Smallholder farmers research theme

Research theme

The transformation of smallholder activity systems and their integration within agricultural commodities value chains

The economic transformation of Cambodia and of other countries of the Mekong region is usually seen as a movement away from agriculture towards the urban-based service and industry sectors. Yet the development of these countries is accompanied by unprecedented agrarian changes.

Agricultural intensification or expansion into uplands regions, global investment, increased commercialisation, and the export of agricultural commodities have become central to the evolution of production processes and value chains. Conventional policies addressing these developments recommend that smallholder farmers who cannot respond to the demands of modern agricultural should move to other sectors. However, smallholder farming is proving persistent and resilient and small farmers have been diversifying their livelihoods.

To understand these contradictions, I examine changes in local rural contexts within the transformations of land use, labour regimes and market dynamics at regional, national or sub-national levels. Three inter-related agrarian changes are the focus:

  • The production and reproduction strategies and trajectories of smallholder farmers through an agrarian differentiation lens. The analyses identify access to land and agricultural assets with multiple labour practices such as self-employed farm and non-farm occupations, local wage activities, or job migration
  • Adaptation to environmental changes and technical innovations. Particular interest is paid to agro-ecological innovations that help to promote sustainable and resilient farming practices
  • The insertion of smallholder farmers into agricultural value chains. I examine the benefits, risks, and impacts resulting from different investments, market configurations and contractual arrangements. I am also interested in value chains involving commodities with a high agro-ecological value, i.e., the financial and institutional conditions under which these value chains emerge and flourish as well as the institutional contexts that limit their development.