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Accueil du site > Equipes de Recherche > Dynamiques foncières dans le district de Sing, province de Luang Namtha, RDP du Laos > Findings


In Laos, all resettlement is directly or indirectly affected by the government policy. Our field interviews in four sub-districts, showed that the main reasons for migration were war and epidemics and more recently access to development services. In the early 1990s, international organisations began to assist development of rural infrastructures, which attracted upland villagers to areas near the main roads, often located in lower elevation. In addition, to integrate upland minority ethnic groups into mainstream Lao culture and rural development, the government encouraged small and scattered villages to merge into one administrative unit. Furthermore, the government’s policy to stop shifting cultivation was also prioritised in Sing district and also campaigns to stop opium production largely affected the upland land use control in Sing district, especially between 2003 and 2005.

Demographic changes and patterns of land use

This exodus of upland population to the lowland areas which occurred in the last five years was also facilitated by increased cash crop production and economic opportunities in the lowland areas which had begun in the mid 80s as the government of Laos shifted from centrally planned to market economy. Opening of the regional border further facilitated commercial agricultural production in Sing district during the early 1990s as trans-border trade flourished. New crop varieties were introduced from China, which included high yielding non-glutinous rice, maize, sugarcane and other vegetables. Chinese merchants and investors also provided capital and technical support to farmers through contract farming, which further promoted expansion of cash crop production particularly in the lowland areas. This increased cash crop production in the lowland areas began to attract more people from the upland.

Spatial analysis was conducted using a series of satellite images between 1973 and 2004. Out of the total district area of 142,957 ha, changes in forest and non-forest land use was assessed for 79,494 ha (56%). Forest area declined from 50 to 30 % of total area calculated between 1973 and 2004. One cause of this change is forest fire, due to local people’s hunting practice.

Agricultural production in Sing district increased in the last five years. Notable increase can be observed on few key crops including lowland rice, sugarcane, maize and other vegetable products. The increase in production was accompanied by expansion of paddy rice field from 3,652 ha to 5,444 ha (49 percent). While irrigated field remains low at 3 percent of the total area for rain-fed paddy field, the dry-season paddy field is often used after the rice harvest to cultivate vegetables including chillies, watermelon, pumpkin, garlic, cucumber and so forth. In the meantime, production patterns in the upland are also changing. The area under shifting cultivation has declined by 67 % between 1999 and 2004. We observe increased conversion of swidden and fallow lands to permanent agriculture, particularly in the areas of gradual slopes. The majority of the farmers cultivates sugarcane, maize and banana on contract basis, and exports the products to China. Rubber is among the newest boom crop in Sing district. Its expansion in the last few years owes significantly to the self-investment, and farmer-farmer investment, which differs from other upland cash crops such as sugarcane, maize and banana.

Household agricultural production

Our in-depth household surveys in seven upland and lowland villages of different ethnic origin aimed to understand the differences in household agricultural production, and their use of land, capital and other inputs. In all three sub-districts, farmers are involved in a variety of agricultural production other than paddy and swidden rice. For instance, in Xiengkheng and Xay sub-districts, farmers trade cattle and buffalo to Thailand, China and Burma, while in Mom sub-districts farmer trade large livestock to China as well as domestic market in Sing district. However, many farmers in the lowland area stopped raising large livestock due to declining areas for grazing and increased incidences of theft. Instead, farmers in the lowland villages raise pigs and domestic fowl for income. On the other hand, in Akha villages such as Eula and Lomeu, in Mom sub-district, we observe a high degree of commercialisation of agricultural production namely sugarcane and rubber. While sugarcane is cultivated on contract basis with sugarcane processing factory based in Meng Peng in China, rubber was mostly self-financed by the farmers.

During the interview, we learnt that several households started to plant rubber by the farmers’ own initiative. These were farmers that had visited their relatives in China, and observed how they accumulated wealth first-hand. An increasing numbers of farmers are becoming involved in agricultural trade. Not only do they collect and sell rice produced in their own village, but also collect a variety of agricultural products from other local farmers in Sing district and sell them through their relatives in China, who come to pick up the products regularly in their village. These farmer-traders play a significant role in facilitating the trans-border agricultural trade, as they do not have to pay business and export taxes. In addition, trade of non-timber forest products is also an important part of rural livelihood system in this area. Key products include peuak meuak and cardamom, which are sold to traders from China.

Though the road network has improved in the last few years, the use of Mekong River continues to be the dominant trade route and while cash crop production in these upland villages remains limited, it does not mean that farmers are isolated and cut off from the market. Expansion of rubber will inevitably change household agricultural production and livelihood basis in the next decade to come.

Increased investment in rubber in recent years has increased the demand for cheap agricultural labour. In particular, there is a seasonally high labour demands for sugarcane during the harvest season and for rubber during the land preparation and planting. The shortage of labour is currently met by the use of upland Akha and Chinese labour. It is often the upland Akha people that have resettled in new villages that are becoming dependent on agricultural wage labour as they do not have access to land.