This research explores the role that farmers' concerns about health and community autonomy play in the emergence of an organic agriculture movement in the village of Mae Ta in northern Thailand. In the midst of the push for export-oriented and urban-centered development, many rural people have migrated to urban areas for work or adopted contract farming of chemical-intensive cash crops. Yet farmers in Mae Ta chose a unique alternative: sufficiency-based organic polyculture. Why take on such a risk without solid policy and market support for organic agriculture in Thailand? I investigated these questions through six weeks of participant observation and 19 interviews with organic and conventional farmers and community members. I found that health concerns were among the most significant proximate causes of farmers' transitions to organic farming, but these concerns were not isolated to physiological effects of chemical application: they were tied to issues of food sovereignty and stress due to constrained autonomy. This research draws on Paul Farmer's theory of structural violence and health, as well as current debates revisiting and redefining the peasantry. Mae Ta farmers' decisions to convert to organic polyculture can be seen as a response to the impact of economic restructuring on the health of rural communities.


Mariola, Matthew


Sociology and Anthropology


Medicine and Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology


agrarian change, thailand, structural violence, autonomy, occupational health

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis Exemplar



© Copyright 2013 Erin Jean Plews-Ogan