considers three alternative pathways: (1) mixed cultivation of oil palm and other crops, (2) increased numbers of small competing mills that would supply inputs and extension services or be specifically designed to serve local markets, and (3) a widening of the roles of Indonesian cooperatives to engage in alternative economic activities. In Chapter 6 Rob Cramb argues that the dominant mode of oil palm expansion in Sarawak has been driven not primarily by technical or market imperatives but by the exercise of state power to maximize opportunities for surplus extraction and political patronage. Sarawak state promoted the joint venture scheme to deliver extensive state and customary land to private estates and to import low-wage Indonesian labor by using the policy narrative, bringing the “native” into the modern sector or mainstream of development. In Chapter 7 Rob Cramb and Patrick S. Sujang focus on the recent emergence of oil palm smallholders in northern Sarawak. The authors find that smallholders achieve good returns with their limited resources of labor and capital while maintaining a degree of livelihood diversity. Different from the findings of Chapter 4 in the case of Jambi, Indonesia, the rapid growth of oil palm smallholders has not been associated with marked differentiation between rural households in northern Sarawak.

Chapters 8, 9, and 10 explore the nature of the conflicts arising from contested approaches to oil palm development. In Chapter 8 the authors mention that NGO advocacy often results in unintended consequences, including intensified conflicts among oil palm stakeholders. Contrary to what is widely assumed, the environmental impact is rather a less common issue in such disputes. As oil palm is more profitable for local smallholders, the main causes of conflict are merely economic ones, namely, unwanted land conversion in West Kalimantan. Also, the authors refute the traditional view that companies are the only ones to blame for exploiting other stakeholders. As such, the authors state that the contemporary NGO mission is not to advocate against the crop itself but to ensure the fair distribution of wealth in the production chain of oil palms. In Chapter 9 the author focuses on four key local stakeholders in an Indonesian oil palm plantation: the company, government, cooperative, and community. Through a stakeholder map analysis and a discussion of their diverse quotes, the author reveals the diversity, complexity, and power imbalances within a plantation. The prevailing participatory process used by the companies reinforces the existing power imbalance because it fails to take into account the implicit power relations. Participation per se is no longer a panacea. Because power relations are intimately connected to how stakeholders communicate, participation must encompass an awareness of the power relations and of smallholder agency. Chapter 10 studies the ways in which resistance against oil palm plantations has varied, using two case studies in Landak District (PIR-Bun V Ngabang) and Seruyan District (the Lake Sembuluh Subdistrict). Comparing the covert and individual actions in Ngabang with the overt and organized ones in Sembuluh, it not only demonstrates their variations in contexts and strategies but also reveals that both have the common intention to gain greater access to the benefits that the paradigm of a large-scale capitalist enterprise system can offer.

Chapters 11 and 12 focus on plantation labor. Chapter 11 studies the impact of oil palm plantations on the labor regime in Indonesia. Although some legitimate the allocation of large parts of land to oil palm plantations due to its effect of creating employment and reducing poverty, the author demonstrates that this argument does not consider “Indonesia’s oil palm labor regime” through the dual strategy of enclosing land to dispossess local people and importing labor from other regions by the transmigration system. Chapter 12 focuses on the situation of Indonesian migrant workers on oil palm plantations in Malaysia. Due to the economic gap between Malaysia and Indonesia, Malaysian oil palm plantations invite migrant workers from Indonesia to undertake work that locals are not willing to do, the so-called 3D: dirty, dangerous, and demeaning. Based on interviews with workers in Sarawak, this chapter depicts the factors that drove them to migration, how they are experiencing it, and what sort of household livelihood strategies they are constructing.

In Chapter 13 Oliver Pye examines the oil palm complex at the transnational level by focusing on the RSPO, a global multi-stakeholder organization made up of oil palm growers, NGOs, manufacturing and retail companies, and so on that develops a certification system to realize sustainable palm oil production. However, the author shows that even certified oil palm companies can be engaged in environmentally and socially unsustainable production methods. The author explains that this contradiction is caused by the voluntary system of RSPO and collaboration between Malaysian political bodies and leading oil palm companies to prioritize economic profits in RSPO.

In Chapter 14 McCarthy and Cramb explain the way of understanding the oil palm industry in Indonesia and Malaysia as a complex whole (Indonesia-Malaysia oil palm complex) based on the key findings of each chapter. First, the authors recognize the oil palm complex as being constituted of interrelationships among agribusiness firms and agents, national and local governments, rural households and communities, and local and transnational civil society actors. Then, the oil palm complex is formed and reformed based on shifts of interests and capabilities on the part of constituent actors, being influenced by both internal and external changes (e.g., the shift to market-led forms of development and the 1998 financial crisis). Various oil palm plantation development schemes in Indonesia and Malaysia have been formed and changed in this process. This formation or reformation of the oil palm complex is determined by political settlements emerging from compromises between powerful groups, mainly companies and governments, that set the context for institutional and other policies. Subsequently, development schemes formalized by political settlements are implemented at the local level. The working of social relations within a scheme, village, or plantation context—such as negotiations between plantation representatives, village leaders, and farmers over land allocation (amount of land taken over by a company, returned to farmers as productive oil palm, and left available for food crops) and availability and conditions of employment on the plantation—shapes the degree to which farmers and plantation workers access the stream of benefits derived from oil palm production. Based on this way of understanding, the authors discuss three recent trajectories of the oil palm complex: (1) convergence on the plantation mode, (2) smallholder resurgence, and (3) a trend toward private regulation, such as the RSPO.

Here I would like to discuss the achievements of this book and the next issues to be dealt with. The book provides a way of understanding the oil palm industry in Indonesia and Malaysia as a complex whole. This way of understanding can answer the following long-debated questions: Why are companies’ oil palm plantations still expanding in forested areas? Why are there still land conflicts between local people and companies? Why are plantation workers still working under poor conditions? This book provides a new answer, namely, structural, political, and economic co-dependencies and mutualities of companies and governments between Indonesia and Malaysia. Malaysian companies provide financial capital and technology through joint ventures with Indonesian companies, while those Malaysian companies can get access to land and labor at a low cost with lax regulation, with help from Indonesian politicians and officials. In addition, although previous research has focused on the social-economic impacts of oil palm development for smallholders, this book discusses and provides a way of understanding why social-economic impacts for smallholders and smallholders’ reactions to the oil palm boom are so different within and between communities. This book emphasizes that the success of smallholders depends on (1) the way in which local contextual factors, scheme designs (e.g., NES and joint-venture schemes), and structural factors intersect; (2) the interests, agency, and resistance of smallholders and local communities; and (3) mediating institutional processes that can influence smallholders’ access to resources (e.g., technology, inputs, finance, market, land, and benefits). In addition, this book explains the issues with the RSPO’s approach from the viewpoint of the Indonesia-Malaysia oil palm complex.

Although the idea of an Indonesia-Malaysia oil palm complex is based on the key findings of each chapter, including case studies at specific locales, it seems that the case studies are still limited, particularly in the provinces of Jambi and West Kalimantan in Indonesia and the state of Sarawak in Malaysia. Considering that there are diverse political, economic/industrial, social, and cultural situations in Indonesia and Malaysia, it is necessary to accumulate case studies to find diverse patterns of oil palm complex at the local level and elaborate the understanding of the oil palm complex. In addition, although this book provides original insights into oil palm issues, it unfortunately does not make any original policy recommendation based on its understanding of the Indonesia-Malaysia oil palm complex. It is also a shame that some of the literature cited in several chapters is not in the respective reference lists.

Terauchi Daisuke 寺内大左
Faculty of Sociology, Toyo University


Vol. 6, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Michitake ASO


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

Forests Are Gold: Trees, People, and Environmental Rule in Vietnam
Pamela D. McElwee
Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016, xxvi+283pp.

Forests Are Gold: Trees, People, and Environmental Rule in Vietnam is made of gold, both the woody and the intellectual kind. Its title is drawn from a remark supposedly made by Ho Chi Minh in 1962 at the opening of North Vietnam’s first national park (p. 3). The story is apocryphal, but the real source of this saying is rather revealing. At a 1963 meeting about the mountainous region, Ho gave a speech to 200 participants that focused on the climatic and agricultural impacts of forests and on the work of spreading socialism to the hinterlands. Tellingly, Ho valued forests not for their biodiversity but as a resource for a new society.

Pamela McElwee’s book explores the imbricated projects of governing society and nature articulated in Ho’s speech. She argues that “environmental policy is at times aimed not at nature, but at people, and failing to acknowledge this fact has resulted in numerous unintended, not to mention some intentional, consequences” (p. xiii). She urges her readers to be cognizant of both the social and environmental effects of what she terms environmental practices. In her analysis, McElwee develops the concept of environmental rule “whereby states, organizations, and individuals use environmental explanations to justify policy interventions in other social areas, such as populations, markets, settlements, or cultural identities” (p. xiii). McElwee’s careful reading of the history of Vietnam’s forests calls into question the standard explanations for their currently degraded state. The author shows that neither the Vietnam War nor Malthusian pressures, so often invoked as the explanation for environmental destruction in Vietnam, had as great an effect as the outcomes of various projects of environmental rule (p. 223). As McElwee reminds us, the Ke Go Nature Reserve was created in 1996 “out of the ashes of over-logged former timber reserves” (pp. xiv, 73).

McElwee draws from recent work in the field of Science and Technology Studies and one of its formations, Actor-Network Theory. She views the latter as “less a full-fledged theory and more a series of observations” that illuminate the ways that knowledge circulates and how subjects and objects are coproduced during these circulations (p. 23). Such a perspective can be usefully combined with theories of governmentality (generated by the work of Michel Foucault) to analyze environmental practices. McElwee argues that environmental rule occurs through four steps that can take place in various combinations and orders: problematization, knowledge making, directing conduct, and subject making (pp. 12–22). These four processes provide a structure, either implicitly or explicitly, for each chapter.

McElwee’s “historical-ethnographic approach” provides a rich source base, and the author draws on nuggets of information from almost two decades of research around the world. Often social scientists pay lip service to history but spend little time in the archives. McElwee not only exhibits a lively historical imagination but also shows specific continuities and discontinuities during the different periods in Vietnam’s twentieth-century history. An anthropologist and environmental scientist by training, she along with her research team also performed household surveys and over 100 interviews that give, especially for the post-1975 era, an on-the-ground sense of why environmental rule has played out the way it has. Readers of Southeast Asian Studies will appreciate the applicability of McElwee’s analyses to other Southeast Asian societies with environments—i.e., all of them. Although a more extensive examination of “ethnic minorities” and people living on Lao, Cambodian, and Chinese borders would have tied her book directly to other peoples in the region, McElwee engages in broad narratives of interest to Southeast Asian scholars.

Forests is divided into five chapters with an Introduction and Conclusion covering the long twentieth century, from the late-nineteenth century to the present. The first chapter provides a useful overview, one of the few written in English, of the history of forests in French Indochina. The practice and theory of French forestry in its empire mirrored those of other colonial empires but also diverged because of the ecological conditions of French Indochina. The “problem” from the perspective of French foresters and the colonial government was that, unlike hardwood forests elsewhere, Indochina’s forests did not contain a high concentration of “economically valuable” trees. There was a lot of growth, but not of the kind that the French could profit from (p. 41). Furthermore, timely floods in Hanoi bolstered the case of those who argued that forests provided protection against such floods. While such arguments were made by analogy with Alpine forests and had very few studies to support them, they carried weight with colonial administrators and allowed foresters to expand their reach and exercise control over people living in the highlands. McElwee also ties the effects of forest regulation to anticolonial activity of the 1930s, showing how the Nghe Tinh rebellion in 1930 arose not just from food security concerns and Indochinese Communist Party organizing but also access to forests (pp. 57–58).

The second chapter focuses on environmental rule at the beginning of the socialist era during which the state management of forests increased. By the late 1950s initial efforts at organization through local boards had largely failed, so the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) government shifted its attention to State Forest Enterprises (SFE). The DRV faced the same ecological conditions (and challenges from the perspective of industrialization) that the French had faced. Following the logic of environmental rule, SFE sought both to increase production of wood and to create new socialist subjectivities. Similarly, the resettlement and sedentarization program (FCSP, Dinh Canh Dinh Cu) sought to manage both human and non-human nature, though it proved much less successful at transforming environments and forming citizens than the SFEs (p. 85). It was more successful after 1975, when the North took control of the South and priorities shifted to destroying longhouses and moving people into individual family units to break potentially unruly allegiances and redirect them toward the state (pp. 88–89).

The next three chapters focus on more contemporary issues. Chapter 3 examines the emergence of two forest subjectivities: state forest rangers and “illegal loggers.” On the one hand, the forest rangers were defined as heroic for their efforts to protect a communal good. In practice their effects were more ambiguous, and they found themselves focused as much on enforcing state control and making a living as on protecting forests. On the other hand, although illegal loggers, hidden agriculturalists, and other forces outside of state control were blamed for deforestation, it was the development of cash crops, such as coffee and shrimp farms, encouraged by state policy that contributed to much deforestation (p. 108). Later, state officials learned to speak the environmental language of donor aid while pursuing other priorities, such as maintaining local employment or lining state and personal pockets.

In Chapter 4 McElwee turns to reforestation projects, revealing why colonial, socialist, and neoliberal efforts have all failed in their stated goal of creating forests. Although the “bare hills” that needed reforestation “became a political, not an ecological category” (p. 149), the biology of the exotic plants worked to reshape human subjectivities and tree species clearly emerged as “important actors in this story in their own right” (p. 136). These trees could not grow themselves and required large labor inputs of hand weeding and the application of fertilizers. Species such as eucalyptus also had high water demands, and farmers complained of dried-up streams and desiccated soils. The regeneration of forests affected human gender relationships as women collected non-timber forest products on nearby bare hills and men went farther afield to cut down trees. Finally, reforestation made land grabs by the rich seem less selfish and harder to protest on moral grounds as newly planted trees supposedly benefited the whole nation.

Chapter 5 examines the paradoxical effects of payments for ecosystem services and “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD+) that Vietnamese officials implemented after turning to markets to find cheaper solutions to environmental protection. Ironically, this move to markets has often strengthened the hand of experts and state actors. Rubber plantation managers, too, have cynically claimed that replacing reforesting areas and watershed forests with rubber trees should be viewed as merely replacing one type of carbon with another. Indeed, McElwee claims that there is “some evidence that the ontological uncertainties about what constitutes a forest or a tree that have arisen in the context of discussions about REDD+ may be contributing to forest conversion and deforestation . . .” (p. 199). The question of what counts as a forest is one that runs throughout McElwee’s book.

