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Forest Creators, Forest Destroyers: Akha Land Use in Xishuangbanna

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Sturgeon, Janet
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/680
Sector: Forestry
Region: East Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
forest management
land tenure and use
indigenous institutions
traditional resource management
forest policy
Abstract: "Forest policies in the uplands of Xishuangbanna have designated areas of state forest, as well as allocating collective forests to villages, and plots of freehold forest and shifting cultivation fields to ethnic minority households. State property rights and land use regulations have sought to settle villagers, control their use of trees, and maintain village forests as subsistence resources. Meanwhile other kinds of policies have steadily encouraged greater market participation through commoditization of agricultural products and NTFPs. "Akha villagers, who have managed these forests for centuries, demonstrate an understanding of the plasticity of the landscape in responding both to forest policies and to market opportunities. Akha farmers may be simultaneously regenerating new forests on old pastures, turning swiddens into wet rice fields, mining tin in old wet rice areas, and burning contiguous swiddens to become new pastures. While state administrators view these shifts in land use as 'backward' and 'uncontrolled,' ethnographic research shows that new land uses reveal both familiarity with ecosystems as well as strategies to claim resources in local access conflicts. Some changes, such as opening wet rice fields in shifting cultivation land, turn fallows into permanent, annually-used sites of production. Other shifts, such as burning swiddens for pasture, actually change informal access rights from household to collective. Akha villagers both destroy and create forests, responding to the 'socialist market economy' in ways that confound state property designations and rework the meaning of 'development' in the mountains."

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