Você está na página 1de 20

Asia Pacific Viewpoint, Vol. 42, No.

2/3, August/December 2001

ISSN: 1360-7456, pp305–324

Agricultural intensification in Indonesia:

outside pressures and indigenous strategies
Lesley Potter

Abstract: Extremely high population densities conventionally

demand a preliminary look at intensification in Java, in both lowland
and upland agriculture. However, the major focus of this paper is on
intensification processes under more moderate population pressure on
the islands outside Java. Government initiatives during the Suharto
era often constrained land use decisions at local level. Of particular
importance were restrictive forest classifications and intrusion by
outside companies into the lands of indigenous groups. Timber
plantations and oil palm estates occupied large areas, thus forcing
intensification of swidden agriculture. Elaboration of this concept of
`forced intensification' examines the impacts on local systems and
notes indigenous responses of compliance or resistance. The pro-
cesses of independent intensification have revolved around the move
from dryland swidden to managed agroforest, sometimes with accom-
panying wet rice. Government slowness in recognising agroforests,
plus the commodity export boom during the economic crisis, have
tended to favour monocultures over more complex systems. Recent
price declines, exposing monoculture vulnerability, are encouraging a
return to mixed tree crops. A final section examines intensification in
response to a niche market, as a tourism industry which values the
pseudo-cultural images evoked by indigenous roof thatch has induced
intensive management of Imperata grass in Bali and Lombok.

Keywords: agricultural intensification, Indonesia, forced intensifi-

cation, upland agriculture, oil palm, agroforests

The large and complex nation of Indonesia displays wide variability in both
indigenous agriculture and population densities, a result both of its physical
resource base and its historical and cultural evolution. Crowded Java may be
considered a ‘special case’ because of its extraordinarily high rural densities.
Parts of the Javanese uplands present an ideal laboratory for testing Boserup’s

Author: Lesley Potter, Department of Geographical and Environmental Studies, The

University of Adelaide, South Australia, 5005, Australia. E-mail:

ß Victoria University of Wellington, 2001. Published by Blackwell Publishers, 108 Cowley Road,
Oxford, OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3

theory over historical time, especially local adoption of new technologies and
new livelihood strategies as numbers increased (Nibbering, 1991). However,
this paper concentrates on ‘Outer Indonesia’, with lower densities and more
extensive and diverse systems. It examines the impact of centralised
government policy during the Suharto period, imposed in uniform fashion to
control land and forest resources and induce agricultural change.
From about 1970 a succession of policies opened the moist forests to logging
concessions, followed by pulpwood and later oil palm plantations, while drier
areas experienced compulsory reforestation. Rural populations found themselves
facing competition for their land or forced to occupy a smaller area. They were
pressured to move away from swidden, and sometimes had no alternative but to
comply. To combat these pressures and retain their land they adopted strategies of
intensification, planting wet rice or tree crops as markets became more accessible.
Such changes were sometimes (but not always) accompanied by population
increase. While local numbers grew, more important were the introductions of
displaced or resettled populations who competed with residents for scarcer
resources. Some ‘intensification’ was more apparent than real, some ‘cash crops’
previously despised weeds. This paper presents a series of field-based case studies
to illustrate these trends. The behaviour of these rural smallholders is far from
that of the simplified Boserupian model. Neither does it conform to one of the
salient characteristics identified by Netting (1993), as many are now completely
market-oriented, preferring to purchase food rather than secure their own
subsistence. Yet undoubtedly most now operate under what Stone (this volume)
has defined as ‘Rising ‘‘Population pressure on resources’’ (PPR) within a
constrained area’. The Boserup model may thus still be a useful starting point for
reflecting on the transformations which have occurred.