McElwee asks in her Conclusion, “is environmental rule a deliberate pretext to hide social goals under environmental practices, or is it more diffuse and less directed?” (pp. 213–214). While she views her project as one of unmasking the real social intent behind practices aimed at protecting nature, the book particularly succeeds in drawing attention to the unwanted social consequences of such projects. It helps us to understand better the effects of environmental rule and to plan more properly such interventions. Even though the author speculates that environmental rule is weakening in Vietnam, her book demonstrates that almost any human intervention into non-human nature will create winners and losers in society.

Given McElwee’s experience advising on forest policy, she could have done more to sketch out what successful interventions might look like. She could have also written more about the agency of actual trees as, surprisingly, readers are mostly shown only the forests and not individual species. But now I am asking for an act of alchemy—the gold that McElwee provides is more than enough.

Michitake Aso 麻生道武
University at Albany, State University of New York


Vol. 6, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Sophorntavy VORNG


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok
Michael Herzfeld
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016, xii+267pp.

Heritage is not the first thing that springs to mind when people think of Bangkok. Rather, modern skyscrapers, traffic snarls, glitzy shopping malls, chaotic markets, red light districts, and ornate temples dominate its popular image. Yet, the city’s pulse beats strongly in vibrant pockets of life that are often hidden amidst the urban sprawl. These distinctive localities give Bangkok a richness and complexity that make it one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Michael Herzfeld’s new book focuses on one of these neighborhoods, Pom Mahakan—a tiny community of 300 people adjacent to the fortress built in 1783 after which it is named. For almost 25 years, city authorities have attempted to evict the community’s residents in order to replace Pom Mahakan’s artisans and traditional wooden houses with a public park paying tribute to the monarchy and nation.

Although heritage conservation policies have existed since the early twentieth century, these efforts have been directed primarily toward monuments, temples, buildings, and sites of royal significance (Askew 1996, 190). Simultaneously, local neighborhoods or urban communities (yarn) “have borne the brunt of the urban changes” as the city undergoes increasing development and modernization (ibid., 194). Siege of the Spirits is therefore a significant contribution to the scarce literature on heritage and urban conservation in Bangkok. Herzfeld’s focus on grassroots activism is particularly important, as local public participation has crucially been lacking in this area in Thailand (Tiamsoon 2009). One of the few recent examples that does exist is the major public outcry over plans to demolish the Art Deco Lido and Scala movie theaters, two unique and well-known Bangkok institutions. However, in general there are a lack of financial incentives combined with lack of enforcement of conservation laws, meaning there is little to prevent Bangkok’s historic monuments, buildings, and neighborhoods from fading away.

In the first chapter of the book Herzfeld introduces the large cast of actors involved in the conflict, including the bureaucrats of the Rattanakosin City Project, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA), NGOs, activists, political figures, academics, students, foreign and middle-class supporters, and more. He also describes the circumstances of his initial contact with the Pom Mahakan community, as well as the trust that he gradually earned from the residents and relationships that grew from his involvement in their struggle. This engagement included getting to know leaders and residents of the community, attending protests, writing op-eds and letters to politicians, speaking to journalists on behalf of the residents, and even making signs to help attract tourists to the neighborhood’s museum spaces.

In their efforts to survive, residents strategically focus on making the claim that the community is a microcosm of the Thai nation and its Buddhist heritage. In the second chapter, Herzfeld explores the notion of Pom Mahakan as a miniaturized version of the nation in further detail, arguing that such a perspective provides clues not only to the nature of Pom Mahakan as a community but also to the nature of the Thai polity itself. This polity, according to Herzfeld, comprises two polities, mueang and prathet, the former the historical, galactic form and the latter the modern territorial nation-state (p. 44). Reproduced from the local to the national level, the mueang model of polity signifies a sense of community in contrast to the bureaucratic, clearly demarcated prathet. The key to the Pom Mahakan residents’ strategy therefore lies in this reproducibility of mueang on multiple levels. This is captured in material form by the many shrines throughout the community. Residents connect the shrines with not only their own ancestors but also a past population that includes the original royal bureaucrats who settled in the area. Via this process, they render the space of the Pom Mahakan community sacred. This claim allows residents to “present themselves as guardians of a historically deep spiritual and national trust indexed and symbolized by the shrines,” so that any attack on the community “becomes a disloyal and sacrilegious attack on the entire polity” (p. 53).

In Chapter 3 Herzfeld addresses the topic of urban beautification, arguing that it reflects a class-based aesthetic that captures both a sense of “Thainess” as well as Western standards of modernity. He notes that while Pom Mahakan residents are not necessarily antithetical to these aesthetics per se, they did reject “any notion of urban beautification that was purely monumental and uninhabited by ordinary people” (p. 70). The chapter also includes a discussion of the Rattanakosin Island project that emerged from a campaign launched by the military dictator Sarit Thanarat, who was prime minister from 1957 to 1963. The controversial project focused on buttressing monarchic and national prestige at the cost of ignoring or destroying local architecture and ways of life. In response, the residents’ projection of an image of rural romantic exoticism and preservation of tradition is used in a strategic manner to bolster the community’s legitimacy.

The fourth chapter delves into the everyday details of the residents’ struggle with the authorities. Examples Herzfeld draws on include an encounter involving residents and BMA officials regarding the removal of protest signs, a site inspection from the army and a delegation from the Fine Arts Department, and a meeting with the Department of Public Works. While the law is on the BMA’s side, the residents have the moral advantage as caretakers and guardians of the historical site. A key legal element on which the BMA rests its case is the acceptance of compensation to relocate by some members of the community. Yet, Herzfeld points out that the terms of the compensation were ungenerous and proposed alongside the threat of forced deportation if the terms were not accepted within three days. Furthermore, after inspecting alternative settlement sites and finding them unsuitable, the residents offered to return the first installment of the payment they had received and continue their resistance.

By Chapter 5, the intense pressure that the residents were under becomes increasingly evident. The pressure was alleviated somewhat by the election of Apirak Kosayodhin as governor of Bangkok in 2004. His support led to a contractual agreement in 2005 to recognize the heritage value of the community, restore many of the old houses, and incorporate them into the plan for a public park. However, BMA officials managed to convince the Administrative Court that private residences were incompatible with the definition of a public park. This led to the end of the previous, promising agreement. Furthermore, Apirak was succeeded as governor by the less amenable Sukhumbhand Paribatra in 2009. This led to further pressure on Pom Mahakan residents in the form of a renewed eviction threat.

Chapter 6 draws attention to the importance of prevarication and delay tactics on the part of all parties involved in the ongoing dispute. One noteworthy tactic that engaged notions of “time” involved residents’ adoption of the language of historical conservation and cultural resource management, for instance by describing old houses in the community as “ancient” (boran) and pointing out that the styles of certain houses could be attributed to various dynastic reigns (ratchakan). In Chapter 7 Herzfeld examines the politicized distinction between positivistic “data” as opposed to “local knowledge.” He also highlights the adaptability of the community to outside threats. This, in combination with other elements that Herzfeld identifies in this chapter, such as an effective and functional leadership collective, served to strengthen the community’s resistance efforts.

The final chapter of the book captures some of the residents’ cautious optimism in their construction of new houses on the site. However, this optimism was quashed with the news in 2009 that the BMA was once again threatening imminent eviction. Summarizing his reflections on why Pom Mahakan has endured for so long in its struggle against state officials, Herzfeld identifies the most significant factors as the “resilience” of residents, their skill in “buying time,” and, most important, their flexibility and adaptability to the various circumstances and events that have punctuated the conflict. Herzfeld also raises a number of important questions, including whether or not the residents’ project comprises a form of “self-gentrification” and whether or not the “participatory process of self-management” is leading community members “along an ineluctable path of embourgeoisement” (p. 201).

The book is filled with absorbing ethnographic material that draws the reader into the plight of Pom Mahakan’s residents (examples include the description of protest on pages 28–29 and the description of the tense buildup to a confrontation between residents and authorities that never came on pages 32–34). These accounts could have been made more vivid with additional details about the backgrounds of individual community members, many of whom are compelling figures who have lived in the neighborhood for decades. A bit more focus on the shrines themselves would also have been welcome, especially in regards to the role that they play in daily life at Pom Mahakan, and the discourses and practices they are embedded in. Such information would have been especially useful in the form of quotes or examples illustrating how the residents connected the spirit shrines to original aristocrats and courtiers who lived in the area. Furthermore, since the narrative does not always proceed in a linear fashion, a timeline of events in appendix form would have been helpful for the reader in order to trace the events of the conflict.

Today, the struggle continues for residents of Pom Mahakan. On March 28, 2016, another eviction notice was posted requiring residents to relocate by April 30. Public discussions took place in June, and evictions were delayed once more. A tense showdown occurred in early September when BMA authorities and a demolition crew attempted to breach the neighborhood walls. The ensuing siege ended with residents allowing 12 houses whose occupants had agreed to leave to be knocked down. Meanwhile, amidst allegations of embezzlement, Sukhumbhand was replaced as the governor of Bangkok in October 2016 by Aswin Kwanmuang. The outcome of the conflict under Aswin’s leadership remains to be seen, although his successful battles against the Saphan Lek toys and electronics market and Pak Khlong Talat flower market are telling indications of his uncompromising approach.

Siege of the Spirits is an essential resource for understanding Pom Mahakan’s past and present—as well as its uncertain future. Herzfeld paints a picture of a complex community that subverts numerous assumptions and stereotypes that are common to urban eviction narratives. The result is an important work of scholarship that will appeal to a wide audience outside of scholars of Thailand and Southeast Asia, especially those interested in engaged anthropology, urbanism and development, heritage and conservation, civil rights, and grassroots movements.

Sophorntavy Vorng
Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen


Askew, Mark. 1996. The Rise of Moradok and the Decline of the Yarn: Heritage and Cultural Construction in Urban Thailand. Sojourn 11(2): 183–210.

Tiamsoon Sirisrisak. 2009. Conservation of Bangkok Old Town. Habitat International 33(4): 405–411.


Vol. 6, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Richard T. CHU


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

The Hybrid Tsinoys: Challenges of Hybridity and Homogeneity as Sociocultural Constructs among the Chinese in the Philippines
Juliet Lee Uytanlet
Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2016, xx+261pp.

How do present-day Tsinoys (colloquial term for Chinese living in the Philippines) self-identify? How can Christian churches in the Philippines use this knowledge to better carry out their mission to Christianize them? These are the two main questions that drive this latest work on the ethnic identities of Chinese in the Philippines. Sub-questions include: Do they see themselves as “Filipinos,” “Chinese,” or cultural hybrids? What factors help them to identify more with one identity than another? Divided into six chapters, The Hybrid Tsinoys specifically focuses on Chinese and Chinese mestizos in Manila and utilizes an ethnographic method (e.g., conducting surveys, using participant observation) to analyze how 86 respondents of varying gender, class, immigration status, religion, and generation understand, negotiate, construct, and reconstruct their ethnic identities.

Chapter 1 spells out the aims, goals, research methods, significance, and limitations of the study. It also has a section on the definition of key terms and a review of related literature. The second chapter provides an overview—from the Spanish colonial period to the present—of how Chinese and their family members have been categorized and racialized. It demonstrates how through time the local population and the state “liked and disliked, welcomed and unwelcomed” them (p. 55). Chapter 3 discusses the different theoretical frameworks on ethnicity used for the study. Examples include Jan Nederveen Pieterse’s concept of hybridity and Fredrik Barth’s situational identity model. Chapter 4 can be considered the “meat” of the study, in which the author presents the results of her investigation. She divides the respondents into six categories: Old Immigrants (OI), New Immigrants (NI), Tsinoys, and first-, second-, and third-generation Chinese mestizos (CM1, CM2, CM3, respectively). Accounts that are included in this chapter include how the OIs viewed the NIs, how Tsinoys encountered resistance from family members to date or marry Filipinos, how CMs of different generations self-identified, and how Tsinoys experienced living as an ethnic minority in the Philippines (as well as abroad for those who emigrated). Uytanlet also lists the five factors that affect the construction of an ethnic identity: parents, school, friends, environment or location, and will factor.

Using data gathered from the study, Chapter 5 analyzes the ethnic identifications of the informants. The author concludes that her subjects, constantly shaping and reshaping their identities, can be considered “constructivists” rather than “primordialists.” Furthermore, those who intermarry with Filipinos, along with their offspring, tend to become more “Filipinized,” although efforts are made within most households to retain some Chinese cultural practices or traditions by sending the children to Chinese schools. The last chapter is aimed primarily at discussing how the study can benefit Christian churches or organizations in the Philippines. Having demonstrated that modern-day Christian Chinese, like their earlier counterparts, practice a kind of “syncretic” Christianity, the author echoes the missionaries’ call to “evangelize, re-evangelize, and/or disciple the Chinese Filipino Roman Catholics and Protestants to become authentic believers and faithful followers of Jesus Christ” (p. 180). Apart from these six chapters, the book contains appendices that include a chart with information about the respondents, a short history of Chinese mestizos, and the rise of ethnocentrism in China.

The rich ethnographic details in this study provide new and interesting data for historical and anthropological studies. For instance, it is rarely known nowadays among the younger generation that kabise also was a word used to refer to the Chinese. The word is derived from the Spanish cabeza, meaning “boss” or “head” (of a company or business). The first time I learned about the word being used was when, several years ago, my mother told me that in Tarlac—a place where she grew up, located approximately 100 kilometers north of Manila—people referred to Chinese as “kabise.” However, she explained that the word was derived from the Minnan words kap-yi-se, which literally mean “to speak to him.” Hence, a kabise was a Chinese boss whom one approached to discuss an important matter. As we know the original usage of this word from Uytanlet’s work, the term as it was used elsewhere can be regarded as an instance of people appropriating the meanings of foreign words to make them their own.

Another example of how this study enriches our knowledge of the history of Chinese in the Philippines is found in the account of one respondent named Bee-hua. She met her Chinese Filipino husband in China, and when they decided to flee China after the Communist takeover in 1949, her Filipino mother-in-law falsified her papers so that she could come in as her daughter who was born in China. In other words, Bee-hua became her husband’s sister. This phenomenon of paper daughters coming to the Philippines is little understood in the history of Chinese in the Philippines and can be an area of future study. Another interesting finding in the study is the practice of endogamy that persisted over time. In particular, daughters of Chinese Filipino households, whether Chinese or Chinese mestiza, are often married off to fellow Chinese. My own study of Chinese merchant families in Binondo in the latter part of the nineteenth century demonstrated that Chinese men who married local women preferred Chinese mestizas. The female mestizo offspring of such unions also were often married off to Chinese men. Thus, a pattern can be seen in which daughters repeated the practice of their own Chinese mestizo mothers of marrying back into the Chinese community, thus slowing down the “indigenization” process of such families when traced matrilineally. A similar pattern of Chinese mestizo daughters marrying Chinese men can be seen in the matriline of the respondent named Halley. Halley is a Chinese mestiza whose mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother—all Chinese mestizas like her—married “pure” Chinese men. These women’s lives thus challenge the traditional narrative of Chinese mestizos becoming Filipinos over time, as advanced by scholars such as Edgar Wickberg and Antonio Tan. Their histories also show that Chinese families utilized and continue to utilize their women to uphold Chinese patriarchy by opposing intermarriage with Filipinos while allowing their Chinese or Chinese mestizo sons to marry Filipino women.

