Rural Roads Are Paving the Way for Land-Use Intensification in the Uplands of Laos

TitleRural Roads Are Paving the Way for Land-Use Intensification in the Uplands of Laos
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsCastella J-C
Secondary TitleLand
Key themesAgriculturalModernization, Conversion-FoodSecurity, Environment

Road expansion has played a prominent role in the agrarian transition that marked the integration of swidden-based farming systems into the market economy in Southeast Asia. Rural roads deeply altered the landscape and livelihood structures by allowing the penetration of boom crops such as hybrid maize in remote territories. In this article, we investigate the impact of rural road developments on livelihoods in northern Laos through a longitudinal study conducted over a period of 15 years in a forest frontier. We studied adaptive management strategies of local stakeholders through the combination of individual surveys, focus group discussions, participatory mapping and remote-sensing approaches. The study revealed the short-term benefits of the maize feeder roads on poverty alleviation and rural development, but also the negative long-term effects on agroecosystem health and agricultural productivity related to unsustainable land use. Lessons learnt about the mechanisms of agricultural intensification helped understanding the constraints faced by external interventions promoting sustainable land management practices. When negotiated by local communities for their own interest, roads may provide livelihood-enhancing opportunities through access to external resources, rather than undermining them.


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Journal Article