The Mekong Region has seen a large number of cross-border investment projects in the field of agriculture. In Lao PDR and Myanmar, the investors come from China, whereas Cambodia receives investments from Vietnam. There has been considerable research on the impacts of contract farming with Chinese companies, and rubber plantation investments. However, most of the studies so far have used the household as the basic unit of analysis, and do not attempt to differentiate its impact on women and men. Anecdotal evidence shows that women bear the socio-economic costs of transition to rubber production. Through gender analysis, we will be able to develop a holistic understanding of changes in livelihood following the development of rubber plantations. This research project will compare three countries: Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
The overall research question is: What is the gendered impact of cross-border rubber investment in each of the three countries (Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar) and how can inclusive investment policies be shaped? In order to answer this question, we conduct a gender analysis with special focus on three dimensions: people’s livelihood change, rubber plantation benefit-sharing mechanism, and cross border investment policy. Specifically, the study seeks to answer the following questions:
1. How and why has women and men’s access to farmland and forest products changed with the expansion of rubber plantations by foreign companies?
2. How and why do different types of benefit sharing models of rubber plan- tations shape women and men’s benefits from rubber plantations and their bargaining power vis-a-vis the companies?
3. How do the economic and trade policies of Laos/Myanmar/Cambodia with respect to their neighbouring countries shape the arrangement and management of rubber plantation in these countries?
In order to contribute to evidence-based inclusive investment and trade policy development, the research project aims to carry out a gender analysis on the impact of cross-border rubber investment in the three countries (Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar). With a focus on northern Laos, this research will also study the situation in Northeastern Cambodia and Northern Myanmar to compare the different approaches and arrangements under different socio-political frameworks. The overall development goal of this research project is to explore policies on cross-border agriculture investment that will protect the rights of small farmers, especially marginalized women farmers.
Specific objectives are to:
1. Analyze the impact of rubber plantation on small farmers’ livelihood options, gender roles and intra-household gender relations.
2. Compare how different investment and payment schemes, ethnicity and location, impact on livelihoods and gender relations.
3. Explore how and why such differences occur, and how investment and trade policies are shaping such terms of trade and gendered power relations at the grassroots level.
4. Investigate how the strategies and agencies of women and men farmers shape the way investments and payments by companies are implemented.
5. Strengthen policy recommendations that already exist on the issue of rubber plantation expansion, for a more specific and gender-sensitive investment policy.
Noting that the main focus of this study is to analyze the gendered effect of rubber investment, our methods consist of (1) Qualitative data mainly from semi-structured interviews, focus group discussion and in-depth interviews. This will enable us to understand the linkages of different factors that influence the outcome of rubber plantation investment. (2) Quantitative data through household survey would enable us to understand the extent of the change in terms of income generating activities, gender division of labor, and income.
Policy impacts expected
In the countries under the study, there is a policy to promote intensive investment in agriculture land through various plans and laws. The research project will refer to the principles of responsible agriculture investment that respects rights, livelihoods and resources, and the voluntary guidelines for the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security of FAO.
There are already a number of recommendations on these above issues made by NGOs and academics. The research project will not reinvent the wheel, but build on the existing recommendation and identifying the barriers in its implementation. The existing recommendations focus on technical and financial support for small farmers, strengthen producer groups, strengthen control by government, and foster corporate social responsibility (CSR) among investing companies.
The study will contribute to this by providing more context and concrete action that not only strengthens the negotiating power of small holders as a whole but also the visibility of women’s and men’s differential needs and negotiation power.
Gender and Development Studies, School of Environment, Resources and Development, Asian Institute of Technology
P.O.Box, Klong Luang, Pathumthani 12120, Thailand