The most striking characteristic of Indonesia’s population of about 206 million
people is its uneven distribution, with over half of the total being found on the
small island of Java, at a density around 950/ sq km. Though dependence on
agriculture1 has declined among the employed population, being only thirty per
cent in West Java as against 44 per cent in East Java, total numbers still
approach twenty million (BPS, 1999). Urban and industrial developments have
been engulfing agricultural land at a rapid rate, especially flat land suitable for
wet rice production. It is therefore obvious that if high-intensity agricultural
systems are to be found in Indonesia, then Java will provide examples of such
systems (see Photo 1). The widespread induced adoption of Green Revolution
technologies since the early 1970s has, on balance, led to increased food
security and livelihood sustainability2. However, work done in West Java 14
years ago indicated that the limits of intensification of the wet rice systems had
about been reached (Hardjono, 1987). Yields have since stabilised and further
extension of irrigation systems is unlikely. There remain concerns over
vulnerability of the genetically limited strains to pest attack, and the impact of
chemicals, both fertilisers and pesticides, on local ecosystems.3

306 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001

August/December 2001 Agricultural intensification in Indonesia

Photo: Lesley Potter

Photo 1. Irrigated rice production in West Java exhibits high intensity

More interesting and varied are the different forms of upland agriculture,
where comparative neglect by government has allowed more scope for
individual and communal decision-making to adapt to changes in conditions.
Such systems demonstrate varying levels of success in innovation in response
to perceived pressures, and varying sustainability (Palte, 1989). One of the
most interesting is in the Gunung Kidul region of Yogyakarta, classified as the
most overpopulated in Java and Bali in relation to land capability (Whitten et
al, 1996). Nibbering’s detailed account of change in vegetation, population and
farming techniques in the Thousand Hills (Gunung Sewu), the most difficult
limestone karst section of Gunung Kidul, is a classic analysis of innovation and
intensification (Nibbering, 1991, 1997). Growing population pressure through
150 years resulted in environmental deterioration, especially replacement of
woodlands by Imperata cylindrica grass and extensive soil erosion.
People’s responses over time have included: terracing; introduction of cattle
to control the grass and provide manure; crop change from rice to cassava;
replacement of fallowing by permanent cropping; replacement of ploughs by
hoes as the ground became more stony; planting of fodder trees for then stall-
fed cattle and large scale out-migration. Most recently there has been more tree
planting, of fast-growing exotics for fuelwood and teak as a ‘bank’ for the
future (Filius, 1997). Population growth rates are now low, and although
erosion continues, it has become a minor problem.

ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001 307

Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3

Beyond Java and Bali is ‘Outer’ Indonesia, in many respects a different

country (Figure 1). Straddling the equator, it covers 47 degrees of longitude,
stretching from the compact and more central territories of Sumatra and
Kalimantan, through heavily indented Sulawesi and the smaller island groups
in the east, to Irian Jaya, part of the large land mass of New Guinea.
Agricultural systems are predominantly rice-based, except in Maluku and
Irian Jaya, where sago and root crops become important, and in parts of upland
East Nusa Tenggara, where maize is the staple. While wet rice sawah are
prominent in those lowlands or upland valleys where water control may be
secured, Green Revolution-type intensification, especially with double or triple
cropping, is very limited. Even where irrigation is possible, less labour-intensive
activities, such as rubber tapping, will often be preferred to a second rice crop
(Potter, 1993). Many lowland coasts, especially in Sumatra, Kalimantan and
Irian, are peat swamps where production of any kind requires special
techniques. Indigenous farmers have developed ways of coping with such
areas, through use of ephemeral swamp rice systems, sometimes called ‘wet’
shifting cultivation or paya, or through labour-intensive construction of canals
for permanent occupation, with tree crops such as coconut or citrus. These
canals fit Brookfield’s description of ‘landesque capital’ (Brookfield, 1984).
Throughout the hilly or upland areas, dry swidden systems may still be
found, though these are declining, especially in Sumatra. Dependence on
agriculture4 is highest in Irian Jaya (over 74 per cent of the employed
population in 1999), but East Nusa Tenggara (68 per cent), Bengkulu
(Sumatra) (65 per cent) and West Kalimantan (63 per cent) also show high
levels (BPS, 1999). While Dutch interests during the colonial period were
focused firmly on Java, during the nineteenth century parts of upland West
Sumatra were forced to participate in compulsory coffee deliveries, while the
east coast plantation belt, near modern Medan, became a foreign enclave,
producing tobacco, later rubber and oil palm. Even earlier was the involvement
of Maluku in the spice trade, while pepper was grown for export in Aceh and
South Kalimantan.
The most important exotic tree to become established in late colonial times,
largely in western Indonesia, was rubber (Hevea brasiliensis). This tree
gradually became incorporated into peasant and swidden farming systems
between 1910 and 1940. Dove has noted the easy symbiosis between the labour
requirements of swidden agriculture and rubber tapping, concluding that the
two are highly complementary and ‘A sustainable adaptation to the ecology
and economy of the tropical forest’ (Dove, 1993: 136). Smallholder rubber
‘agroforests’, characterised by a large range of species and a structure more
resembling secondary forests than plantations, produce 76 per cent of
Indonesia’s rubber (Ditjenbun, 1998). Many holdings are now old and tree
productivity is low: intensifying production by replanting with improved
materials is a continuing challenge (Gouyon et al, 1993; Joshi et al, 2001).
All districts had for millennia been engaged in the collection of a variety of
forest products, both animal and vegetable, and it was these products, rather
than timber, which formed the most important basis for trade. Trees and palms

