Market Gardening as a Livelihood Strategy: a Case Study of Rural-Urban Migrants in Kapit, Sarawak, Malaysia
This research investigates the role market gardening plays in the livelihood strategies of rural-urban migrants. It contributes to the literature on market gardening, livelihood strategies and migration by positioning market gardening as a highly flexible and adaptable mechanism for managing the rural-urban transition among households with few labour alternatives. Such perspective elevates market gardening from simply being a land use category to being an active instrument in the management of rural-urban migration processes. The expanding urban centre of Kapit, Sarawak, Malaysia is used as a case study of a rapidly expanding small town in a predominantly rural domain. Market gardening emerges as an important source of income for both individuals and households as rural-urban migrants negotiate the transition between farming and urban settlement. Many rural-urban migrants adopt market gardening or associated market selling as their first employment in urban centres. First generation migrants often have low off-farm skills which limit their ability to take on alternative occupations. While a rise in market gardening activity is enabled by a growth in demand for fresh vegetables, in the context of Sarawak it is also heavily influenced by the involvement of the state that actively encourages participation, provides advice to farmers and offers subsidies. The expansion of roads from rural to urban areas also plays an important role in improving market gardeners access to urban markets, as well as their access to material inputs. At the same time, increased access has heightened competition by attracting new entrants to urban vegetable markets. Interviews with 10 sellers and 30 market gardeners from Kapit were conducted in 2004. In contrast to market gardening in larger centres documented in the literature, this small isolated town case identifies market gardeners as typically middle-aged, rural-urban migrant women with limited education and employment skills other than subsistence farming. Market gardening and associated selling is adopted because they are unable to acquire alternative employment to support their household and children’s education. As such, market gardening in the urban setting is a logical extension of the woman’s role as the primary farmer in rural areas.