Quote: Margaret Slocomb on the role of agriculture in the Cambodian economy

I was planning on writing up a short review and recommendation on Peg LeVine’s book Love and dread in Cambodia: weddings, births, and ritual harm under the Khmer Rouge today.  But then I finally got to a point in my writing where I picked up another book, Margaret Slocomb’s An economic history of Cambodia in the twentieth century, and at the end of it was this wonderful, refreshing quote:

As the following chapters will demonstrate, agriculture, which has always been the main occupation of the people and the mainstay of the state surplus, has consistently failed to fulfill its potential as the designated catalyst for the sort of economic development that Cambodia’s modernisers envisaged. It is equally true, however, that after each catastrophe that befell the nation, it was traditional agriculture that revived the national economy and salvaged the people’s livelihood. (p. 29)

Yes, yes, and again yes:  the role of agriculture as a foundation for economy, culture, politics, and ritual imagination, has never been genuinely appreciated in Cambodian studies (or indeed among Cambodian ideologues).

Sounding Sociology and Food on July 8 2011

I’ve regularly been bowled over and had socks knocked off by the wonderful wonderful sociological blog “Understanding Society.” Really, you should all subscribe to this blog, which makes complex, and current, sociology comprehensible, while explaining its relevance (I also like “Philosophy Bros,” but that’s a different matter).  Here are some of the posts which have entranced me most recently:

Dude, was “Marx an analytical sociologist?” 1. Microfoundations 2. Rational Individual Choices 3. Causal Explanations.  Could be.

Dissecting the social,” more on current analytical sociology.

Thank gods there are also “Alternatives to analytical sociology.”

As for Food Stuff, there are new confirmations of what we’ve known for a long time, all of which have come to me via the excellent blog “Ancient Foods” and the “Agrobiodiversity Weblog.”

There’s a fascinating note that the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s relied on manipulation of the same gene that ancient domesticating farmers manipulated over 10,000 years ago.  “Ancient Farmers Started the First Green Revolution.”

And of course, agriculture played havoc with our population’s overall health, something we’ve known for a very long time (though few enough of us seem to remember it, day to day). in the Science Daily, (via Ancient Foods), “Dawn of Agriculture took Toll on Health,” including this opening paragraph:

When populations around the globe started turning to agriculture around 10,000 years ago, regardless of their locations and type of crops, a similar trend occurred: The height and health of the people declined.

For you rice fanatics, there’s increasing evidence that rice seems to have had a single origin point of domestication (the Neolithic Yangtze River Valley), and not separate points of domestication.  Southeast Asian patriots may moan about this (there is another theory which argues for a local domestication), but I’m thrilled to know more. Check out the Rice Domestication Roundup at agrobiodiversity weblog.

Sounding Cambodia on July 8th 2011

Howdy, readers.  I’ve been in the great Cascade Mountains of Washington State, and far from the internet.  But I’m back now, working on my manuscript (yes, really), and trying to keep households and students from imploding (sort of).  While I was gone, a lot of important things happened.  Here are some of them!

Over at Slate magazine, Ken Silverstein does an excellent job skewering the self-serving culture of the NGO elites who rule Cambodian in tandem (and not a friendly one) with the CPP.  It won’t be news to anyone who’s ever lived in the ‘Bodge, but it’s a good refresher.  Go read.

Meanwhile, the Closing Order from the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC, aka the Khmer Rouge Tribunal) has been released, and the media are starting to talk about Brother Number Two, Nuon Chea, again. Here’s an article in the Guardian from the  redoubtable Thet Sambath, the Cambodian journalist responsible for the most important film on the Khmer Rouge made, Enemies of the People.  Enemies of the People is available on DVD now – buy it, watch it. Learn.  As a different article said, it’s like watching a documentary on the Nazi Genocides narrated by the bad guys.

Also, there was a fascinating, important election in Thailand, which could have enormous implications (hopefully and likely positive ones) for Cambodia.  We’ll see, but the upshot is that Thailand just elected its first female Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and the army has indicated that it will respect the results.

Also, important economic news out of Cambodia.  Rice exports quadrupled, which is good for business, but should make Cambodian nationals nervous, since food security is getter worse every year. Cambodia experienced a 6.5% rise in food prices over the last year. Food security analysts point out that other countries have experienced 20% rises, and call that stable.  Tell that to the peasants. If they’re interested in eating meat, prices are at least double the rise of general food increases:

In the first six months of 2011, beef has increased some 12.07 percent to 26,000 riel a kilogramme, smoked fish has seen a 22.63 percent increase to 16,800 riel, and pork has climbed 25.37 percent to 21,800 riel on Phnom Penh markets, the Commerce Ministry’s daily report on Friday showed.

As for the manufacturing sector, the Garment Manufacturer’s Association of Cambodia (GMAC) predicts a thirty percent rise in exports this year, while the anti-union draft law is receiving unified opposition from the unions.  Meanwhile, primitive accumulation proceeds apace, with the cruelty in evidence, for example, in the repeated destruction of the shelters of already-evicted villagers from the notorious Dey Krahom collective.

Sounding Cambodia for June 6 2011

The end of the semester got away from me folks, which means that today’s Sounding Cambodia will consist of a lot of links, videos, and topics, with minimal commentary. Lots of important stuff in there, though.  Go read!

  • Sand mountains during Khmer New Year (Video)
  • Cash pledges from politicians – exactly what is going on?
  • Violence against Cambodian Labor by the government
  • Interviews with Rich Garella of Who Killed Chea Vichea?
  • Nuon Chea and Cases 002 and 003 in the Extraordinary Chambers/Khmer Rouge Tribunal
  • Would you like some Borax with your Cambodian food?  Formalin? You’re welcome.
  • Tiny Toones NGO – “Hey Babe” video.
  • Cambodian Rice Exports to the Philippines
  • Judy Ledgerwood’s awesome Summer ethnography school in Cambodia
  • Damned Dams and their impacts on damned-near everything; an article in Critical Asian Studies by Ian Baird
  • Book Review of Constance Wilson’s edited volume on the Middle Mekong River Basin
  • Thai Politics – an election primer from Duncan McCargo
Click through to see the actual content Continue reading

SOUNDING on Cambodia for August 31, 2010

The US continues to expel long-term legal residents (from Cambodia, and elsewhere), for crimes that were misdemeanors when they were committed, but reclassified as felonies after the fact.  Even as felonies, these young men and the occasional woman have almost no memory or connection to contemporary Cambodia, and have an immensely difficult time reacclimating.  One of the great success stories has been Tiny Toones (warning: auto-start music soundtrack), but the deportations are inhumane, serve the US population not at all, and are a waste of time and money. From the Phnom Penh Post.

As always, Rice production (‘farming’), processing (‘milling’), marketing (‘selling’ and ‘buying’), and exports (‘leaving’) is an issue of continually underexamined importance outside of Cambodia. Here is the full text of PM Hun Sen’s recent address about a new policy document on Rice farming and leaving in Cambodia.  I link here to the “Hun Sen Blog,” without further comment.

And “Igor Prawn” of the SEA-focused blog “BANG!” has been writing a few short book reviews lately, which I appreciate in my quest for non-academic fare to consume about Cambodia and Southeast Asia.

SOUNDING on Cambodia, July 2, 2010

So many things have been going on since I took an extended vacation from blogging, but here are some of the Cambodian stories I’ve been following and wondering about:

Sounding on Archaeology for June 21, 2010

There’s been some pretty crazy-great archeological news out there.  Some of the stuff I starred to point out specifically, recently, were these: