Upland agricultural systems are rapidly transitioning from traditional shifting cultivation to more commercialized agriculture, i.e. annual cash crop cultivation – a trend widely observed in the uplands of Northern Lao P.D.R. and with consequences to household livelihood strategies at the village-level. The main objective of this study was to compare village and household socioeconomic standings of two upland agricultural systems varying in degree of commercialization in Northern Lao P.D.R.: i) Navene, a village with a relatively recent introduction (2010) of the cash crop, fodder maize, where it is cultivated extensively with no added external inputs or mechanization and ii) Ko Ngiaw, where cultivation was introduced in 2004 and fodder maize is now successively cultivated on ploughed upland fields with herbicide application. Participatory mapping, household surveys (during planting and harvesting), farmer activity books and ranking exercises were conducted to collect data on village and household resources, crop production (upland rice, paddy rice and maize), labour productivity (maize) and general perspectives on commercial agriculture. We show both infrastructure development and accessibility (market access, support and services) are important underlying drivers of the commercialization of agriculture in upland areas. This leads to a transition of upland livelihoods towards market–orientation, with implications to household demographics, socioeconomic standings and income portfolios. Results capture how market integration progressively decouples livelihood strategies from the ‘land’ exposing households to market volatilizations, indebtedness and socio-cultural losses. Food security is no longer perceived from a ‘producer's’ standpoint but from a ‘consumer's’ as commercialized upland households are more dependent on markets for their food supply. We conclude that proper services, support and access to i.e. markets or non-farm employment in conjunction with infrastructure development should be prioritized if upland households are to transition towards commercialized agriculture equally and with minimal risk to their livelihood security.