My only quibble about the book is that structurally, it could have been edited so that it does not read like a dissertation. Also, it seems problematic for the author to use perspectives and approaches from cultural anthropology and ethnic studies that are critical of “regimes of truth and power” to create homogenized and monolithic identities, then conclude at the end of the book that Christian churches need to find ways to re-evangelize their followers so that the latter become “true” Christians. These shortcomings aside, the study has much to offer to scholars of ethnicity in general and the history of the Chinese diaspora in the Philippines in particular.

Richard T. Chu
Department of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Vol. 6, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Anjeline DE DIOS


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

Tropical Renditions: Making Musical Scenes in Filipino America
Christine Bacareza Balance
Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, xviii+230pp.

Tropical Renditions by Christine Bacareza Balance tracks the sounding of Filipino America through its social and cultural geographies of popular music. These geographies traverse three conceptual boundaries that have long constricted the critical understanding of popular music and culture from the United States to (and through) the Philippines: the geopolitical distinction between nation-states; the sensorial separation of visual and sonic forms of cultural production; and the social-aesthetic divisions of music-making as creation, interpretation, and imitation. Assuming a conceptual stance of “disobedient listening,” Balance redraws these boundaries by resisting conclusions made by two discourses dominant in racial-cultural politics. The first, a holdover from imperial colonialism, reads Filipino music as mere mimicry through the lenses of visibility and authenticity. The second is its antithesis: a nationalist project that seeks to render Filipino culture visible through a formalistic categorization of its content as culturally distinctive. Rather than parse what Filipinoness means in light of this essentialist problematic, Balance instead tunes into what is made as Filipino in America through the performative, improvisatory, and participatory, in translocal and alternative spaces of community that continually “[unsettle] dominant discourses of race, performance, and U.S. popular music” (p. 26).

To accomplish this, Balance analyzes four case studies frequently misread or unread by colonial as well as nationalist perspectives on Filipino American popular music. The first chapter is a profile of Invisibl Skratch Piklz, a turntablist-DJ collective from the Bay Area whose futuristic musical aesthetic and artistic branding resist direct reference to their Filipino heritage. The second chapter contemplates karaoke from two disparate ends of Filipino American musical labor—performance art and social activity at house parties—to foreground its ability to generate alternative spaces of socialization and vocal pedagogy. The third chapter explores the musical oeuvre of the renowned Filipino American writer Jessica Hagedorn, whose collaboration with the multiracial and multi-genre collective the West Coast Gangster Choir produced a rich rock ’n’ roll poetics of Third World immigrant subjectivity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the final chapter, these themes of translocality, sociability, and performativity are located in two cultural histories of Pinoise rock, pop, and hiphop from around 1995 to 2012: independently-run Filipino-American music festivals in the Bay Area and the overseas performance mobilities of Manila-based indie bands and films making their way through gig and festival circuits in various US cities.

By and large, Balance succeeds admirably in meeting her intellectual objective of “flipping the beat” of cultural analyses of Filipino America. By shifting her scalar focus from the bipolar model of the nation-state (“America” versus “the Philippines”) to the heterogeneous terrain of urban and suburban locales—in New York, Daly City, San Francisco, Manila, and Olongapo—the work registers the significance of performative musical practices that would otherwise be ignored by the dominant scholarly preoccupation with what is categorically and authentically “Filipino.” Likewise, Balance ably demonstrates the necessity of a phonographic approach attentive to music’s “sonic, literary, visual, and bodily” (p. 19) aspects, particularly through the chapters that bookend her case studies with close readings of films, documentaries, and photographs that address the peculiar contradictions of Filipino invisibility and foreignness in the North American cultural imagination. The assortment of popular music personages and practices offered in the book helpfully expands the scholarly purview of what count as legitimate subjects of study in diasporic and migrant music, eschewing explicitly racialized forms in favor of marginalized circuits and communities that continually re-inscribe “new affiliations, politics, and ways of thinking” about/through race and identity (p. 28).

Beyond tangential mentions at each chapter’s close, however, the deeper interconnections and implications of these affiliations, politics, and ways of thinking remain relatively unexplored. One wonders how the greater import of these case studies could have been more strongly delineated had they been compared with one another rather than presented serially as alternative examples to the limiting tropes of both scholarly and popular cultural criticism. Though a comparative internal synthesis could draw from the many intriguing lines of inquiry sketched throughout the work, two themes that cross-cut Balance’s case studies—translocality and, to a lesser extent, temporality—present a promising itinerary for developing the intellectual agenda of listening disobediently not just against, but toward, a tropical rendition of race, place, and identity in the performative register of popular music.

First, an in-depth notion of translocality as a socioeconomic and institutional dynamic is implicit, but never comprehensively addressed, in Balance’s accounts of music-making sites across various cities and communities in the Philippines and the United States. There is something of a missed opportunity to articulate how these micro-geographies of performance intersect with what Georgina Born (2012) calls the other planes of musical mediation. Born identifies four interrelated contexts of activity and signification in the mediation of music: the first involves the physical, affective, and embodied dimension of performance; the second pertains to publics of belonging aggregated by the participation in the first plane; the third refers to music’s stratified formations of sociocultural through and beyond the second; and the fourth indicates the industrial and institutional conditions that enable (or discourage) certain processes of musical production. The idea of a US-Philippine musical translocality in Tropical Renditions is configured primarily according to the first, second, and third planes of mediation—the intimate socialities of musical participation and genre culture-formation through the performative practice of “Filipinoness”—but does not confront the ways in which this rich sociospatial diversity of DJ contests, house parties, poetry readings, community events, arts festivals, and club gigs might be mediated by a broader translocal context of musical consumption and production. For instance, how are the listening practices of fandom that informed Jessica Hagedorn’s performance as rock ’n’ roll poet shared by those that animate the stylings of Filipino families enjoying karaoke—and how does this labor of listening subsequently accrue differential value in the purported spatial divide between public performance and private enjoyment, through the performativities of guerrilla “art” and mainstream “leisure”? How do the spaces of the DJ contest and the international industry festival legitimate the labor of Filipinos as performing artists, circulating a persistent, hegemonic ideal of artistic value—whether or not they are explicitly branded according to their racial-national identity? Are there qualitative differences between the performance mobilities of Pinoise and other, more overtly Filipino, artists in the mainstream and traditional categories, which emerge in the translocal space of the Filipino-American city and perhaps attest to the valence of popular music by Filipinos as a cultural export to the United States? In answering the latter, Balance makes a critical distinction between a community and scene, similar to Born’s differentiation between the second (genre-based) and third (identity-based) planes of musical mediation; taken further, such a nuancing adds much-needed precision to the understanding of translocality as encompassing different, and not always congruent, scales and spaces of affiliation.

Second, Balance’s study offers a unique space from which to contemplate a temporality that emerges in the translocal geographies of music between the United States and the Philippines. Balance’s prose thrums with a vitality and contemporaneity appropriate to the subjects of its study. What emerges in these translocal scenes—that listens against predictable tropes not only of place but also time—as life stages, generations, and epochs? Among these modes of disobedient listening, are there perhaps contrapuntal rhythms to be perceived between (for instance) the “Filipino futurism” of Invisbl Skratch Piklz’s sonic abstractions and the ever-replenishing nostalgia of Filipinos’ karaoke singing; or the generational differences between current Pinoy indie music acts and the throwback appeal of traditional and mainstream Filipino performers, within the US translocal and diasporic context? How might these contradictory rhythms flip the beat of what we perceive as the continuing history of US-Philippine relations? While these questions are yet to be addressed in a more direct and thematic way, Tropical Renditions offers a script from which to begin rehearsing a multiscalar phonography of place, race, and music that is “alien, experimental, archipelagic and moving” (p. 186)—that is, relentlessly and productively disobedient.

Anjeline de Dios
Department of Cultural Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong


Born, Georgina. 2012. Music and the Social. In The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, edited by Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, and Richard Middleton, pp. 260–274. New York: Routledge.


Vol. 6, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, KUSAKA Wataru


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

Tulong: An Articulation of Politics in the Christian Philippines
Soon Chuan Yean
Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015, xvii+275pp.

The dominant analytical framework of elite rule in the Philippine local politics has been the patron-client relationship and machine politics in which politicians provide tulong (help) to the poor and the poor return the debt with their votes. Criticizing the dominant view of pragmatic and functional exchange of material benefits as being too narrow, Soon Chuan Yean argues that the relationship between politicians and ordinary people entails a moral and religious dimension in which the poor have agency to negotiate with politicians from the bottom up. His methodology to support his argument is in-depth fieldwork to explore “the clients’” viewpoints based on their everyday struggle in Tanauan City, Batangas.

Chapter 1, “Layering the Level of Tulong (Help) from the Peasantry,” examines the “Janus-faced” characteristics of the patron-client relationship in Tanauan. The local political landscape is very similar to the arguments of patron-client relations and machine politics. Local politicians subordinate and manipulate the poor though material benefits, fraud, violence, and coercion. However, moral order also exists between them, in which the poor negotiate with the elites. Even though the poor receive help from the elites, they are not always subordinated to their patrons because the poor scrutinize politicians’ loob (inner being) and authenticity of tulong. Through such moral judgment, the poor determine whether they support a politician, receive benefits without supporting him/her, or cast a vote for a rival politician.

Chapter 2, “The Research Setting,” introduces the physical landscape of the main field site, Barangay Angeles, Tanauan City, and how the author collected data as a Malaysian researcher. The chapter also describes how ordinary people in the villages struggle for everyday subsistence.

Chapter 3, “Reaching the Popular,” explores the moral order between politicians and ordinary people beyond a mechanical exchange of money and votes by examining the discourse of development in local politics. For local politicians, money is not sufficient to win the hearts and support of ordinary people. They are required to project their loob as righteous and tulong as unselfish sacrifice within the framework of moral order while blurring the hierarchal gap between the rich and poor in order to capture the sentiments of the people. In other words, politicians and constituents actively negotiate within the moral order.

Chapter 4 “Locating a Language of Emotion in Popular Politics,” discusses how ordinary people scrutinize whether politicians’ help comes sincerely from their loob. Only when ordinary people believe in the righteousness of politicians, the latter’s act (gawa) is recognized as tulong. For ordinary people to have the ability to appropriately scrutinize acts of politicians, lakaran (journey) and sariling sikap (self-initiative) to discipline and purify their loob is important. The negotiation of loob between a politician and ordinary people produces different outcomes. When ordinary people feel harmonization of loob transcending the hierarchical gap, they are emancipated from utang (debt). On the contrary, if harmonization of loob is not achieved, a politician’s acts are not recognized as tulong. This is the situation of pulitilka (politics) equated with spoils and blank promises in the game of personal interests.

Chapter 5, “Religious Ideas in the Politics of Moral Order,” explores the religious background of moral politics over tulong. Ordinary people associate tulong from God with tulong from a politician. They believe that those who help the needy along a matuwid na landas (straight path) will be blessed with liwanag (light), and those who reach liwanag must circulate this liwanag though their sacrifice of giving tulong. Such mutual help represents equality of people before God and breaks down the hierarchy. In the religious framework, politicians are morally required to act as Christlike leaders who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the weak from miseries, without any vested interests. Ordinary people’s ultimate aim in submitting themselves to a politician is not any material gain but freedom from darkness and constructing a society where everyone is treated equally.

The Conclusion emphasizes that ordinary people’s submission to a saintlike patron is a strategy to escape from the debtor’s position. Therefore, the author concludes that “politics of tulong is a process of negotiation of power to transform the patron-client relations into an equilibrium of the loob” (p. 240).

I believe that the book makes three major contributions to Philippine political studies. First, Soon radically reexamines the interest politics of material transactions between politicians and the poor from the perspective of moral politics based on a religious worldview. This does not mean that previous studies on the patron-client relationship entirely ignore its moral aspects, but they emphasize that the poor who receive help from a politician inevitably embrace utang na loob (debt of inner being) as a moral obligation to be paid back in the form of political support. In contrast, Soon insists that even though politicians are superordinate to the poor in interest politics, the poor actually have the agency to force politicians to provide sincere help to the needy in moral politics.

Second, Soon makes his argument convincing by introducing the unique analysis that bridges studies on local politics and folk Catholicism. The two topics have been separately discussed by scholars in different fields, and this division has prevented scholars from fully exploring the moral and religious aspects that characterize interaction between local elites and the poor. For the marginalized, the choice of asking help from a politician or God in order to overcome everyday hardships would be analogous but not the same, because God is perfect while politicians are often dubious. The difference gives moral power to the poor to scrutinize politicians and induce them to behave morally.

Third, with the religious analysis, Soon successfully sheds light on the emancipatory moment in moral politics. He disintegrates the concept of utang na loob, which has been analyzed to highlight the poor’s submission to elites. Rejecting the dominant view, he points out the tension between utang and loob: while the former is associated with the economic debt that subordinates the poor, the latter is marked by the poor’s desire to attain an authentic self, namely, freedom. Help from an ambitious and devious politician further subordinates the needy, but tulong from a politician with good loob can lead to a harmonization of loob that transcends the hierarchy of a patron-client relationship. Therefore, even though ordinary people are trapped in a vertical patron-client relationship, their behavior and decision to seek freedom of loob can realize horizontal mutuality in moral politics.

Considering that Philippine political studies have been dominated by various versions of elite democracy arguments such as patron-client relations, machine politics, and patrimonialism, these findings of the book are a great contribution, especially in highlighting the moral agency of the poor that challenges the elites’ control. However, I cannot help questioning whether the freedom of loob in moral politics can really be emancipation for the poor.

First, I regret that Soon does not further elaborate the complicated interaction between moral politics over the definition of “good” and interest politics over the distribution of resources. Freedom of loob in moral politics means neither economic emancipation nor the disappearance of social hierarchy in interest politics. I wonder whether the voting behavior or “resistance” of the poor who seek salvation of loob has had any impact on improving unequal distribution of wealth or paradoxically perpetuated the elite rule that exploits them. If the latter is the case, freedom of the loob that the poor enjoy as a result of “resistance” in moral politics has an ironic implication for interest politics.

