Cutting the Ground from under Them? Commercialization, Cultivation, and Conservation in Tonga


This paper draws together a number of social and environmental factors involved in the increasing commercialization of cultivation in Tonga.! It is based to some extent on my observations, but also relies heavily on the work of others. Most of the information I present is already available in published sources, but many of these are not in wide circulation, nor do they always make explicit the connections between social and environ-mental factors. Social scientists tend to dwell on the familiar tale of migra-tion and its consequences for people left behind, and make only brief allu-sions to the repercussions upon land use and agricultural practice (James I99I; Gailey I992). Agriculturalists, economists, geographers, ~nd soil sci-entists, on the other hand, have looked at changes in patterns of agro-forestry and the depletion of resources but make only passing references to the people who control and work the land. What is missing from both kinds of scholarly endeavor is any extended discussion of the relationship between the social factors and the patterns of environmental change. The sort of connection I have in mind may be illustrated by a common scenario in present-day Tonga: a customary land-holder moves to town or goes overseas to seek waged labor, leaving his plot of land, his 'api tukuhau or tax allotment. Other men who have no land try to use the absentee's allotment by formally leasing it or, much more commonly, by entering into informal arrangements that are insecure and brief. Both kinds of agreement can cost the user thousands of pa'anga (Tongan dollars).

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