Rice and fish are the food and soul of SE Asia, especially for Mekong people going back thousands of years. These staples provide food security and economic cushioning. They build relationships through production, local trade and exchanges. And their abundance enriches cultures and traditions, finding their way into lullabies, songs, proverbs and festivals.
With increasing economic integration, both regionally and globally, rice and fish are taking on new roles and importance. Growing trans boundary flows of investment capital, goods and services, are causing Mekong countries to experience rapid economic growth. This creates both opportunities and challenges to rice farmer- fishers, the majority of whom are smallholders. Commercially oriented agriculture production is likely to continue for rice and capture fisheries, thus remain critical to Mekong livelihoods, but under what conditions.
New markets have created new opportunities for farmers in different parts of the Mekong region. Regional pro-contract farming policy has emerged under the Ayeyawady-Chao Praya- Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) agreement and a number of trade agreements, encouraging private companies to operate cross border agribusiness via contract farming. The issue has become important to policy makers as polarizing debates have emerged on their merit and risks.
Sumernet is investigating the migration into this new economic space by farmers, fishers, traders in
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand amid new context increasingly complex institutional arrangement by the national policies that serve as incentive or non incentive for different production and land use under many far reaching trade agreement –both bilateral and multilateral. Sumernet's work also explores the informal and local cross-border trade facilitated and improved by new infrastructure. One Sumernet study entitles “Making economic integration work for rural farmers through contract farming” examines contract farming for rice in Myanmar and Cambodia, and sugar cane in Laos and Thailand. It investigates the economic and social risks and rewards as well as identifies pathways for effective intervention to minimize negative impacts. Another Sumernet study explores employment generation from fish trading in three Mekong countries: capture fisheries in Cambodia, associated fishing gear/net making along with fish brokers and intermediaries in Laos, and fish distributers to retailers and consumers in Thailand. This study argues that the value of Mekong fish is beyond previously published Mekong River Commission (MRC) figures, and generates extensive social benefits in rural employment generation. The study highlights the size of rural employment and the social and economic contributions made that have so far gone unaddressed by previous impact studies of alternative development. The study also raises questions relating to the social and environmental sustainability of these current development paths support by various regional agreements and the way they use regional resources (water and related assets).
Paper title: Rice and Fish in the Fast Lane: will smallholders, their livelihoods and culture be left behind?
- Ms Hap Navy, Deputy Director, Deputy Director, Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute (IFReDI), Cambodia
- Dr Aung Winston, Founder and Director of Research, Asia Development Research Institute, Myanmar
- Dr Hu Tao, Senior Environmental Economist, Policy Research Center of Ministry of Environmental Protection, China
- Dr Bach Tan Sinh, Director, Department of Science & Technology Human Resource Policy and Organization, National Institute for Science and Technology Policy and Strategic Studies, Ministry of Science and Technology, Viet Nam
- Moderator: Ms. Muanpong Juntopas, Senior Research Fellow, Stockholm Environment Institute, Asia Centre, Bangkok
For more information on the ICIRD conference http://www.icird.org/2012/