Fire politics on the frontier: a political ecology of swidden fire in Palawan's green economy
AffiliationSchool of Geography
Document TypeHonours thesis
Access StatusOnly available to University of Melbourne staff and students, login required
The role of fire in swidden agriculture is often overlooked in literature regarding rural livelihoods and agrarian change in Southeast Asia, despite being an integral component of swidden practice. This study aims to fill this gap by describing the varied economic and socio-cultural functions and values of swidden fire and its politically contested nature in forest governance in Palawan Island, the Philippines. Taking a political ecology approach, this study draws on a 'fire politics' framework with insights and methods informed by ethnoecology. In order to examine indigenous Pala'wan uses and perceptions of swidden fire, and the representation and politically contested nature of swidden fire in environmental governance, 23 key-informant interviews with Pala'wan farmers, non-government organisations and government representatives were conducted over three weeks in June 2017. The study found that swidden fire is intimately connected to swidden livelihoods, primarily by providing the most efficient and effective means to produce crops for subsistence. Farmers continue to burn, even as other swidden practices are adjusted in response to landscape change, influenced by green governance that spatially restricts land and pressures farmers to sedenterise agriculture. Other contextual features such as a history of criminalisation of swidden, disjunctures between top-level policies shaped by constructions of the 'kaingin (slash-and-burn) problem', and local policy implementation and understandings of kaingin and are examined. More material characteristics of fire are also considered in examining the persistence and conflicts over swidden and swidden fire. Overall, this study contributes to a growing body of literature on the political ecology of fire, and studies of swidden livelihoods and agrarian change. Such understandings are crucial in engaging broader views on the 'destructive' nature of swidden fire, inherent within global and sub-national interpretations of the 'green economy'.
Keywordsfire; agrarian change; political ecology; green economy; ethnoecology; Philippines
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