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Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL
News article

Agricultural commercialization in borderlands: Capturing the transformation of a tropical forest frontier through participatory mapping

Forest-frontier landscapes in the humid tropics display distinct land use change dynamics compared to other world regions, providing useful examples of current global environmental and development challenges. In northwestern Laos, part of the former Golden Triangle region, investments in value chains for commercial crops—mainly to fulfill Chinese market demands—have triggered various land use changes and put increasing pressure on remaining biodiverse forest areas. For this study a novel approach combining analysis of very high-resolution (VHR) satellite imagery with participatory mapping was applied. This enabled joint collection of annual land use information for the last 17 years together with local land users, shedding light on temporally dense land system dynamics. For decades, the government of Laos has sought to halt shifting cultivation, labeling it environmentally degrading, and to reduce poverty through promotion of permanent commodity-oriented commercial agriculture. Among other things, this gave rise to a boom in banana and rubber investments in Luang Namtha province in order to satisfy growing Chinese demand for these commodities. The present paper investigates the impact of these cash crop booms on land use transitions and whether they reduced pressure on forest-frontier areas, as ostensibly desired by government authorities

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