Mainstream analysis of contemporary livelihood transformations and rural development in the upland regions of Southeast Asia has hitherto focused primarily on the role of agricultural commercialization and cash crops. This is reflected in policy narratives that conflate the fortunes of rural households to the expansion of a particular kind of entrepreneurial agriculture. In this article, we problematize the dynamics of economic and social change in the little-studied uplands of Chin State, Myanmar, against this policy backdrop. Using the insights from original field research, we argue that in Chin it is misplaced to explain processes of upland rural change via a cash crops narrative that over-emphasizes the potential of commercial agriculture in household livelihoods in this region. Instead, the dynamics of rural development in Chin consist of a more diverse set of interconnections, reflecting the manifold ways in which Chin households are differentially inserted into local, regional and global social and economic processes. We illustrate this via an examination of the patchy emergence of a cash crop, elephant foot yam, vis-à-vis non-local livelihood formation and the organization of livelihood pathways around the maintenance of social and cultural practices, including swidden production.
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