Second, although Soon evaluates the poor’s appreciation of moral leadership as “resistance,” it may actually signify penetration of the elites’ hegemony over them. We are familiar with cases where ambitious politicians exploit moral discourses and images to woo votes of the poor. Sometimes the poor are skeptical over politicians’ morality but still support them in order to maximize their own economic benefit. However, if the poor truly appreciate the moral discourses and behaviors of ambitious politicians, it may imply that the poor are actually subjugated by the latter’s hegemony. I am afraid it might be a paradox that while Soon tries to figure out the agency of the poor, his study might implicate their further hegemonic subjugation.

Finally, the poor cannot always enjoy the initiative in moral politics, especially at the national level. The urban middle classes who uphold the morality of neoliberalism totally criticize the patron-client relationship as a corruption that has damaged national development. They believe that hard-working taxpayers are morally superior to the poor, who are dependent on handouts from corrupt politicians. Moreover, the state’s and NGOs’ attempts to uplift the poor through moral education via conditional cash transfer programs assume the cause of poverty is the poor’s lack of morality. Against the moral marginalization, the poor may be utilizing another form of moral discourse that even rejects a patron-client relationship. For instance, in the 2016 presidential election the number of poor that supported Rodrigo Duterte, who appealed the moral discourse of discipline, was bigger than those who voted for Jejomar Binay, who exploited morality in the patron-client relationship. It needs careful examination if many of the poor only avoided Binay who seemed to have a dubious loob or entirely rejected traditional politics based morality of patron-client relationship.

As a scholar who also works on moral politics in the Philippines, I attempted a critical engagement with the new findings of the book, but I know that some of the criticisms I have made in this review are beyond the scope of the book and must not lower its value. I expect that studies on moral politics in the Philippines will further develop from the book, which will give us a new understanding of Philippine politics beyond the elite democracy arguments.

Kusaka Wataru 日下 渉
Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University


Vol. 6, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Ward KEELER


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

Burma/Myanmar: Where Now?
Mikael Gravers and Flemming Ytzen, eds.
Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2014, xiv+447pp.

Metamorphosis: Studies in Social and Political Change in Myanmar
Renaud Egreteau and François Robinne, eds.
Singapore: NUS Press in association with IRASEC, 2015, xiv+428pp.

Political developments in Burma/Myanmar in recent years have been so unexpectedly rapid, if spotty and at times inscrutable, that people both inside and outside the country are often hard pressed to keep track of what is going on. The pace of events explains both the need for the kinds of books under review here, books whose titles indicate the urgency with which the question of change presents itself, and at the same time the reason why they appear dated virtually from the moment they appear, given the unavoidable lag between the time of a book’s preparation and its actual appearance.

The collection of pieces edited by Mikael Gravers and Flemming Ytzen appeared in 2014, whereas Renaud Egreteau and François Robinne’s collection appeared in 2015. As a result, the former necessarily suffers particularly acutely from a reader’s desire to pose the question “Yes, and then what happened?” To the extent that the book provides timely background accounts with which better to understand recent developments, however, it serves a very useful function. Its many parts, most of them short (even as short as just a couple of pages), catch readers up on a great range of topics that come to mind, or should, when thinking about a country that most of the world did not think about for decades. So there are brief accounts of Burma’s recent political thaw, its transition from colonial rule to independence, the major actors in current politics, the troubled relations between the authorities and the press, the role of monks, the situation of women, the vagaries of ethnic minorities’ struggles against the Burman-dominated central government, as well as their struggles among themselves, the consequences of international investment, etc.

If the above list appears disheveled, then it conveys an impression the book itself makes. The editors have clearly had to keep in mind the nature of the series, the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies’ Asia Insights, in which their volume appears, a series “aimed” (we read on the page facing the frontispiece) “at increasing an understanding of contemporary Asia among policy-makers, NGOs, businesses [sic], journalists and other members of the general public as well as scholars and students.” That addressing this combined audience troubled the editors shows up in an odd admission they make on the first page of their preface, when they note that it has not been “easy to draw these diverse contributions together in a completely coherent volume” (Gravers and Ytzen, p. vii). They then provide a list of bullet points as to why someone should read the book.

As an academic, I am allergic to bullet points: they mark the divide between reflection and marketing, analysis and debating points, nuance and executive summaries. (Full disclosure: I also hate PowerPoint slides.) Nevertheless, I admit that in reading through all the pieces, I did indeed fill in many gaps in my knowledge of, say, the long-term and recent twists and turns in Karen history, or the complex (and for that reason particularly vexed) nature of Burma’s citizenship laws. All of this information is useful and handy, providing a kind of reference guide to Burma’s cascading acronyms, proliferating local conflicts, and apparently irresolvable political quandaries. If there is an overarching message the editors wish to convey above and beyond the book’s purpose as a general but extensive background briefing, it appears in the final one of those prefatory bullet points, in which they promise potential readers that reading the book will help them “face up to the discrepancy between the current optimism and the many stumbling blocks” (Gravers and Ytzen, p. vii).

Still, by throwing up their hands, as they seem to have done, at the prospect of pulling the contents together more tightly, the editors have let the problem of repetition, and even occasional incoherence, go unaddressed. This may only bother readers who start at the beginning and read the book through. People who turn to it as needed when wishing to learn about a particular topic—such as prospects for peace in Kachin regions, or Buddhist nationalism, or economic development—may not be put off, and they will find much useful information, no matter whether they are policy makers, journalists, students, or scholars.

Egreteau and Robinne clearly did not need to shorten or package their contributors’ articles to appeal to a broader audience. So their collection consists of a more conventionally scholarly, and so more reflective, set of essays, all written by people with fieldwork experience in the region and most of them able to speak Burmese to one degree or another.

Burma was so hard to get into for so long, due in large part to Ne Win’s xenophobia, that study of the language languished for decades. Fortunately, John Okell and Anna Allott at SOAS, and Denise Bernot at INALCO in Paris, kept the flame alive for Anglophones and Francophones, respectively, and it is no coincidence that many of the contributors to this collection benefited from study with these distinguished teachers. (I should note that scholars in Germany, Russia, and Japan, among other places, also sustained the study of Burmese language and society during the long years of Burma’s isolation. But none of them are represented in this collection—and indeed they are relatively little known in Anglophone circles.)

Because this volume went to press much more recently than Gravers and Ytzen’s, it provides some answers to the questions the latter raises as to what happened next. Curiously, not all the answers are as downbeat as Gravers and Ytzen’s warnings of “stumbling blocks” might suggest. In his analysis of the way that the military’s appointed representatives to Parliament chose to conduct themselves from 2010 through 2015, thus from just before until after the transfer of power from military to civilian hands, Egreteau paints a surprisingly encouraging picture of their behavior. They did not position themselves as a monolithic block; they did not seek to involve themselves in most mundane decision making; and they entered into informal relations with their civilian counterparts. Egreteau thinks all of this might bode well for their eventual acceptance of diminished political authority—although in the final few paragraphs of his essay, he admits that such a development probably remains distant on the horizon. Focused on Parliament rather than the military’s role in the country at large, for that matter, Egreteau is spared any obligation to consider how likely the military is to give up its extensive economic interests.

Alexandra de Mersan also points to encouraging signs in the development of real political dialogue in Rakhine, as instantiated in the late-blooming career of an elderly man elected to Parliament in 2010. This man, after an early, unfortunate foray into politics in the early Ne Win years, turned his attention to “Arakanese culture,” a symbol of resistance to the junta, for decades, until the moment when doing politics again became permissible. That it then took the form of Buddhist nationalism makes good sense—but opens onto the ethnic violence that has so afflicted Burma’s recent political history, since the people Arakanese (aka Rakhine) define themselves against are no longer Burman power holders but rather Muslims in their midst.

Jacques Leider presents a valuable, nuanced discussion of the background to that anti-Muslim violence, demonstrating how thoroughly distorted all accounts of Rakhine history have become in light of the agendas diverse actors bring to their treatment of the past. The much-disputed term “Rohingya” is a relatively recent one, he shows, although Muslim spokespeople have found great advantage in labeling all Muslim residents of the region with that term. Buddhist residents want, on the other hand, simply to write all Muslims out of the region’s history, seeing them exclusively as recently arrived from the West. Leider makes clear that imposing categories retroactively and rewriting history ad libitum constitute so many incitements to violence. He also implies that outsiders who take any of the parties’ renderings at face value (including those people trying to help the most victimized) fail to carry out due diligence.

Kachin State is the location of still more violence, although in this case between the national army and ethnic rebels, as reported by Carine Jaquet. Her analytic frame focuses on contrasting narratives of Kachin ethnicity, but in the welter of competing parties the contrasting narratives seem to come down to whether leaders are really seeking people’s well-being or only their own material interests. The Burmese army, meanwhile, offers very little by way of information, so hardly any narrative, as to what it seeks other than total victory. In the end, it all points to a familiar and depressing tale (“narrative”) of greed, distrust, and endless suffering for people caught in ongoing warfare.

Jane Ferguson’s essay on “the Shan” shows how complicated all matters concerning ethnicity really are, since residents of Shan State may or may not consider themselves Shan, may or may not speak Shan, and may or may not see advantages in increasing their interaction with Burmans and the Burmese state—although that seems clearly to be taking place. Shan who have taken up residence in Thailand, meanwhile, show a similar range of inclinations. Whether or not they intend to reengage with a country they had at one point given up on depends as much on their class status and the degree of cultural capital they possess (in Burma or Thailand) as any ethnic consciousness they may evince.

Maxime Boutry’s essay on “Burman-Moken” identity in southern Burma is perhaps the most surprising one in the collection, since it shows how in recent years intermarriage among Burman men and Moken women has brought about a new hybrid identity, with new connections to markets, new political alliances, and new myths and rituals all following as a result. Boutry suggests that noting those developments clearly might help us see interethnic interactions in other regions of the country as more complex and more dynamic than we are accustomed to assume, as well.

If ethnic labels are more flexible than we used to think—and we are put off by some people’s opportunistic insistence on their rigid definition—we can only hope that both Burmans and other citizens of the country will develop a vigorous but also sensible politics, one that promotes the interests of the country’s poor. Elliott Prasse-Freeman looks into this question in his essay, examining a number of forms political protest has taken in recent years. Noting how many retrograde elements mix in with what might seem progressive ones in much that he observed, he appears to conclude that the possibility for seeking justice is there but that there is no guarantee it will win out.

Perhaps education reform holds out the best hope for such a development of an effective, democratic politics, dedicated to everyone’s welfare. Rosalie Metro believes that critical thinking can indeed replace rote memorization as the heart of educational method in Burma, and that threats of violence, ethnic and racial stereotyping, and a lack of commitment as well as a lack of resources can cease to be the order of the day in Burma’s schools. Atypically upbeat about this possibility of change, she insists that many teachers and students understand what critical thinking looks like and are acting on that understanding to put it into practice. Only toward the end of her essay does she admit that the obstacles are indeed enormous and that one can only hope for incremental change over the long term.

Comparable to the military régime’s neglect of the country’s educational network was its inattention to public health. Céline Coderey’s account of how health care is delivered to people in Rakhine State is as a consequence unsurprisingly grim. Not only is access to biomedicine extremely limited—there are too few facilities and too few trained personnel, and it costs too much for poor people to take advantage of what facilities and personnel there are—but there is also great reluctance on the part of many people to turn to biomedicine in a timely manner, or to do so in the case of certain ailments deemed inappropriate to such treatment. As a result, mortality rates are needlessly high for infants, for mothers, and indeed for everyone except the wealthy few who can go to Rangoon in search of better health-care options.

The four remaining essays all treat various people among Burma’s outliers. These include people on and beyond the country’s physical and political margins in Susan Banki’s report on transnational activists. They also include Burma’s Buddhist monks, discussed by Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière, and nuns, discussed by Hiroko Kawanami. Finally, and most problematically, they include Burmans’ others, whether Indian, Chinese, Muslim, Christian, Kachin, or Karen, among others, as Robinne discusses in his closing essay.

Banki’s account, based on interviews she conducted with activists in Burma, on its borders, and farther afield, stresses activists’ “precarity,” both in host communities (where they may well lack all legal protections) and in Burma (where just how much protest will be tolerated remains altogether unclear). As political conditions inside Burma appear to normalize, foreign support for activists is waning—perhaps prematurely. How safe it might be for individuals to return to their places of origin in Burma is rarely clear. Part of the frustration that accompanies Burma’s “transition” is that even though things are certainly getting better, uncertainty and so mistrust and disarray remain prevalent.

Ambivalence toward women who wish to pursue a religious vocation, we know from Kawanami’s earlier work, runs deep in Burma. At this point, they confront a number of choices: to fight for the reinstatement of their ordination on an equal footing with monks (as nuns have been doing in Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand); to pursue scriptural learning in parallel to some monks and/or to undertake rigorous meditation, augmenting in either case impressions of their otherworldly commitments; to engage to a greater degree in social work, thereby fulfilling a role many people think appropriate for them as women yet one that is likely to compromise their standing as truly otherworldly.

The great value of Brac de la Perrière’s contribution is that it goes a long way to resolving a puzzle many outsiders remark upon in Burma’s recent history, namely, the apparent contradiction between the many laudable actions monks have undertaken, such as spearheading relief efforts after Nargis devastated the Delta and defying the military during the “Saffron Revolution,” and the hateful rhetoric and incitements to violence monks have unleashed upon Muslims. Brac de la Perrière notes that there is no contradiction: monks, whose prestigious position was assured during the years of military rule, are uneasy about what the democratic transition may mean for their place in a changing Burma, and all of their actions are so many soundings as to how they may retain or even augment their authority in what she refers to as “the new game.”

In his brief but passionate closing essay, “To Be Burmese Is Not (Only) Being Buddhist,” Robinne bewails the trend toward rigidifying rather than effacing ethnic divisions, and divisions based on religion, that appears to be proceeding apace in Burma. He notes how the hopelessly complex variety of identity cards tangles together ethnicity and religion, such that being Muslim is assumed to mean that someone is Indian, although they might well be of Chinese origin. Christians among ethnic minorities, meanwhile, fracture into competing congregations while finding it hard to amalgamate across ethnic lines. Indeed, “Kachin” consciousness waxes and wanes: the period from the signing of a ceasefire in 1994 until its abrogation by the military in 2011 saw a reversion to less encompassing notions of community, whereas intensified warfare, as continues up to the present, heightens a sense of “Kachin” solidarity. Yet Christians, while subject to military attack, do not suffer the sorts of rhetorical attack, in addition to physical violence, that Muslims suffer so much in today’s Burma. Robinne remarks, sadly, that such attacks are not actually anything new in Burma: Muslims have simply been singled out as the latest target.

