Understanding the oil palm change in Nong Khai Province: the farmers perspectives and the policy processes of the oil palm plantations
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Since 2005, the Thai government has, as a matter of policy, been seeking to increase production of biodiesel from oil palms. As a result, the number of oil palm plantations in the Northeast region has been growing, particularly in Nong Khai province. Nong Khai is a relatively remote, predominantly agricultural area and is the field site for this research. However, oil palm production is a complex and hotly contested issue both globally and in Thailand and it has ardent critics and supporters. For example, expanding oil palm production could, on the one hand, contribute to deforestation and a range of social problems that threaten traditional livelihoods, whilst on the other hand it could offer a source of renewable energy, alleviate poverty, and lead to a higher standard of living for farmers. The ultimate purpose of this study is to understand the changeover to oil palm production, specifically in the Thai context, through the development and application of a distinctive analytical approach. This approach is a synthesis of: the eight elements of farmers’ decision-making (Ohlmer et al., 1998), the IDS Knowledge, Technology, and Society (KNOTS) team’s framework on policy processes (Keeley and Scoones, 1999; 2001; 2003; KNOTS, 2006). This analytical approach is used to investigate factors influencing farmers’ decisions to take up oil palm cultivation, and the rationale behind the government’s oil palm policy and how it is implemented in the Northeast Thailand. Approximately nine months were spent carrying out the research in three selected villages in Nong Khai province, using qualitative methods including semi-structured interviews, purposive sampling and snowballing techniques. The results show that economic security is an important factor for farmers in deciding to change over to oil palm cultivation. However, it has emerged that what farmers really want is to achieve a comfortable lifestyle and to live in the same locality as their children, which implies urban to rural migration. Other critical factors are characteristic of oil palm cultivation, such as long life-span and short harvesting period, governmental projects supporting oil palm production, the roles of inspirational local leaders and large-scale oil palm producers, the price of oil palm fruits, the links between farmers and local buyers, and the experiences of oil palm growers in the southern region of Thailand, as well as the low productivity and high production costs involved in rice cultivation, and the success of rubber plantations. The findings also suggest that the oil palm policy processes in Nong Khai province do not have policy space for farmers to participate in the networks, or to design the oil palm policy that directly affects them. The policy was made in top-down in which the government only transferred oil palm knowledge through seminars and trainings. There were also issues concerning inequality amongst farmers and how that affects participation in the oil palm projects. Indeed, the OPPSP favours rich farmers, as they need a significant amount of capital to prepare for and maintain oil palm crops. Implementation of a ‘farmer-first’ approach is recommended in order to push the policy forward to serve resource-poor farmers properly. New behaviours and attitudes must be encouraged in most of the professionals encountered in this research.
CitationSethaputra, Kampree (2014) Understanding the oil palm change in Nong Khai Province: the farmers perspectives and the policy processes of the oil palm plantations. Masters thesis, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.
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- IDS PhD Theses