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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Changing land use and children's health in Mae Chaem, northern Thailand Candler, Craig Thomas


Based on oral histories of agriculture and health in the Mae Chaem valley, northern Thailand, this work documents changing child health and medical practice since the 1950's and explores possible connections with increasing pesticide use. The research shows how local knowledge can help us understand relationships between changing technology, ecology, and human health. Parents and farmers in the Mae Chaem valley of Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand, live at the intersection of multiple local and global streams of land use and child health biotechnology. Based on systematically collected autobiographical oral histories from parents and farmers, as well as interviews and participant observation with land use and child health experts the study considers the relationships between child health and land use change, and particularly the rise of pesticide intensive cash cropping, since the late 1950’s. Introductory chapters on theory and methods precede a description of the ethnographic context. Case studies illustrating parent and farmer histories of child health and land use change spanning fifty years are provided. Seven streams of biotechnical expertise are identified, and mini-ethnographies are provided for each including domestic, Buddhist, Muang, spirit, market, national, and Christian. These seven streams are analyzed using actor-network theory (ANT) with relationships to particular notions of ontology, cosmology, and ecology. Results demonstrate the ongoing importance of parents and farmers as decision making agents at the intersection of multiple and competing cultural and biotechnical streams, even where they face efforts by large multinational corporations or other agencies to advertise, constrain and monopolize local biotechnical choice. Within the fifty year time period under consideration, the oral histories describe particular child health and land use trends. These locally perceived trends provide challenging perspectives on the relationship between ‘development’ and child health in Thailand. While children die far less often now than in the past, oral histories suggest that both children and fields now suffer from more kinds of illness, and more often, than before. In particular, both qualitative and more quantitative analysis suggests differences in the experience of child health among pesticide and non-pesticide using households.

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