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Publication | 25 March 2021

Impact of farming systems diversification on erosion and highland agroecosystem sustainability in Northern Thailand

An increasing population pressure, a rapid integration in the market economy, and new national environmental protection policies are fueling the transformations of former slash and bum systems towards semi-pennament, more intensive household-based farming units in northern 'Thailand montane agro-ecosystem. Understanding the causes, extent and consequences of such a rapid differentiation among highlanders is a pre-requisite to appropriate development-oriented research efforts in this highly heterogeneous ecosystem. Such efforts have to balance improvements in land and labor productivities with conservation of the natural resource base, and especially contribute to the limitation of soil erosion through alternative diverse and more sustainable farming systems. The paper analyzes the agro-ecological transformations caused by changes in prevailing socio-economic conditions in an Akha village of Chiang Rai province, now also targeted by a new reforestation scheme. A farming systems survey led to a diagrammatic synthesis of the diversity and functioning of whole family-based systems. They were classified into a farmer typology and plotted along evolution trajectories displaying their respective patterns of changes. A complementary field-level on-farm survey was carried out to rank the main cropping systems, accross different land form situations, for their respective susceptibility to soil erosion. The most critical types of farming systems, comprising important susbsistence upland rice and/or ginger cash crops sub-systems, were then targeted for future soil conservation measures. The integration of the farm and field levels information into GIS maps visualized the spatial distribution of the erosion risk at watershed level. This output was designed to facilitate a dialogue on reforestation between stakeholders. If guided by relevant policies, the current agricultural diversification process provides options for significant progress in both resource base conservation and improvement of farmers' living conditions.

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