Local agency in development, market and forest conservation interventions in Lao PDR’s northern uplands

Robert Cole, Maria Brockhaus, Grace Yee Wong, Moira Moeliono, Maarit Helena Kallio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Themes of inclusion, empowerment, and participation are recurrent in development discourse and interventions, implying enablement of agency on the part of communities and individuals to inform and influence how policies that affect them are enacted. This article aims to contribute to debates on participation in rural development and environmental conservation, by applying a structure-agency lens to examine experiences of marginal farm households in three distinct systems of resource allocation in Lao PDR’s northern uplands—in other words, three institutional or (in)formal structures. These comprise livelihood development and poverty reduction projects, maize contract farming, and a national protected area. Drawing on qualitative data from focus group discussions and household surveys, the article
explores the degree to which farmers may shape their engagement with the different
systems, and ways in which agency may be enabled or disabled by this engagement. Our findings show that although some development interventions provide consultative channels for expressing needs, these are often within limited options set from afar. The market-based maize system, while in some ways agency-enabling, also entailed narrow choices and heavy dependence on external actors. The direct regulation of the protected area system meanwhile risked separating policy decisions from existing local knowledge. Our analytical approach moves beyond notions of agency commonly focused on decision-making and/or resistance, and instead revisits the structure-agency dichotomy to build a nuanced understanding of people’s lived experiences of interventions. This allows for fresh perspectives on the everyday enablement or disablement of agency, aiming to support policy that is better grounded in local realities.
Keywords: agency, participation, rural development, forests, conservation, Lao PDR
Original languageEnglish
JournalSouth East Asian Studies
ISSN0563-8682
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Cite this

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title = "Local agency in development, market and forest conservation interventions in Lao PDR’s northern uplands",
abstract = "Themes of inclusion, empowerment, and participation are recurrent in development discourse and interventions, implying enablement of agency on the part of communities and individuals to inform and influence how policies that affect them are enacted. This article aims to contribute to debates on participation in rural development and environmental conservation, by applying a structure-agency lens to examine experiences of marginal farm households in three distinct systems of resource allocation in Lao PDR’s northern uplands—in other words, three institutional or (in)formal structures. These comprise livelihood development and poverty reduction projects, maize contract farming, and a national protected area. Drawing on qualitative data from focus group discussions and household surveys, the articleexplores the degree to which farmers may shape their engagement with the differentsystems, and ways in which agency may be enabled or disabled by this engagement. Our findings show that although some development interventions provide consultative channels for expressing needs, these are often within limited options set from afar. The market-based maize system, while in some ways agency-enabling, also entailed narrow choices and heavy dependence on external actors. The direct regulation of the protected area system meanwhile risked separating policy decisions from existing local knowledge. Our analytical approach moves beyond notions of agency commonly focused on decision-making and/or resistance, and instead revisits the structure-agency dichotomy to build a nuanced understanding of people’s lived experiences of interventions. This allows for fresh perspectives on the everyday enablement or disablement of agency, aiming to support policy that is better grounded in local realities. Keywords: agency, participation, rural development, forests, conservation, Lao PDR",
author = "Robert Cole and Maria Brockhaus and Wong, {Grace Yee} and Moira Moeliono and Kallio, {Maarit Helena}",
year = "2019",
month = "8",
language = "English",
journal = "South East Asian Studies",
issn = "0563-8682",
publisher = "Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University",

}

Local agency in development, market and forest conservation interventions in Lao PDR’s northern uplands. / Cole, Robert; Brockhaus, Maria; Wong, Grace Yee; Moeliono, Moira; Kallio, Maarit Helena.

In: South East Asian Studies, 08.2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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AU - Kallio, Maarit Helena

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AB - Themes of inclusion, empowerment, and participation are recurrent in development discourse and interventions, implying enablement of agency on the part of communities and individuals to inform and influence how policies that affect them are enacted. This article aims to contribute to debates on participation in rural development and environmental conservation, by applying a structure-agency lens to examine experiences of marginal farm households in three distinct systems of resource allocation in Lao PDR’s northern uplands—in other words, three institutional or (in)formal structures. These comprise livelihood development and poverty reduction projects, maize contract farming, and a national protected area. Drawing on qualitative data from focus group discussions and household surveys, the articleexplores the degree to which farmers may shape their engagement with the differentsystems, and ways in which agency may be enabled or disabled by this engagement. Our findings show that although some development interventions provide consultative channels for expressing needs, these are often within limited options set from afar. The market-based maize system, while in some ways agency-enabling, also entailed narrow choices and heavy dependence on external actors. The direct regulation of the protected area system meanwhile risked separating policy decisions from existing local knowledge. Our analytical approach moves beyond notions of agency commonly focused on decision-making and/or resistance, and instead revisits the structure-agency dichotomy to build a nuanced understanding of people’s lived experiences of interventions. This allows for fresh perspectives on the everyday enablement or disablement of agency, aiming to support policy that is better grounded in local realities. Keywords: agency, participation, rural development, forests, conservation, Lao PDR

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