More farmers, less farming? Understanding the truncated agrarian transition in Thailand

Jonathan Rigg*, Albert Salamanca, Monchai Phongsiri, Mattara Sripun

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing on rural field research in three provinces of Northeast Thailand, the paper seeks to understand the ways in which life course, generational, era-defining and developmental change intersect, and why rural smallholders and smallholdings continue to persist notwithstanding deep structural change. We outline the creative ways that households and their members have sought to address the scissor effects of declining land holdings, rising needs, reduced relative returns to agriculture, and often precarious non-farm work. We posit, drawing on this work from Thailand, that while Asia's ‘truncated agrarian transition’ goes some way to explaining the current empirical fact of persistent smallholders, we raise doubts whether the rural development agenda of modernisation, marketisation and rural exit will have the traction that governments and some scholars anticipate. A focus on production obscures how rural livelihoods also embody acts of consumption, care, reproduction and redistribution. Our study finds that the current experience of occupational multiplicity where households’ livelihoods comprise farm and non-farm, commoditised and quasi-subsistence, in situ and ex situ, production and care, and reproduction and redistribution will likely also persist, if non-farm occupations remains classically precarious and social safety nets thinly woven. The paper contributes to debates over agrarian and rural livelihood transitions in Asia, and sheds explanatory light on why the farm-size transition has not taken hold.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-337
Number of pages11
JournalWorld Development
Early online date5 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • Agrarian transition
  • Asia
  • Precarity
  • Rural development
  • Smallholders
  • Thailand


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