308 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001

August/December 2001 Agricultural intensification in Indonesia
Figure 1. Map of Indonesia showing locations mentioned in the text
ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001 309
Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3

with valuable fruits, nuts, resins and rattans became domesticated in house
gardens and planted in swidden fallows. For example in West Kalimantan, the
trees producing illipe nut (tengkawang, Shorea sp.), damar resin (other Shorea
sp.), gaharu (Aquilaria sp.) and gutta percha (Palaquium sp.), were all
domesticated by indigenous cultivators (Schuitemaker 1933a,b; Ozinga, 1940).
Exploitation of the dipterocarp timbers, which formed their richest stands in
Kalimantan and Sumatra, had barely begun before the Suharto era.5


Following the passage of the Basic Forestry Law in 1967, all lands in Outer
Indonesia except those under permanent cultivation6 came under the control of
the Forestry Department. This Law was followed by the establishment of
private logging concessions in most districts, especially those favoured for
timber extraction, such as coastal East Kalimantan.7 The concessionaires with
their logging roads, tractors, trucks, camps and log ponds, gradually penetrated
the most remote districts.
The Forestry Department and its regulations had an increasing impact on
traditional agricultural systems following the implementation of the Agreed
Forest Land-use Classification (TGHK8), by the mid-1980s. Under this
arrangement, areas of settlement (existing or proposed) were termed
‘conversion forest’. Permanent clearing for agriculture was permissible there,
including clearing for transmigration settlements. Many migrants from Java
and Bali were introduced, especially to Sumatra and Kalimantan, during the
1970s and 1980s. These settlements were located on land resumed from local
people. ‘Production forests’ and ‘limited production forests’ (with physical
limitations) included those areas being actively logged. Agriculture was
banned from those areas, although existing indigenous settlements and farms
were grudgingly permitted to remain. Various kinds of ‘protection forest’,
‘nature reserve’, or ‘national park’ formed the final category, where human
activity was expected to be limited or absent. As a result of decisions fixing the
boundaries of these zones, many villagers found themselves in areas of
production forest, or even protection forest or national park, in which the
normal activities accompanying swidden farming were frowned upon or
Government authorities were strongly opposed to swidden agriculture, in the
early 1990s beginning a scheme called ‘HPH Bina Desa’ (literally ‘forest
concession developed villages’), in which logging companies were given the
job of reorienting villages on their concessions from swidden to permanent
farming, preferably through construction of wet rice fields, or tree-cropping.
Money was made available for fertiliser and hoes were provided. The loggers
were not interested in or qualified to assist such compulsory intensification,
their participation being perfunctory at best. Where efforts were made, the
result could be a highly dependent population, expecting continued ‘handouts’
of fertiliser and other inputs (Potter, 1992).

