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Open Access The Modern Origins of Traditional Agriculture

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The Modern Origins of Traditional Agriculture

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Colonial Policy, Swidden Development, and Environmental Degradation in Eastern Timor

The origin of swidden systems is typically portrayed as a pre-colonial, pre-nationalist, and pre-developmentalist tradition, subsequently interrupted and eroded by colonial exploitation and post-colonial technoscience in favour of market agriculture. A recent counter-position to this ‘anteriority model’ presents swidden systems as reactionary ‘refuge agriculture’ in search of remote locations to circumvent state accountability (Scott 2009). A third model traces swidden agricultural processes as a ‘dual economy’ of both subsistence and commodity production. This article examines these approaches through a study of maize and rice in eastern (Portuguese) Timor, where a particular type of environmentally damaging swidden system and colonialism have been shown to be co-emergent. Accommodating new archival data and adding detail to the established position on Timor’s agricultural history, it is proposed that the early twentieth century was an important phase in the extension and dominance of maize in Portuguese Timor; and while far-reaching modification to rice cultivation is generally associated with the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, it is shown that the early twentieth century was also a major developmental period for this grain. It is further suggested that dynamics of agricultural change have differed across the colonial divide between Portuguese and Dutch Timor. The article calls for more comparative research on the divided island of Timor.

Affiliations: 1: Australian National University, Canberra chris.shepherd@anu.edu.au ; 2: The University of Melbourne lrpalmer@unimelb.edu.au

10.1163/22134379-17102005
/content/journals/10.1163/22134379-17102005
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The origin of swidden systems is typically portrayed as a pre-colonial, pre-nationalist, and pre-developmentalist tradition, subsequently interrupted and eroded by colonial exploitation and post-colonial technoscience in favour of market agriculture. A recent counter-position to this ‘anteriority model’ presents swidden systems as reactionary ‘refuge agriculture’ in search of remote locations to circumvent state accountability (Scott 2009). A third model traces swidden agricultural processes as a ‘dual economy’ of both subsistence and commodity production. This article examines these approaches through a study of maize and rice in eastern (Portuguese) Timor, where a particular type of environmentally damaging swidden system and colonialism have been shown to be co-emergent. Accommodating new archival data and adding detail to the established position on Timor’s agricultural history, it is proposed that the early twentieth century was an important phase in the extension and dominance of maize in Portuguese Timor; and while far-reaching modification to rice cultivation is generally associated with the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, it is shown that the early twentieth century was also a major developmental period for this grain. It is further suggested that dynamics of agricultural change have differed across the colonial divide between Portuguese and Dutch Timor. The article calls for more comparative research on the divided island of Timor.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22134379-17102005
2015-01-01
2017-11-19

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