The two books under review differ inasmuch as the volume edited by Gravers and Ytzen is intended as a handbook to bring all interested readers up to speed on Burma’s many challenges—their contexts, their origins, their recent vagaries—whereas that edited by Egreteau and Robinne addresses specific subjects in more scholarly depth. Each book has its uses. Together, they provide a panoramic and clear-eyed, if cautionary, view of a country facing daunting problems, no matter how great the relief we all feel at its recent shift from military to civilian rule.

Ward Keeler
Department of Anthropology, University of Texas


Vol. 6, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, Jonathan RIGG


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

Rural Thailand: Change and Continuity
Porphant Ouyyanont
Trends in Southeast Asia, No. 8. Singapore: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute, 2016, 31pp.

Rural Thailand is a slim, 25-page publication in the ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute’s Trends in Southeast Asia series. The aim of the series is to “act as a platform for serious analyses . . . [that encourage] policy makers and scholars to contemplate the diversity and dynamism of this exciting region.”

In this issue, Porphant Ouyyanont seeks to explain how and why Thailand’s agricultural sector has remained such a significant player in the Thai economy, notwithstanding half a century of rapid and deep social and economic transformation. Not only does agriculture provide work for one-third of the Thai labor force and contribute significantly to national exports and output, but “rather surprisingly, village communities did not decline to the extent that one might have expected” (p. 2). In 1990 agriculture contributed 12.4 percent of GDP and 22.6 percent of exports. In 2014, almost a quarter of a century later, the respective figures were 10.4 percent and 17.8 percent. This, then, provides the context for the author to explore the “change and continuity” theme of the publication’s subtitle.

Given that the paper is only a short exposition, it is inevitable that the discussion is generalized in tone and aggregate in formulation. This is a big-picture description of agrarian change in Thailand over the modernization period, one where ethnographic or regional detail is eschewed in the interests of marking out a wider case. The empirical material, which is secondary, and the argument are not new; what is valuable, however, is to have the argument encapsulated in this succinct and clear manner. If a policy maker or student wished quickly to get to grips with the evolution of the Thai agricultural sector over the last half century, this would be as good a place as any to start.

Part of the reason for the persistence of agriculture can be understood in terms of a shift from farming as a way of life to farming as a business and the emergence of Thailand as a significant player in the global agro-food system, from frozen prawns to industrial chicken, high-value vegetables, and canned pineapple. This is the “change” element in the subtitle, one where Thailand’s farmers have made the transition from peasants to agrarian entrepreneurs. But Porphant also states, “peasants showed a remarkable capacity to adapt to changing conditions while at the same time conserving their established patterns of behaviour and their particular mode of survival” (p. 23). This is the “continuity” part of the subtitle. The sustaining of the rural economy and village lives has been achieved by rural people embracing non-farm work and (temporary) urban living but without giving up their connections to natal homes. Households have been separated over space, but connections to the village and to land and farming remain surprisingly strong.

Jonathan Rigg
Asia Research Institute and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore


Vol. 6, No. 2, BOOK REVIEWS, KONISHI Tetsu


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2



Indonesia’s Changing Political Economy: Governing the Roads
Jamie S. Davidson
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, xvii+292pp.

Jamie S. Davidson’s Indonesia’s Changing Political Economy: Governing the Roads starts by raising an intriguing question: “How does a weakened democratic government with a checkered past of economic property rights and contracts establish a regulatory framework to promote private sector investment in infrastructure?” (p. 8).

Let us review the discussion along the path laid out in the book. According to the introductory chapter, while conventional discussions underscore that a regulatory regime would induce private investment, the author asserts that a balance between institutionalizing rules and government discretion, in other words sectoral governance, is essential for private investment. This is, he insists, a political question (p. 15). Setting out the book’s conceptual framework in Chapter 1, the author treats toll roads not as a technical matter but as a product of conflicts and compromises. To do this, he attempts to apply the New Institutional Economics (NIE) discussions that underlie formal institutions as constraints in transaction costs.

However, Davidson finds that formal institutions in developing countries are weaker and more susceptible to powerful interests (p. 29), and that the NIE-based approach fails to take into account the informal aspects of governance. Broadening the NIE’s scope of analyzing formal institutions, the author takes the wider approach of “political sociology of infrastructure development” (p. 29). He focuses also on the NIE’s blind spots, such as variations in rent-seeking outcomes with prevailing firms’ incentives, extra-parliamentary politics of redistribution in the post-enactment phase, and the land rights of citizens, not of investors, by way of shining a light on the contested nature of the eminent domain.

Chapter 2 illustrates how the New Order’s governance of toll roads changed twice. The first occasion was the emergence of former President Soeharto’s children in the late 1980s. As Jagorawi Toll Road was financed by the government and international agencies, the private sector was still “poorly endowed” in order that “the state should be at the forefront of infrastructure investment” (p. 60) from the 1970s until the mid-1980s. However, once Soeharto’s children emerged in the toll road sector after the financial liberalization of the late-1980s, decrees sought to mediate between the first family and the state toll-road company, Jasa Marga (pp. 65–66). As a result, foreign investors rushed to businesses connected with Soeharto’s daughter Tutut, one of which was known as CMNP. The second occasion was when the president launched the Trans-Java expressway project and divided its control into several concessions in 1995. The author raises four outcomes of the distribution: a high number of short-distance concessions, ideally positioned indigenous (pribumi) contractors who were dissatisfied with the government’s preferential treatment of Sino-Indonesian businesses, “ghosts” and “shadows” in opaque holding structures of the project, and dubiously competitive auctions. Thus, sectoral governance had been clearly transformed into corrupt, or non-transparent, decision making.

After the Asian Economic Crisis in 1998, officials of the post-Soeharto government contended unsuccessfully with the stigma of corruption in the chaos of democratization, as Chapter 3 shows. In order to encourage private investment in the toll road sector, President Megawati signed the 2004 Road Act bill, which included the reform of sectoral governance, introduced as “best practice” upon the conditionality of the IMF and the World Bank. However, BPJT, a new agency to which the act relocated Jasa Marga’s regulatory authority, was subsequently emasculated by the government’s decrees and regulations (pp. 107–109). The Act also could not invalidate the concessions of New Order interests, such as Jusuf Kalla and Aburizal Bakrie. Megawati’s successor, President Yudhoyono, who lacked military support, quickly moved to implement the act and accelerate land acquisition by issuing presidential decrees that were more “draconian” than the New Order’s. Nevertheless, the internal squabbles of his Cabinet over finances caused a slowdown in disbursements.

Chapter 4 illustrates the political economy of the further delay of sectoral development in the Yudhoyono era. While there are investment risks inherent to the sector, illustrated by incidents such as the Bakries’ Lapindo disaster and Tutut’s CMNP debacle, informal collective action by business associations was partially successful in passing more pro-investor measures for special “revolving” funds for land acquisition in a Ministerial Decree (pp. 129–130). However, land purchases proceeded at a slow pace because local officials were reluctant to enforce them and clashed with central government officials. As a result, the latter recentralized the eminent domain with the 2012 Law on compulsory land acquisition, the implementation of which in turn brought further delay. Adding to that, populist parliamentarians threatened to “punish” the operators not only for the delay but also the worsening traffic conditions on Jakarta’s toll road. Thus, Yudhoyono’s dream of constructing a 1,600 km road was thwarted.

Another factor in the underperformance of the toll road in the post-Soeharto era was the concessionaires’ reluctance, as discussed in Chapter 5. However, the author insists that rent seeking in the weaker government led to a wide range of outcomes. Political connections with the BPJT had negative consequences in the Kalla and Bakrie cases: in the former, the regulation was retroactively changed to legitimize the sale to foreign companies and got a foreign investor as a result; in the latter case, not paying for the purchase of land showed a lack of the agency’s capacity. Meanwhile, there was a positive outcome in the Jasa Marga case: political influence in debt servicing and privatization brought the firm high profits, which in turn induced investment. These various outcomes show the “failure of financing alternatives to take root.” The concessionaires were afraid of the liberalists’ idea of ending up relying on state capital and pursued their own interests, not national growth nor technical details of distribution. Thus, the chapter concludes that “Characteristic of the Indonesian toll road sector, power, interests and path-dependent trajectory have triumphed once more” (p. 197).

In Chapter 6, the author argues that local rather than national sources were the forces that favored road development, with some case studies of local politics that fall outside of NIE literature. The Solo-Semarang turnpike project was protested by the strongly motivated governor of Central Java as part of his legacy of a top-down approach, and local politics for bupati election and decentralization pushed his hand. The author observes that reformist-outsider leaders who opposed the inner ring road projects in the mega-cities were expected to contend with vested interests, namely, the Solo-born governor of Jakarta, Jokowi, and the non-politician Surabaya mayor, Risma.

The last chapter points out that private sector participation in infrastructure has not fared well. The following factors account for the poor record of economic governance and its inefficacy: weak and fragmented state institutions captured by predatory elite interests; business-government relations that vacillate from collusive to antagonistic; an incapacitated rule of law; economic nationalism; and an uncertain investment climate (p. 230).

Among the author’s suggestions for policy implications, the foremost one is to overcome “a glaring inability to discipline the business class that will keep rule of law at bay” (p. 242). With this in mind, he concludes that the Java Expressway shows evidence of varying results—from regulatory progress to policy failure, from high growth to “jobless growth,” from negative to positive rent-seeking outcomes, and from coercive enforcement to democratic deliberation of state policy.

I would like to point out some “cracks” in the exciting scholarly road paved by this book. First of all, Davidson shows how, and how far, politics has informed economic governance in Indonesia, so his main targets are Jasa Marga, BPJT, and corporate investment behaviors. The question arises, however: How far has the politics of governance shaped, and also how far will it shape, the outcomes of changing each corporation’s perception, as assumed by NIE scholars (Aoki 2008; North 2015)? In the Bakrie case, to quote my interview with some Indonesian businesspersons, it is not Aburizal but his younger brother, Nirwan Bakrie, who has led the group business since Aburizal became committed to the politics of the business world in the 1980s. But the group’s behavior has been under the control of Nirwan, a genius in financial management. The author convincingly points out that the complicated and opaque ownership structures of BTR “may have been intended to mask Bakrie’s intention to use these assets to boost BTR’s valuation in order to raise more funds” (p. 177), considering Nirwan’s capability. And the Bakrie group shifted its perception that finance with a large portion for the short term would be more beneficial for its business during the commodities boom.

Second, the author points out that finance has been a constraint in the creation of private businesses in developing countries, while environmental issues and noise level are issues in developed countries (p. 11), as evident in cases ranging from Soekarno’s Jakarta-Bogor road to the World Bank’s failure in financing alternatives. If so, alongside the discussion of weaker civil society, uncertainty and non-transparency in securing corporate finance should be discussed further to clarify how much state bank loans have been provided, and how political connections play a key role in securing such loans. More specifically, Jusuf Kalla played an active role in mobilizing the state banks’ capital, as Chapter 3 (p. 117) describes. If so, it is much more important to explore Kalla’s political connections with state banks and how he could have made the latter mobilize their capital for private interests. Similarly, in clarifying Aburizal’s role in Bakrie’s financing for roads, it is more appropriate to thoroughly refer to the dynamics of Aburizal’s influence behind the government’s commitment to Pawenang’s decision not to nullify the bank loan deeds for SMR (p. 174).

Finally, Davidson views economic factors exogenously, but it would provide a more balanced view if he took into consideration state capital constraints and political dynamics. The book illustrates appropriation by vested interests, as the liberal Minister tried to do when he resisted firmly the business associations’ plan (pp. 129–130). If so, along with state-led developmentalism (p. 242), more light should be shed on the political dynamics of state finances as part of a weak government’s defense arsenal.

Despite the “cracks” above, this book enables us to grasp today’s changing Indonesian political economy. First, the author offers this insight on the outcome of politics over economic governance: the weaker the government, the more penetrative the governance for private interests. And referring to “the financialisation” (p. 11) in the Indonesian business sector is insightful, as it suggests that state banks’ finances are the principal means in the battle over―and against―rent seeking. Second, the author shows that there is some hope of change through the agency exercised by government officials. In the political economy of independent regulation agencies, the government has kept attempting to induce capital and protect investors’ rights (see achievement of Pawenang of BPJT, pp. 118–119), against both of which in turn vested interests have triumphed. But now Davidson pays attention to how the new leadership of this state will change the momentum of governance politics.

Last but not least, the methodology of Political Sociology is insightful. Although lacking some points of view related to corporate finance as indicated above, the author succeeds in proving the dynamism of the political and social informality of institutions. The contributions of this book help in navigating the road toward a better understanding of Indonesian governance.

Konishi Tetsu 小西 鉄
Faculty of Economics, Osaka University of Economics and Law


Aoki, Masahiko. 青木昌彦. 2008. Hikakukeizai-seido bunseki josetsu: Keizai-shisutemu no shinka to tagensei 比較経済制度分析序説―経済システムの進化と多元性 [Introduction for comparative institutional analysis: Evolution and pluralism of economic system]. Tokyo: Kodansha.

North, Douglous C. ダグラス C. ノース. 2015. Seido-genron 制度原論 [Understanding the process of economic changes]. Tokyo: Toyo Keizai Shimpo-sha.


Vol. 6, No 2, SORAT Praweenwongwuthi et al.


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

Recent Changes in Agricultural Land Use in the Riverine Area of Nakhon Phanom Province, Northeast Thailand

Sorat Praweenwongwuthi,* Tewin Kaewmuangmoon,**Sukanlaya Choenkwan,*** and A. Terry Rambo

* โสรัจจ ์ ประวีณวงศว์ ฒุ ิ, Faculty of Agriculture and Technology, Nakhon Phanom University, 103 Moo 3, Tambon Kham Thao, Mueang, Nakhon Phanom, 48000 Thailand

** เทวินทร์ แกว้ เมืองมลู , Crop and Soil Sciences Department and Center for Agricultural Resource System Research, Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University, Suthep Rd, Tambon Su Thep, Mueang, Chiang Mai, 50200 Thailand

*** สุกลั ยา เชิญขวญั , Department of Agricultural Extension, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen 40002, Thailand
Corresponding author’s e-mail: kun_na[at]

Program on System Approaches in Agriculture, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen 40002, Thailand; East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii 96848-1601, USA

DOI: 10.20495/seas.6.2_357

This paper describes changes in the pattern of land use in two riverine districts of Nakhon Phanom Province between 2006 and 2010. A great deal of land use change occurred in these five years. In Mueang District, about 12.1% of the area (9,477 ha) had a different use in 2010 from that in 2006. In That Phanom District the magnitude of change was even greater, with about 27.3% of the area (9,326 ha) changing use between 2006 and 2010. Much of the land use change in both districts resulted from the conversion of natural forests, orchards, and rice paddies into rubber plantations. At the same time, rapid urbanization led to the conversion of large areas of farmland into housing estates in the peri-urban zone around Nakhon Phanom City and, to a lesser extent, around That Phanom district town. Most of these land use changes are reducing overall agroecological diversity. Several factors have influenced these land use changes, including lack of secure land titles, urban growth, and changes in the costs and benefits of growing different crops.

