Contract farming and organic rice production in Laos : a transformation analysis

University essay from Södertörns högskola/Institutionen för samhällsvetenskaper


As in many least developed countries the farmers in Laos are heavily dependent on subsistence based agriculture production for their livelihood. A key for increased welfare for the rural population inLaosis to increase their profits of small scale farmers and generate a higher income per capita. One possible way to increase the profits and income for smallholder farmers may be to convert in to organic rice production for the export market, since the international market for organic rice is growing, consumers are prepared to pay a premium prise for organic products and conditions for organic rice production are favourable in Laos.

Organic rice farming has grown in Laos during the last decade as greater volumes of organic rice are produced and exported. Organic rice is mainly produced by smallholders in donor projects or by contract farmers supplying contract farming companies.

In this thesis I try to determine the causes behind this structural transformation by incorporating evolutionary economic theory (Schumpeter, 1911; Dahmén, 1950 and Marmefelt, 1998) which focuses on entrepreneurial innovations and creditors as the basis for changes in the economy. By performing a Dahménian transformation analysis of the transition from conventional- to organic rice production within the development block around rice production in Laos, I try to determine the transformation pressure causing the transformation to take place. Emphasis is in particular given to the role of contract farming in this process. I investigate to what extent the contract farming firm can be regarded as a Schumpeterian banker, a concept introduced by Marmefelt (1998), that can coordinate the development block around rice production by providing credits to the entrepreneurs within the development block.

The analysis shows that two types of transformation pressures are likely to have caused the farmers to convert to organic rice production. First of all it is likely that the relatively higher price paid for organic rice (42 percent higher than conventional rice) has convinced farmers to make the transition. This type of transformation pressure can be seen as a market pull type, as it originates from an increased demand in the international market, which in turn increases the relative price for the product. The analysis further shows that a production method innovation had taken place by the introduction of new inputs, made available by the contract farming firm. This has led to an increased productivity which, combined with the premium price, generated higher profits for the organic contract farmers. The production method innovation can be seen as a market push type of transformation pressure originating from the supply side.

In this thesis I argue that it is unlikely that the transformation would have occurred without the involvement of the contract farming firm. On their own, farmers did neither have the means to grow the organic rice, nor the proper market channels to process and sell the organic rice on the international market. I argue that the contract farming firm’s ability to facilitate price signal information from the international market to farmers, provide access to the new market thru market links, and provide credits for new inputs as well as technical assistance essentially made the transition to organic rice possible.

However the analysis also shows that the contract farming firm had a limited ability to fulfil its role as a coordinator in the evolvement of the organic rice production, in terms of a Schumpeterian banker, because of limited abilities to solve bottlenecks in the value chain. The reason for this is mainly limited financial resources to finance complementary investments in other parts of the development block.

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