Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

How Universal Is the Commodity Market? A Reflection on a Market Penetration and Local Responses in Timor-Leste

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

How Universal Is the Commodity Market? A Reflection on a Market Penetration and Local Responses in Timor-Leste

Article excerpt

I Introduction

Following the wave of globalization, agro-commodity markets in association with statecentered developmentalism have established their overwhelming salience in many rural mountainous areas of Southeast Asia over the last two decades.1) In present-day Timor-Leste, for example, agrarian commoditization has substantially formulated core components of policy recommendations for rural development in general and high-profile leases of state land for large-scale agribusiness operations in particular.2) Indeed, highly influential market penetration has recently drawn academic attention to many Southeast Asian countries, as had the process of state formation previously. "Commodity markets affect upland livelihoods, social relations, and landscapes just as state policies and projects do. We therefore surmise that research on upland transformations in Southeast Asia needs to look at markets and their effects in ways similar to research on state interventions" (Sikor and Vi 2005, 406). In formulating the precautions to be taken when studying "markets and their effects" in contemporary contexts, Sikor and Vi refer to two closely related points. The first is concerned with the imagery of market penetration, which downgrades upland farmers to mere recipients of commodity markets, or powerless victims of market penetration. The second is related to social access to commodity markets, which, similar to social access to state resources, differentiates "the uplands from the lowlands and social groups within the uplands" (ibid., 425). In other words, these points indicate that to restore the agency of upland farmers to form commodity markets, we must pay careful attention to farmers' deliberate initiatives against new opportunities and the various boundaries both within and outside their communities. These boundaries are variably interlaced with access to commodity markets, state resources, or a combination of both.3) In this context, Sikor and Vi highlight the agency of rural farmers in accepting and negotiating the formation of commodity markets. In fact, many scholars have seriously considered this problem of the lack of agency in the study of market penetration (for example, Li 2002; Fadzilah 2002; 2006). Consequently, the process of market formation is now seen as a heterogeneous process that combines local reactions with external stimuli (cf. Sikor and Vi 2005, 409). In their argument, however, the restoration of agency resides chiefly in the re-evaluated local reactions. Sikor and Vi chronologically describe Vietnamese farmers' changing involvement in the process of market formation, as they react to changing economic environments. For example, owing mainly to newly developed road networks, rural farmers in the late 1980s began to build a variety of connections with lowland traders who had begun to arrive in their villages:

Private traders started to arrive in the village from the lowlands in 1987, buying large amounts of soybeans and corn to satisfy lowland demands for animal feed. In response, villagers began to purchase agricultural products in neighbouring Thai villages and sell them to the truckers with a significant mark-up. A few also began to buy up vegetables from fellow villagers to sell on the district market. In addition, rising living standards also created opportunities for villagers to make money from processing agricultural products. (ibid., 412-413)

Although overall processes can be characterized as market penetration, the "real markets" involve very dynamic forms that may be called market creation or market expansion, reflecting rural farmers' diverse practices and strategies. At the same time, it is important to note that all these dynamic forms are categorized as reactions to "new opportunities arising from external stimuli" (ibid., 424). Accordingly, the cumulative results of farmers' practices and strategies unintentionally connected them with larger economic forces that are basically outside the purview of the farmers' agency. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.