310 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001

August/December 2001 Agricultural intensification in Indonesia


The withdrawal of the loggers from many concessions after initial ‘creaming’
of the forests led to the preferred replacement of the natural regrowth with
plantations of exotic species, such as Acacia mangium. In the higher rainfall
districts the government sought to encourage expansion of pulp and paper
industries through development of these fast-growing trees. The trees were
supposed to be planted on parts of the production forests which had become
degraded. Non-forest areas, such as grasslands and scrub, including
regenerating swidden fallows, were especially targeted for the establishment
of these industrial forests or HTI (Hutan Tamanan Industri). In the drier
districts, the species used were slower growing but more valuable, such as teak
and mahogany, the purpose being reforestation with eventual sale of the
timber. These policies have resulted in permanent alienation and conversion of
forest land to planted monocultures, with serious and long-term impacts on
resident populations. In areas scheduled for HTI planting, villagers have been
pressured to give up land (to which they generally have customary rights only)
or have been compulsorily re-located.
When oil palm began its expansion after 1990, competition for land became
more intense. The crop diffused quickly from its original centre in North
Sumatra, to nearby Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra and to West Kalimantan,
but it is predicted to have an increased role in other districts. Already
considerable amounts of land have been promised or licensed in Central and
East Kalimantan and in Irian.
The oil palm companies were initially government-run and operated on a
smallholder tree-crop model (Perkebunan Inti Rakyat, PIR), resuming five
hectares from local farmers, of which half would be planted with oil palm
and returned to the farmer, the other half worked by the company as part of a
plantation.10 The company provided access to a factory, as fruit must be
processed within 24 hours of cutting. Private establishments soon entered the
field, including some of Indonesia’s largest cartels. While some simply hired
labour and provided no smallholder facilities, others used a variant of the
PIR schemes, PIR-Trans, in which 7.5 hectares of farmers’ land were
resumed: locals continued to get 2.5 hectares, a transmigrant family would
receive another 2.5 hectares and the estate the third share. A later model,
known as ‘PIR kemitraan’, merely specified that some kind of ‘partnership’
be secured with local people (Potter and Lee, 1998a). A logical extension of
this scheme, being tried on a large scale in Riau province, Sumatra, consists
of individual plantings by local smallholders organised into co-operatives.
Though free from estate supervision in planting and harvesting the crop, they
must still rely on estate factories for processing, at times a risky arrange-
In order to acquire land for their expansion, the oil palm companies worked
with the provincial authorities. They targeted both ‘conversion forest’, much of
which is already settled and farmed, and those parts of the ‘production forest’

ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001 311

Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3

in which HTI had failed or been abandoned. Such areas may be released to
conversion forest if it can be proved that the natural forest is already degraded.
The provincial governor must apply to the Minister of Forestry to have the land
reclassified.12 There is considerable evidence that the fires in 1997–98 resulted
partly from land clearing by oil palm and HTI companies, and partly from
intentional degrading by burning off other areas, including production forest
and peat swamps. Not even national parks were exempt (Potter and Lee,
1998b). Government forestry companies (Inhutani), which had taken over
former forest concessions to set up tree plantations on the land, now have
permission to plant 30 per cent of that land in oil palm, further relaxing the
boundaries of the production forest. Areas of traditional agriculture, especially
swidden fallows but also smallholder rubber and intensively farmed mixed
gardens, have been placed under considerable pressure by these activities.
Some oil palm companies hired outsiders to burn village gardens in areas
where they wanted control of the land (Goenner, 1998).