Keywords: deforestation, crop diversification, rubber plantations, urbanization, GIS analysis


Although it is known that the agrarian transformation in Northeast Thailand has resulted in major changes in land use in the region, including a decline in the area of natural forest due to the expansion of cash crops and the conversion of agricultural land into the new housing estates that surround the region’s rapidly expanding urban centers, detailed empirical studies on the nature and causes of land use changes in specific areas are lacking. Therefore, the present study was carried out in order to describe recent changes in agricultural land use and identify the factors influencing these changes in two districts along the bank of the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom Province. This area is of particular interest because it is characterized by more fertile soil and a higher amount of rainfall than is typical in Northeast Thailand. It also borders the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, to which it has been linked by the Third Friendship Bridge between Nakhon Phanom and Khammouane Provinces, which was officially opened on November 11, 2011. This and other transportation links, which are being built in the context of the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Corridor and ASEAN Economic Community, may be influencing changes in land use in the area.


Research Site

This study was conducted in Mueang and That Phanom Districts in Nakhon Phanom Province (coordinates: Upper left 17.99N, 103.96E, Upper right 17.99N, 104.86E, Lower left 16.70N, 103.96E, and Lower right 16.70N, 104.86E) in the valley of the Mekong River (Fig. 1). Neighboring provinces (clockwise from the south) are Mukdahan, Sakon Nakhon, and Bueng Kan. In the northeast, the province borders Khammouane of Laos. The northern part of the province has both uplands and forest-covered plains and is drained by the Song Kram and the smaller Oun Rivers. The southern part is mostly flatland, with the Kum the only notable river. The provincial capital, the city of Nakhon Phanom, is located directly on the bank of the Mekong.



Fig. 1 Map of Mueang and That Phanom Districts, Nakhon Phanom Province


Mueang Nakhon Phanom is the capital district of Nakhon Phanom Province. Mueang District is subdivided into 15 subdistricts (tambol), which are further subdivided into 169 villages (muban). The city of Nakhon Phanom (thesaban mueang) covers all of Nai Mueang and Nong Saeng Subdistricts as well as parts of At Samat and Nong Yat Subdistricts.

That Phanom District is in the southern part of Nakhon Phanom Province. The district is named after Wat Phra That Phanom, the most important Buddhist temple in the region. The district is divided into 12 subdistricts, which are further subdivided into 142 villages. That Phanom Municipality covers parts of That Phanom and That Phanom Nuea Subdistricts.

Data Sources

Land use maps for 2006 and 2010 of both districts were obtained in shapefile format from Land Development Department Office 4 in Ubon Ratchatani. These maps were made from unclouded and terrain corrected Landsat images in 2006 and 2010. Image processing and data manipulation were conducted using ERDAS IMAGINE 8.6 and ArcGIS 9.1. A handheld Garmin GPS eTrex HC (12–15 m accuracy) was used to obtain the coordinates of plots with different types of land uses. Some ancillary data were also used as references in image processing (Land Development Department 2010).

Information on the causes of some important types of land use changes in several localities was collected from local officials and farmers by holding focus groups. This was done after the changes in land use were analyzed and several problematic types of change were identified, especially conversion of paddy fields to forests and vice versa.

Method of Analysis

Spatial analysis employing the Decision Support System Research and Development Network for Agricultural and Natural Resource Management (DSSARM)1)1) Program was used to identify all plots that had been converted from one land use to a different one between 2006 and 2010. DSSARM images of the two districts were analyzed using a supervised classification method. This classification was used to compile Tables 1a and 1b.


Table 1a Changes in Land Use from 2006 to 2010 in Mueang District, Nakhon Phanom Province



Table 1b Changes in Land Use from 2006 to 2010 in That Phanom District, Nakhon Phanom Province



Results and Discussion

Recent Changes in Agricultural Land Use

The changes in land use between 2006 and 2010 are presented in Tables 1a and 1b. It is readily evident that a great deal of change occurred during this five-year period. In Mueang District, about one-eighth (12.1%) of the area (9,477 ha) was in different use in 2010 than it was in 2006. In That Phanom District the magnitude of change was even greater, with more than one-fourth (27.3%) of the area (9,326 ha) changing uses between 2006 and 2010.

In Mueang District there was a small decrease in the area under agriculture from 47,920 to 47,249 ha a net loss of 671 ha, while in That Phanom District it increased from 25,327 to 26,303 ha, a net gain of 976 ha. The area of settlement increased in Mueang District by 1.4 times from 4,644 to 6,950 ha, which was a net gain of 2,306 ha; in That Phanom District it increased by almost 1.3 times, from 2,413 to 3,032 ha, for a gain of 619 ha. Given these increases in the area of agricultural land in That Phanom District and the area of settlement in both districts, the decrease of natural forest is not surprising: it decreased in Mueang District from 22,089 to 19,484 ha for a net loss of 2,605 ha, while in That Phanom District it decreased from 4,226 to 2,611 ha for a net loss of 1,615 ha.

In Mueang District in both 2006 and 2010 the four most important land uses in terms of area covered were rice, natural forest, settlement area, and water. In That Phanom District in 2006 they were rice, natural forest, orchards, and settlement area; in 2010 rice was still in the first place followed by rubber, settlement area, and natural forest.

In both districts there was a major shift from other land uses to rubber plantations. Rubber plantations expanded at the expense of rice, eucalyptus, and specialty crops in Mueang District and orchards, cassava, specialty crops, rice, and sugarcane in That Phanom District. In Mueang District the area of rubber increased by 23 times (from 59 to 1,353 ha) for a net gain of 1,294 ha, while in That Phanom District it increased by 22 times (from 246 to 5,498 ha) for a net gain of 5,252 ha. However, after the period under study, in 2011, a steep decline in latex price led some farmers to begin shifting out of rubber into other crops.

Rice fields suffered significant losses of area in both districts: 1,100 ha in Mueang District and 735 ha in That Phanom District. A major cause of the decline in Mueang District was the expansion of urban settlements, with 1,027 ha of paddy fields converted to settlement area. At the same time, however, 206 ha of settlement area were converted to paddy fields. This was land on the fringe of villages that may not have actually contained houses in 2006. Curiously, the area of rice fields in Mueang District lost 776 ha to natural forest but gained 1,522 ha from natural forest during this period. The rice fields that were converted to forest were in areas where the government ordered farmers to stop illegal cultivation of publicly owned forestland, while the forestland that was converted to paddy fields was located in areas where the government had reclassified degraded forestland for agricultural uses.

Orchards also lost 408 ha and 2,580 ha respectively in Mueang and That Phanom Districts, while the area devoted to growing specialty crops (e.g., tomatoes, chilies, tobacco) also declined in both districts.

The area of eucalyptus plantation declined from 442 ha to 182 ha in Mueang District; most of this area was changed to natural forest and rubber. In That Phanom District it increased from 1,019 ha to 1,700 ha. This expansion was initially promoted by a private company primarily at the expense of natural forest, orchards, cassava, and rice paddies. Other land uses, such as grassland, showed small gains in area in both districts. Sugarcane was not planted in Mueang District, whereas in That Phanom District it suffered a loss of area of almost two-thirds, dropping from 328 ha to 97 ha, with most of that area converted to rubber.

Water (swamps, fishponds) lost 471 ha and 258 ha respectively in Mueang and That Phanom Districts. Almost half of the lost area in Mueang District was converted to settlement area, whereas in That Phanom District it was converted to grassland.

Factors Influencing Land Use Change

Based on our field observations and discussions with farmers we have identified several factors that exerted an important influence on land use changes in our study site. These factors include: (1) lack of secure land titles; (2) urban growth and expansion of housing estates and infrastructure (e.g., roads, public buildings, airports) into peri-urban areas; and (3) changes in the costs and benefits of growing different crops.


Lack of Secure Land Titles

A dispute and a lawsuit over landownership resulted in abandonment of agricultural land and its reversion to natural forest in Kham Toei Subdistrict, Mueang District. There, in the late 1990s, there were approximately 160 ha of village community forest. An entrepreneur illegally cleared part of the forest for a rubber plantation. Villagers repeatedly asked the provincial officers to resolve the problem of overlapping claims to this land. Finally, in 2008, the Administrative Court declared the land to be public forest. The entrepreneur filed an appeal with the Administrative Court to revoke the order, but the case was later dropped even though the conflict over ownership had not been resolved. Because of the lack of secure tenure the land has been abandoned, and the area that had been cleared for rubber is reverting to natural forest.


Urban Growth and Expansion of Housing Estates and Infrastructure into Peri-urban Areas

Nakhon Phanom Municipality and, to a lesser extent, That Phanom district town have experienced considerable population growth in recent years, which has led to rapid expansion of the settlement areas. New housing estates and infrastructure projects occupy former agricultural land in the neighboring subdistricts, which have been transformed from rural to peri-urban zones. This urban growth is a consequence of the rapid economic growth that has accompanied the opening of the new bridge across the Mekong River to Laos, the expansion of Nakhon Phanom University, and the development of the Nakhon Phanom airport. Students attending the university, which has campuses in both Nakhon Phanom Municipality and That Phanom district town, have created a strong demand for new housing. The airport, which is located in Na Sai Subdistrict, on the outskirts of Nakhon Phanom City, was opened in 1977. It has recently undergone a major expansion so it can serve as a transit point for passengers bound for neighboring countries via the new bridge. It also serves as the home base for Nakhon Phanom University’s International Aviation College. Many restaurants, shops, and service enterprises have developed to serve the airport’s users. As a consequence of the employment opportunities offered by the airport and associated businesses, the population of nearby communities has expanded, with new housing taking over land formerly used for agriculture. Also located in the subdistrict is the Nakhon Phanom Municipality landfill, which occupies approximately 12 ha in Ban Sukkasem. This facility receives an average of 70 tons of waste each day. Located in close proximity to the landfill are a number of recycling businesses that occupy former farmland. Similar conversion of farmland to urban use is occurring in Ku Ru Ku Subdistrict. This subdistrict is home to the Nakhon Phanom Army Camp and the associated military hospital. Developers have bought agricultural land surrounding the camp to build housing for service personnel and hospital staff. The value of farmland has increased by as much as 30 times in 10 years.


Changes in the Costs and Benefits of Growing Different Crops

Much of the land use change in both districts has resulted from the conversion of land from other uses, especially natural forest, orchards, and rice paddies, to rubber. This change was accelerated after 2006, as the pioneer farmers, who had planted small areas of rubber during the early 1990s, began to earn high profits, which influenced neighboring farmers to also plant rubber on their land. The decision making of many farmers was more influenced by knowledge about rubber conveyed through their social networks, sometimes across the provincial boundary, than by government extension programs. According to interviews with rubber farmers, they heard about the success of rubber farmers in nearby Nong Khai and Bueang Kan Provinces. The increasing price of rubber and the higher cost of agricultural labor, which reduced the profitability of rice cultivation at that time, also provided farmers with an incentive to convert their paddy fields into rubber plantations.


The land use system in our study area is quite dynamic, with rapid changes of use occurring in extensive areas during the period of five years between 2006 and 2010. Two major changes in this study area are expansion of rubber and expansion of settlement areas.

Although at first glance it appears that rubber is expanding at the expense of all other uses, the reality on the ground is not so simple. It is true that the expansion of rubber plantations has often occurred at the expense of natural forests and paddy fields. Conversion of forest into rubber plantations is especially rampant in areas along the roads, where the population is concentrated. In both Mueang and That Phanom Districts, many farmers whose livelihoods were once dependent on diversified agriculture have become dependent on a monocultural system with concomitant instability due to variable product prices. However, this shift reflects the fact that farmers have become highly sensitive to price changes of their products and altered their land use accordingly. This would never have occurred when they were subsistence-oriented peasants. In the past, rice was the most important crop for the Northeastern farmers. They all preferred to grow their own rice, even though it was a low-value crop, but now they are much more concerned with maximizing cash income from their land.

The change of various types of land use to urban settlements has affected an even larger area than that affected by the expansion of rubber. Rapid development of the local economy, especially of the commercial and service sectors in the towns and cities, has resulted in the conversion of large areas of agricultural land to urban settlement. Many farmers who sold their land to urban developers have left the agricultural sector and become dependent on non-farm income. Such a change from farmland to urban settlement uses, because it is essentially irreversible, may have greater long-term impacts on land use than shorter-term conversion of land from one crop to another.

Accepted: January 19, 2017


This research was partially supported by a grant (BRG5680008) from the Thailand Research Fund Basic Research Program to Prof. Terry Rambo and a scholarship under the Post-doctoral Program from Research Affairs and the Graduate School, Khon Kaen University. However, the views expressed here are those of the authors and are not necessarily shared by the funding agencies. We would like to thank Prof. Attachai Jintrawet for his constructive advice and support and for the opportunities to work in his GIS laboratory at the Center of Agricultural Resource System Research, Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University.


Land Development Department. 2010. Soil and Land Use (Including Aquaculture) Maps for Each Province at a Scale of 1:100,000, Compiled at 1:50,000. Bangkok.

Methi Ekasingh เมธี เอกะสิงห์; Chanchai Saenchyosawat ชาญชัย แสงชโยสวัสดิ์; Pongdhan Sampaongen พงศ์ธนว์ สำเภาเงิน; Pinpeth Sakulsongboonsiri ปิ่นเพชร สกุลส่งบุญศิริ; Phraphassorn Pansompong ประภัสสร พันธ์สมพงษ์; Charit Soomham ชาฤทธิ์ สุ่มเหม; Wattana Pattanathaworn วัฒนา พัฒนาถาวร; and Chatnapa Prommanon ฉัตรนภา พรหมมานนท์. 2005 (2548). Rabop sanapsanun kan wangphaen chatkan sapphayakon phuea kan kaset lae kan borikan raya thii 1 phaak nuea tambon: kan chai sapphayakon kae rabop sanapsanun kan tatsinchai (rabop klang) ระบบสนับสนุนการ-วางแผน จัดการทรัพยากรเพื่อการเกษตรและการบริการ ระยะที่ 1 ภาคเหนือตอนบน: การใช้ทรัพยากรและระบบการตัดสินใจ (ระบบกลาง) [Decision Support System for planning of agricultural resource management and services 1st phase upper north Thailand: Resource utilization and decision support system (the core system)], Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University, A Final Report of a Research Project no. NIG45006, submitted to the Thailand Research Fund (TRF).

