Surviving cassava smallholder farmer strategies for coping with market volatility in Cambodia

Christophe GIRONDE

Cassava has become a ‘must have’ crop for many Cambodian smallholders; yet, the market is volatile and yields are uneven. Drawing on long-term fieldwork in Kampong Thom and Ratanakiri provinces, we analyse how farmers cope with volatility. We argue that multiple pathways have emerged: some farmers have ceased producing cassava; some have expanded production; while most farmers engage in ‘ambivalent repeasantisation’, striving to gain autonomy from market fluctuations through the survival work of everyday gendered labour, including investing family and community labour into cassava, shifting back to food crops, managing debt, and creating relationships with traders, while also imagining a life beyond cassava. Uneven fortunes with cassava contribute to land redistribution, deepening class, gender and ethnic divides. The case of smallholder cassava pathways in Cambodia shows us that agrarian transition is neither linear nor unidimensional, and dynamics of ‘depeasantisation’, ‘repeasantisation’, and ‘intensification’ through crop booms cannot be assumed a priori.