In the context of neoliberal financialization, what is the role of debt in agrarian change? To address this question, I combine insights about debt from rural political ecology and development finance scholarship in order to analyze the relationship between changing agroecological practices and household indebtedness in a Cambodian rice- farming village.
In the past two decades, Cambodians have borrowed from commercial microfinance institutions at the highest rate per capita of any country in the world. With fewer Cambodians farming, and agricultural production increasingly commodified, researchers have begun to study how the fast growth of Cambodia’s microfinance industry contributes to these changes. By building upon the concept of financial landscapes, which highlights the diversity of social and material relations of debt in rural economies, I argue that agrarian change in Cambodia is entangled with rising household debts used to fund both agricultural production and social reproduction. I describe how non-monetary debt obligations underpinned labor-intensive rice agricultural practices in the 1980s and early 1990s, but have since been replaced by monetary debt used to fund household basic needs and commodified agricultural production. To make my argument, I draw upon 20 months of ethnographic research within a farming village in Kampot Province. This article contributes to rural political ecology and development finance scholarship by exploring debt in its diverse material and social forms at a time of deepening financialization, and how these debt relations in turn shape the economic and agroecological contours of contemporary agrarian change.
Green, W. Nathan. 2020. “Financial Landscapes of Agrarian Change in Cambodia.” Geoforum. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2020.02.001