1) DSSARM is an integrated Geographic Information System (GIS) program developed for general users to enter and display data layer maps and data tables. Using this system requires a shorter learning period than a full-grown GIS program. It was developed by Visual Basic 6 and ArcGIS version 9.3 and designed to handle the spatial data in geodatabase format. DSSARM was designed to ensure the effective uses of spatial and attribute databases in the planning and management of agricultural and natural resources (Methi et al. 2005).


Vol. 6, No. 2, CHALEE Gedgaew et al.


Contents>> Vol. 6, No. 2

Trends in Hybrid Tomato Seed Production under Contract Farming in Northeast Thailand

Chalee Gedgaew,* Suchint Simaraks,** and A. Terry Rambo***

* ชาลี เกตุแกว้ , Program on System Approaches in Agriculture, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen 40002, Thailand
Corresponding author’s e-mail: cgedgaew[at]

** สุจินต ์ สิมารักษ,์ Program on System Approaches in Agriculture, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen 40002, Thailand

*** Program on System Approaches in Agriculture, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen 40002, Thailand; East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96848-1601, USA

DOI: 10.20495/seas.6.2_339

Hybrid tomato seed production after rice is a way of intensifying agriculture in rainfed areas in Northeast Thailand. Although this type of intensive high-value contract farming has been developing for the last 30 years, there has been little research on it. This study describes the historical development of this system and identifies factors influencing increases and decreases in the number of production sites and farmers producing hybrid tomato seeds. Although production of hybrid tomato seeds was initially adopted by a large number of farmers in many villages in both rainfed and irrigated areas, in recent years it has been carried out only in a smaller number of villages, mostly in rainfed areas. The decision of growers to continue or discontinue production is influenced by both the benefit they gain from production and their relations with the seed companies. The local availability of highly skilled hired workers also affects the concentration of production in certain sites.

Keywords: vegetable seed production, agricultural history, multiple cropping, intensification, skilled labor, farmer decision making


The development of hybrid tomato seed production among small farmers in Northeast Thailand illustrates a key aspect of the agrarian transformation of the region in the form of increasing intensification and specialization. Over the last 30 years, Northeast Thailand has emerged as one of the most important locations in the world for hybrid tomato seed production under contracts between individual farmers and local or transnational seed companies. In 1995 US-based Asgrow, the world’s largest seed company, obtained 90 of its hybrid tomato seed for global sales from Thailand. The majority of this was produced in Northeast Thailand, mostly by small farmers (Rosset et al. 1999).

Veerapong Saenjan (1998) reported that hybrid tomato seed production in Northeast Thailand showed signs of instability due to the uncontrollable cost of production and increasing labor costs. However, despite having some cost control problems, seed companies continued to produce newer and more popular varieties of hybrid tomato seed in the Northeast while shifting production of old varieties and easier-to-produce seeds, such as melons and other cucurbits, to China and Vietnam, where the cost of production was lower than in Northeast Thailand (Rosset et al. 1999).

Previous research on hybrid tomato seed production in Northeast Thailand focused on financial analysis, the socioeconomic implications, and environmental impacts but paid little attention to inter- as well as intra-village variations in sustainability of production. The present study focuses on this aspect of hybrid tomato seed production under contract farming in Northeast Thailand.

This study was undertaken with the following objectives: (1) to understand the historical background of hybrid tomato seed production under contract farming at various sites in Northeast Thailand; (2) to identify sites where the numbers of growers are increasing and decreasing, and where seed production has totally disappeared; and (3) to identify the factors influencing the dynamic of hybrid tomato seed production.


Contract Farming as a Mode of Agricultural Production

Contract farming is “a contractual arrangement for a fixed term between a farmer and a firm, agreed verbally or in writing before production begins, which provides resources to the farmer and/or specifies one or more conditions of production, in addition to one or more marketing conditions, for agricultural production on land owned or controlled by the farmer, which is non-transferable and gives the firm, not the farmer, exclusive rights and legal title to the crop” (Prowse 2012). It is a form of vertical integration within agricultural commodity chains that gives the agribusiness firm great control over the production process and final product. Therefore, contract farming is a system or a mode of production that has considerable potential for governing the linkage between farmers and agribusiness firms, as a supply chain management strategy (Kirsten and Sartorius 2002; Da Silva 2005; Prowse 2012).

Contracts between firms and farmers were first recorded as an innovation more than 100 years ago (Prowse 2012). Nowadays, it has expanded and became a mode of production that allows small-scale farmers to be integrated into the global agro-food system (Eaton and Shepherd 2001; Kirsten and Sartorius 2002; Prowse 2012). It offers an important way for smaller producers to farm in a commercial manner and also provides agribusiness firms with the opportunity to guarantee a reliable source of supply, in terms of both quantity and quality (Delforge 2007). In addition, small-scale farmers can also overcome capital constraints, lack of capacity to adopt technological innovations, and lack of ability to meet the required standards from agribusiness firms further down the value chain (Prowse 2012).

Contract Farming in Thailand

Compared to other Asian countries, by the early 1990s Thailand probably had the most extensive experience with contract farming for the widest range of crops (Glover and Lim 1992). Contract farming emerged in Thailand more than four decades ago, particularly for growing sugarcane and tobacco. In the 1970s it was practiced in poultry, pineapple, tomato, and vegetable production (Songsak and Aree 2008). Later it expanded to vegetable seed crops, i.e., hybrid tomato seeds. However, contract farming has generally not been well managed due to disagreements between companies and farmers and defaulting on the part of both agribusiness firms and farmers. The faults of the agribusiness firms have been related to timing, low buying prices, and refusal to purchase the produce, while the faults of farmers have been related to lack of reliability, irregularity, substandard produce, and untimely production. Another reason for the decline of contract farming is the uncontrollable cost of production and increasing labor cost in the case of poultry and seed production (Veerapong 1998).

Northeast Thailand is a plateau with poor soil conditions, erratic rainfall, and limited irrigation facilities. Reliance on rainfed agricultural production results in low incomes among small farm holders (Viriya 2001). During the 1960s and 1970s, the Thai government constructed irrigation facilities covering limited areas of the region and supported agricultural crop diversification. Under this scheme, high-value food commodities such as frozen and canned fruit and vegetables, vegetable seeds, and poultry, most of which were grown under contract farming, were promoted.

Taiwan used to be one of the core areas of hybrid vegetable seed production. In the 1970s, however, the cost of production started increasing, mainly due to higher wages paid by the manufacturing industry. At that time, Taiwanese and transnational seed companies from the United States and Japan started to search for alternative production sites (Rosset et al. 1999; Tay 2002). Northeast Thailand offered excellent prospects because it has cool dry weather for half the year, which lowers the risk of disease and pest problems. Its small farmers show loyalty as contractees and have the manual dexterity needed to do this work. By 1980, because of the high quality and low cost of its hybrid tomato seeds, Northeast Thailand was placed on the world map of seed production. Many transnational companies from the United States, Europe, Japan, and Taiwan rushed into Northeast Thailand to take advantage of the low cost of production and better quality of tomato seeds (Rosset et al. 1999; Lamyai 2002).


Beginning in October 2013 and continuing until March 2014, field surveys were conducted in various parts of the Northeast. As the first step in identifying the sites of production, semi-structured interviews were conducted with agricultural officers at the provincial and subdistrict levels in Khon Kaen Province. Next, the purposive snowball sampling technique was used to identify the exact sites and select key informants who had knowledge about the history of hybrid tomato seed production at various sites. The key informants included 11 officers of the District or Provincial Agricultural Extension Offices, 6 staff of seed companies, 6 village headmen, and 77 growers under contract farming at 30 sites in 29 districts in 9 provinces of Northeast Thailand (Fig. 1).



Fig. 1 Sites of Hybrid Tomato Seed Production in Northeast Thailand


Both individual and group semi-structured interviews were used to gather information from the key informants. The topics consisted of physical, biological, and socioeconomic information including topography, natural resources, cropping calendars, history and evolution of hybrid tomato seed production, seed company operations and relationships with farmers, and the present situation.

Results and Discussion

General Information about Hybrid Tomato Seed Production under Contract Farming

F1 hybrid tomato cultivars are one of the most popular vegetable crops worldwide (Tay 2002). Two parental lines are developed for genetic crossing through pollination in order to create a hybrid cultivar. The production process is complex and relies upon intensive and dexterous manual labor for emasculation and hybridization of individual flowers (Benziger 1996; Rosset et al. 1999; Sudha et al. 2006). Hybrid tomato seed production is closely associated with the global agro-food complex and transnational seed companies that dominate seed production and distribution. Therefore, a high-intensity contractual relationship with small-scale farmers is required by the seed companies in order to control the seed quality and guard the proprietary germplasm (Rosset et al. 1999).

Normally, a written or oral contract with individual farmers for the production and supply of seed at a predetermined price is negotiated by the seed companies. In order to attract farmers, the seed companies provide a complete package of support and risk sharing. They provide advanced inputs on credit and loans for hiring labor subject to a given quota of production. The contract farmers (growers) provide their land and skilled labor. The cost of inputs, repayment of loans, and a service charge are deducted from the remuneration paid to the growers by the seed company. The value of the input credits and loans are usually forgiven by the company when the crop fails through no fault of the growers. In addition, as has also been reported by Vincent Benziger (1996), Veerapong (1998), and Niwat Martwanna and Kamol Lertrat (2007), some companies give a small payment to the growers in case of natural disasters in order to encourage them to continue production the following year.

Historical Development of Hybrid Tomato Seed Production in Northeast Thailand

Four phases can be recognized in the history of hybrid tomato seed production in Northeast Thailand. The sites of production changed from one phase to another as did the number of growers at each site. A comparison of the situation in the late 1990s and 2013–14 is summarized in Table 1.


Table 1 Characteristics of Hybrid Tomato Seed Production Sites in Northeast Thailand



Phase 1 (late 1970s): Transnational Company

In 1976 Petoseed Company (of the United States) started hybrid tomato seed production in rainfed areas, first in a village in Ban Phai District, Khon Kaen Province, and later expanding into four or five nearby villages. In 1979 the company expanded its production into rainfed areas in Sumran, Ban Kho, and Sawathee Subdistricts in Mueang District, Khon Kaen Province (Lamyai 2002) by contracting with the company Adams International via a third company from Taiwan (Rosset et al. 1999).


Phase 2 (1980s): Joint Ventures with Local Companies

Local Thai companies and joint ventures with transnational companies extended the production sites into both rainfed and irrigated areas. In Udon Thani Province the irrigated area was in Kut Chap District and the rainfed area was in Nong Wua So District. In Sakon Nakhon Province irrigated areas included Phang Khon, Phanna Nikhom, and Mueang Districts (Benziger 1996; Rosset et al. 1999).


Phase 3 (1990s): Relocation from Taiwan

During this period a large number of new sites were developed in Northeast Thailand due to relocation there by Taiwanese companies (Lamyai 2002). The production sites extended into rainfed areas in Chonnabot, Ban Fang, Nong Ruea, Si Chomphu, and Nam Phong Districts in Khon Kaen Province; Sam Chai District in Kalasin Province; and Non Sang and Na Klang Districts in Nong Bua Lam Phu Province. Production in irrigated areas also extended into Nam Phong District in Khon Kaen Province, Don Tan District in Mukdahan Province, Chanuman District in Amnat Charoen Province, and Yang Talat District in Kalasin Province.


Phase 4 (2000–14): Relocation of Production Sites

During this phase companies tried to expand into new sites in order to compensate for decreased production in the older sites, where the number of growers had declined. The new production sites with new growers were established in rainfed areas, including Wanon Niwat and Akat Amnuai Districts in Sakon Nakhon Province; That Phanom District in Nakhon Phanom Province; Erawan District in Loei Province; Wiang Kao District in Khon Kaen Province; and Kham Muang, Mueang, Huai Phueng, Na Mon, and Somdet Districts in Kalasin Province. In irrigated areas, production extended into Wan Yai District in Mukdahan Province.

Dynamics of Hybrid Tomato Seed Production in Northeast Thailand

Thirty sites in nine provinces where hybrid tomato seed used to be or is still being produced were surveyed in the 2013–14 crop year. Of the 30 sites, 21 (70) were in rainfed areas and 9 (30) in irrigated areas (Table 1).

Twenty-five sites in five provinces (83.3 of all sites surveyed) are still engaged in production. Nineteen sites are in rainfed areas, and six sites are in irrigated areas under the irrigation schemes of Huai Luang Dam in Udon Thani, Nam Oon Dam in Sakon Nakhon, and Lam Pao Dam in Kalasin Province. There were five sites (16.7 of all surveyed sites) in four provinces where the growers had ceased production. Two of them were in rainfed areas, while three (60) were in irrigated areas served by electrical pumps.

Patterns of Change from the Late 1990s to 2013–14 of Hybrid Tomato Seed Growers in Various Sites

The key informants identified five sites where the number of growers had not changed recently. These included Site 9 in Khon Kaen Province and Sites 20–23 in Kalasin Province (Table 1). At all of these sites production had been established rather recently (four to five years ago) because of the decline in the number of growers in other sites. However, each site had fewer than 100 growers and fewer than five seed companies operating.

Many growers in 20 sites in five provinces had produced hybrid tomato seeds beginning in the late 1990s, but their number declined recently in all of these sites. The reasons were delicate production methods and management, disease and pest problems, inadequate labor supply, climate variability, deterioration of relations between growers and seed companies, detrimental government policies, and unsatisfactory profits earned by the growers. Presently, production in these 20 sites is confined to growers in only a few villages. These growers can maintain their production for decades. They are in 10 sites with fewer than 100 growers each, 9 sites with 100–500 growers each, and 1 site with more than 500 growers. The number of operating seed companies is fewer than 5 each in 8 sites, 5–10 each in 9 sites, and more than 10 each in 3 sites (Table 1).

In the remaining sites in four provinces where all growers had ceased producing hybrid tomato seeds, the growers switched to either pepper seed production (four sites) or sugarcane production to meet the demand of nearby sugar mills (three sites).

Factors Influencing the Dynamics of Hybrid Tomato Seed Production

Ninety-four key informants in 30 sites in nine provinces identified the factors positively or negatively influencing the continuation of hybrid tomato seed production. These factors included: benefits gained by the grower, company-grower relations, tedious work, suitable environment, kind of tomato cultivars, labor supply, grower’s personal characteristics, advanced technology, and government policy (Table 2).


