Agrosilvopastoral Systems in Northern Thailand and Northern Laos: Minority Peoples’ Knowledge versus Government Policy
: Traditional agrosilvopastoral systems have been an important component of the farming systems and livelihoods of thousands of ethnic minority people in the uplands of Mainland Southeast Asia. Drawing on a combination of qualitative and participatory inquiries in nine ethnic minority communities, this study emphasizes the complex articulation of local farmers’ knowledge which has been so far excluded from governmental development and conservation policies in the northern uplands of Thailand and Laos. Qualitative analysis of local knowledge systems is performed using the Agroecological Knowledge Toolkit (AKT5) software. Results show that ethnic minorities in the two countries perceive large ruminants to be a highly positive component of local forest agro-ecosystems due to their contribution to nutrient cycling, forest fire control, water retention, and leaf-litter dispersal. The knowledge and perceptions of agrosilvopastoral farmers are then contrasted with the remarkably different forestry policy frameworks of the two countries. We find that the knowledge and diversity of practices exercised by ethnic minority groups contrasts with the current simplified and negative image that government officials tend to construct of agrosilvopastoral systems. We conclude that local knowledge of forest-livestock systems can offer alternative or complementary explanations on ecological cause-and-effect relationships which may need further scientific investigation and validation.