Rethinking agrarian transition in Southeast Asia through rice farming in Thailand

TitleRethinking agrarian transition in Southeast Asia through rice farming in Thailand
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsPromkhambut A, Yokying P, Woods K, Fisher M, Yong MLi, Manorom K, Baird IG, Fox J
Secondary TitleWorld Development
Key themesAgriculturalModernization, Distribution, Environment, MigrationLabour, Policy-law

This paper contributes to new understandings of agrarian transition for smallholder rice farming in Southeast Asia through quantitative data analysis from Thailand's two main rice growing regions. Despite economic modernization models predicting a farm-size transition of smallholder agriculture to large-scale commercial farms with the onset of industrialization and urban employment opportunities, we find rice farmers continue to persist and defy anticipated trends, but not uniformly. We conducted a comprehensive survey in 2019 with rice farming households in twelve provinces in Thailand's Central Plains and the Northeast on how a host of dynamic farming variables have changed from 2000 to 2019. Rather than the concentration of smallholder rice farms into large commercial farms, we find that the size of smallholder rice farms has remained remarkably consistent across study sites. Our comparative data analysis advances an interrelated set of key explanatory variables that go beyond land size to explicate the variegated nature of agrarian transition: access to resources, household farm labor, farm inputs, agrarian finance, and government support. Our study demonstrates the need for taking into consideration (sub-)regional specificity of material conditions and multi-scaled forces, as well as geographical proximity to advantageous factors, in shaping variegated trajectories of agrarian transition. Smallholder rice farmers and rice production is not about to significantly decline in either region of Thailand nor the rest of Southeast Asia, at least for the next several decades, but will increasingly be defined by changing demographics, growing environmental and climatic challenges, and consolidating global rice production supply chains.


Available for download


Regional, Thailand

Document Type

Journal Article