Table 2 Opinions of Key Informants (n=94) regarding Factors Influencing the Dynamics of Hybrid Tomato Seed Production under Contract Farming in 30 Sites in Northeast Thailand



Benefits Gained

The key informants in all sites identified the opportunity to earn a high income as being a very powerful incentive for growers to continue production. This was similarly reported by Benziger (1996), M. Sudha et al. (2006), and M. A. R. Sarkar et al. (2011). Growers in rainfed areas of Northeast Thailand aim to earn a higher income from a smaller land area as compared to other off-season crops. For instance, one grower estimated the median income in an average year from hybrid tomato seeds to be about 100,000 baht (USD3,000) per 0.5–1 rai (800–1,600 m2) of land for four months’ production, whereas sugarcane production uses 10 rai (16,000 m2) for one and a half years to yield the same amount of income. Besides, these growers were satisfied with receiving a lump sum payment that enabled them to invest in other agricultural activities, house construction, children’s higher education, and loan repayment. The same was reported by Sudha et al. (2006). Furthermore, at sites where production had continued for a long time, growers developed specific skills in production and management (e.g., emasculation, pollination, and plot maintenance) that resulted in higher yield and quality. For example, growers in two sites (Sites 2 and 3 in Table 1) who have over 30 years of experience can make contracts with more than two companies that offer higher guaranteed prices or fixed prices. They produce hybrid tomato seeds on more than two plots with different cultivars by using relay or staggered planting that spreads out the labor requirement. This is reported also by Niwat and Kamol (2007). These measures allow the farmers to better control and reduce the risk associated with variations in the seed yield of different tomato cultivars, which greatly increases their opportunity to get a maximum return.

Although a high income is a powerful incentive for certain growers, most of the growers who had reduced or ceased production did so because it was not economically worthwhile. They were burdened by the companies’ requirement for high inputs and also faced uncontrollable costs of production, especially increasing labor costs, as reported by Veerapong (1998), Peter Rosset et al. (1999), David Tay (2002), and Niwat and Kamol (2007). Moreover, some failed to have good yields due to very specific production conditions and inadequacies in management and care to meet the requirements of a given cultivar. Consequently, their substandard produce was refused by the companies. In other cases the companies’ guaranteed price was reduced if the amount of product exceeded the quota. The price was predetermined by the company, with which the growers did not have bargaining power, as was also mentioned by Rosset et al. (1999).


Grower-Company Relations

The key informants at all sites stated that most seed companies provide production inputs on credit to the growers, including seedlings, agro-chemicals, nets to cover the plots, plastic sheets, water pumps, and also cash to pay hired laborers. This system of credit is the same as that reported by Veerapong (1998), Rosset et al. (1999), and Niwat and Kamol (2007). Accompanying the provision of credit is technical advice on crop cultivation and seed production ranging from crop management practices to pollination and seed-processing techniques, as also reported by Benziger (1996), Tay (2002), Sudha et al. (2006), and Niwat and Kamol (2007). Growers are satisfied with the companies’ provision of advanced inputs and guaranteed prices because they do not have to invest their own cash or face market risks. Credits and loans are usually forgiven by the companies in case of crop failure through no fault of the growers, and some companies even give a small remuneration to the growers in order to encourage them to continue planting in future years, as also reported by Benziger (1996), Veerapong (1998), and Niwat and Kamol (2007). Nowadays, payment for the seed produced reaches the growers more quickly than it did in the past. Moreover, some companies provide support for community activities or festivals, as also reported by Niwat and Kamol (2007). Therefore, the current relations between growers and seed companies are very good, which contributes to sustaining the number of growers in various villages.

Nevertheless, some growers ceased their production due to discontent with the process of seed testing and delayed payments by seed companies. Similar problems are reported in Karnataka, India (Sudha et al. 2006), and Northeast Thailand (Niwat and Kamol 2007). Hence, some growers at the sites of Phang Khon, Phanna Nikhom, Mueang Sakon Nakhon, and Kut Chap switched to producing other kinds of vegetable seeds, such as bitter gourd, watermelon, and cantaloupe or fresh fruit such as watermelon and cantaloupe. These crops require a shorter cultivation time than tomatoes and yield a quicker income. In addition, after the harvest the growers have time to work as hired laborers in the tomato plots of other growers.


Production Process

In 28 sites, the key informants mentioned that the production process for hybrid tomato seed is complex and requires dedicated management, costly inputs, and intensive and highly skilled labor, and the growers need to perform some very tedious operations, especially emasculation and pollination. There are high risks from disease and insect damage, which makes the heavy application of chemical pesticides mandatory; that, in turn, adversely affects the growers’ health. Therefore, growers in some sites have changed to other crops. For example, the growers at the Don Tan, Chanuman, Si Chomphu, Kut Chap, Phang Khon, and Phanna Nikhom sites switched to producing other kinds of vegetable seed, such as pepper, eggplant, pumpkin, watermelon, and cantaloupe, which are easier to pollinate than tomatoes. Some growers at the Yang Talat and Phang Khon sites (in an irrigated area) changed to growing off-season rice, which requires less labor and agro-chemical use than dose hybrid tomato seed. The growers in rainfed areas such as the Mueang Khon Kaen, Ban Phai, Ban Fang, Nong Ruea, Nong Wua So, Sam Chai, Kham Muang, Non Sang, Na Klang, and Erawan sites switched to growing sugarcane due to its lower labor requirement.


Suitable Environment

The key informants in 26 sites indicated that a suitable environment was one of the reasons for continuous production. Hybrid tomato seed production fits into the cropping calendar as a second crop after rice at the start of the cool, dry season, which can limit disease and pest problems such as wilt disease, root-knot nematodes, and blossom end rot. They have sufficient water for small-scale irrigation, and the sandy loam soils guarantee good water drainage. Tay (2002), who studied hybrid tomato seed production in Taiwan, has a similar view about suitable conditions there.

Many key informants strongly believed that the spread of diseases and pests as well as seed yield were directly affected by climate variability. They observed that in the past, when the cool season was cooler, tomato plants flowered later, produced better fruit-set, had fewer diseases and pest problems, and gave a higher seed yield. In recent years, with a warmer cool season, tomato plants flower faster, have low fruit-set, and have more flower abscission; thus, pollination must be done quickly. Tomato plants require moderate temperatures (around 25°C in the day and 15°C at night). Too low a temperature results in a low seed set, and too high a temperature results in more flower abscission, low pollen production, and pest and disease problems (Tay 2002). In the 2012–13 crop year, this had high temperatures in the cool season, whiteflies and viral disease spread quickly, especially in irrigated sites in Sakon Nakhon Province. In the 2013–14 crop year, drought negatively affected hybrid tomato seed yield and seed quality in almost all sites in the rainfed area and caused most of the growers’ incomes to decline.

Although the cool, dry winter season in Northeast Thailand is suitable for hybrid tomato seed production because of fewer disease and pest problems (Rosset et al. 1999; Tay 2002), in many sites, for instance at Don Tan, Chanuman, Chonnabot, Ban Fang, Nam Phong, Si Chomphu, Nong Wua So, Kham Muang, Non Sang, and Na Klang, the tomato crop suffers from wilt disease, root-knot nematodes, and blossom end rot, which directly affect seed yield and quality. Companies promoted the grafted tomato seedling technique in order to prevent these problems, but wilt disease is still severe. The irrigated sites in Sakon Nakhon Province, where growers have continually produced the seeds for a long time, now suffer from water contamination and spread of diseases and pests through the irrigation water. Thus, the problem of diseases and pests is an important factor affecting growers’ decision making.


Tomato Cultivars

The key informants in 21 sites said that tomato cultivars were an important factor influencing the yield. Some cultivars are unsuitable for the site’s ecological conditions, not resistant to disease, have few flowers, easily suffer flower abscission, have small flowers that are difficult to pollinate, and produce poor fruit-set. Every year growers are assigned different cultivars by the seed companies. Such a practice brings about a greater risk when the companies introduce new cultivars, particularly when prior field testing is inadequate. Although the seed companies provide technical and extension services, the growers have to bear the risks (see Niwat and Kamol 2007).


Labor Supply

In 18 sites, the key informants noted that an adequate supply of skilled laborers, particularly during the pollination period, is an important determinant of continuity. Labor management strategies by the growers include making maximum use of family labor, giving advance cash credit to the hired laborers in their own and nearby villages, and employing their kin as hired exchange laborers (ibid.).

Nowadays, all of the production sites are faced with a limited supply of skilled labor. Aged growers no longer have the eyesight for pollination, while younger people prefer to engage in non-farm activities in the industrial and service sectors. A study in Khon Kaen Province found the same problem (ibid.). In addition, workers in Si Chomphu and Kut Chap refuse to do the pollination operation because of the offensive smell of flowers, sticky latex from the anthers, and long working hours (6 a.m.–6 p.m.). They are also afraid of the effects of agro-chemicals on their health. In addition, at the Mueang Khon Kaen, Ban Phai, Ban Fang, Nong Ruea, Nong Wua So, Sam Chai, and Kham Muang sites, the sugarcane harvest competes for labor with tomato pollination. Labor resource competition results in higher wages and hence a higher production cost. These are important factors that affect growers’ decisions on whether to decrease or cease hybrid tomato seed production.


Grower’s Personal Characteristics

The key informants in 14 sites stated that hybrid tomato seed production is complex and tedious and requires dedication; it needs workers with special skills and a willingness to do intensive labor, particularly for special operations such as caring for seedlings, emasculation, pollination, harvesting, and seed cleaning. A team of skillful growers is required, including many dedicated pollinators with good eyesight and manual dexterity. In addition, growers must conform to the seed companies’ designated tasks and strict schedules (Rosset et al. 1999; Tay 2002). Many growers, together with their spouses and children, work in the tomato plots for long hours—sometimes even during the night—to reduce the need for costly hired laborers. Accordingly, our key informants confirmed that growers who were successful in hybrid tomato seed production needed to be diligent, patient, disciplined, and honest, with excellent production and management skills. However, Rosset et al. (1999) report that some growers cannot meet these conditions, which leads them to stop production. Consequently, in the late 1990s, seed companies in Northeast Thailand experienced a general trend of 12 reduction per year in the number of hybrid tomato seed growers.


Advanced Technology

In 14 sites, the key informants believed that the availability of advanced labor-saving technology was one of the factors favoring continuation of hybrid tomato seed production. In the past, the production process was difficult and took a long time to complete. Nowadays, the tasks and the operation time have been reduced by the use of machines, including four-wheel tractors to prepare the land, chemical sprayers, irrigation with mechanical water pumps and drip irrigation systems, and wet seed extractors. Tomato plants’ high tolerance to wilt disease and high seed yield by grafted seedling technology have led to easier plot maintenance. The adoption of nets to cover the plots, plastic sheets to cover the surface of the plots, and some other equipment have made hybrid tomato seed production easier. Moreover, in rainfed areas groundwater can be drawn for irrigation using electrical, diesel, or gas water pumps.


Government Policy

In 13 sites, the key informants suggested that some growers ceased production due to government policy. For example, the rice-pledging scheme of the Thai government made it attractive for growers in the irrigated area to change to off-season rice because of the better price and lower labor demand of rice compared to hybrid tomato seed production. Many growers in rainfed areas switched to sugarcane cultivation after the government allowed more private sugar mills to be established near their sites. The policy of increasing the minimum wage to 300 baht per day, including for agricultural labor, had a great effect on the cost of hybrid tomato seed production.

Views of Staff of Seed Companies on Favorable Factors Influencing Hybrid Tomato Seed Production under Contract Farming in Northeast Thailand

Six staff of seed companies identified several favorable factors influencing the continuation of hybrid tomato seed production in Northeast Thailand. These include the grower’s personal characteristics (100), benefits gained by growers (66.7), advanced technology (66.7), suitable environment (66.7), good grower-company relations (50), adequate labor supply (16.7), adequate production processes (16.7), and high capability of company staff (16.7). The last includes selecting a suitable cultivar for the site, providing correct technical advice, and good planning and arrangement of grower farms. In addition, most staff also pointed out that growers were more important than having a suitable environment due to difficulties in recruiting new growers and expanding to new areas of production.


Hybrid tomato seed production under contract farming emerged in Northeast Thailand in the late 1970s. It was initiated by transnational seed companies that were searching for cheap and diligent labor, suitable ecological conditions, and high product quality. The numbers of growers rapidly increased in many villages, in both rainfed and irrigated areas, because this crop fits well into the rice-based cropping system, particularly in rainfed areas. More recently, however, the number of growers in many sites has started declining. Consequently, seed companies have either concentrated their operations in a limited number of villages or moved to new areas to open new sites where there may be suitable growers, an adequate skilled labor supply with low wages, and a suitable environment, especially in rainfed areas. Nowadays, growers are confined to only a few villages in many sites.

The benefits gained by growers as well as grower-company relations are important factors influencing growers’ decision to continue or discontinue production. Secondary factors include tedious work, suitable environment, kinds of tomato cultivars, labor supply, grower’s personal characteristics, advanced technology, and government policy. For their part, companies point to growers’ personal characteristics, particularly their skill, as important factors influencing continuation of production.

Hybrid tomato seed production in Northeast Thailand is sustainable, but the sites for production will continue to shift in certain areas while remaining stable in others. For example, in irrigated areas production declined due to the availability of alternative land uses (e.g., growing off-season rice, watermelon and cantaloupe, vegetables, and seeds of other kinds of vegetables) and contamination of plots by diseases and pests spread through the water in irrigation canals. In rainfed areas in Northeast Thailand production is likely to continue only in certain villages because of limited alternative sources of income and having a suitable environment, including fewer diseases and pests. Possible effects of climate variability were not included in this study but might force companies to introduce new cultivars, which might in turn lead to changes in the distribution of locations for hybrid tomato seed production.

Hybrid tomato seed production has evolved as part of the ongoing agrarian transformation of Northeast Thailand. Traditionally, rainfed rice farmers in the Northeast only cultivated a single crop of rice each year, which was mostly used for household consumption. During the dry season the paddy fields were left fallow. In recent years, however, farmers have felt a growing urgency to gain more cash income in order to have a decent living style, invest in agricultural activities, construct houses, take care of their children’s education, and repay loans. Hybrid tomato seed production under contract farming is one way that they can increase their income through agriculture intensification and specialization.

Accepted: January 19, 2017


This paper is based on the first author’s dissertation research in the Program on System Approaches in Agriculture, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University. The research was supported in part by a grant (BRG5680008) from the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) Basic Research Program to Prof. Terry Rambo, but the views expressed in this paper are not necessarily shared by TRF.


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