Industrial forest (HTI)

In Fatuleu sub-district, West Timor, HTI planting of Gmelina arborea,
mahogany and teak began over the uplands in 1987, part of a total proposed
area for West Timor of more than 300 000 ha. While some village
populations of Timorese still remained in the uplands, their numbers had
been reduced by compulsory resettlement into lowland villages. This
occurred between 1967 and 1985, to facilitate earlier attempts at
reforestation and erosion control. Further resettlement took place in 1988
as a result of HTI activities. Coastal villages around Kupang Bay included
upland areas as part of their territories – areas that had been used for both
swidden farming and grazing. Although there seems little doubt that
degradation was occurring, authorities blamed swidden farmers rather than
cattle, which were grazed extensively through the area.13
All upland farmers produce subsistence crops of maize and hill rice on their
fenced farms, together with vegetables. In recent years, the introduced weed
Chromolaena odorata has spread widely, being often the first emergent in
fallows, shading out Imperata and other grasses. This weed, with its huge
biomass, has improved soil structure and fertility, enabling farmers to reduce
fallow periods without yield declines.
A study of two upland villages in Fatuleu district discovered that they had
lost 61 per cent and 77 per cent respectively of their land to the HTI, run by
state forestry company Perum Perhutani (Mann, 1999). Villagers had been
intimidated into accepting the presence of the company after hearing stories of
arrests and imprisonment of those who had resisted (Pellokila, 1997).14 In
1994–95 village people were working as labourers for the company in clearing
and tree planting. Cropping was allowed only where trees had failed, and no
grazing was permitted until trees were established. Access to water sources in

312 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001

August/December 2001 Agricultural intensification in Indonesia

local springs had also been cut off. Coastal villagers protested and were able to
reduce company encroachment, but still lost territory. These villages possessed
wet rice land, so were not as badly off, they were barred from working for the
company because of their protests. They had to accommodate more resettled
people in addition to losing land. Consequently, they were working their wet
rice fields more intensively, while eliminating swiddening from their mix of
livelihood strategies (Mann, 1999). Resettled populations were intensively
working their lowland house gardens, planting fruit trees to make up for the
agroforests lost around their mountain springs. However, population densities
were highest in the upland villages, quadrupling in one village from 50 to 200/
sq km on the land remaining after the trees were planted. Those villagers have
been unable to adjust their farming systems to accommodate such a massive
loss of land and other resources, and they may be forced to leave the area.

Oil palm
Although officials have been enthusiastic about this crop and its supposed
wealth-generating opportunities for smallholders, a study in West
Kalimantan of the early state-run schemes, which were the most generous
in their provisions for locals, discovered widespread dissatisfaction with
incomes actually earned (Potter and Lee, 1998a). Yields seemed to have
declined prematurely, although theoretically at their peak with 15-year-old
trees. At the same time, costs of inputs had risen dramatically, especially
fertiliser, which farmers had to buy from the company. The payment they
received for their fruit, however, had not changed. Smallholders still had
other land to which they could direct resources: in West Kalimantan they
redirected some of their compulsory fertiliser purchase and more of their
time towards food crops; in Jambi (Sumatra) it was common to divide
labour, with women continuing to tap rubber while the men worked the oil
palm. However, if all the land scheduled to be turned over to oil palm is
actually developed, then the land market will become very tight, and rubber
smallholders will be pressurised into either selling out or intensifying their
production. Land prices escalated in Batanghari district, Jambi, from Rp1000
per hectare pre-oil palm to Rp300 000 per hectare in November 1997 (Potter
and Lee, 1998a).
The impact of the crisis and recent low prices for crude palm oil have
subsequently slowed oil palm development, with several Indonesian
conglomerates becoming technically bankrupt (Casson, 2000). Despite
attempts by smallholders to take back their land, where they claim to have
been pressured unfairly or to have received inadequate compensation, in
general the large estates have been protected by the security forces. Takeovers
of the assets of failed companies by Malaysian conglomerates have been taking
place15, and there is every sign that ‘oil palm fever’ (demam sawit),16 with all
its associated pressures, is set to resume and continue.

ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001 313

Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3


`Owned trees on the land'

In his 1984 paper, ‘Intensification revisited’, Brookfield noted that the
presence of owned trees on the land restricted mobility and encouraged farmers
to adopt a range of innovations to maintain the productivity of a particular site.
The same arguments are used by government officials encouraging the
expansion of tree crops among swidden farmers. Swidden farmers themselves
will often plant trees to strengthen their claims to land, where they see
themselves threatened with encroachment. Dove (1993) found rubber trees
most important in establishing tenure in West Kalimantan; this appears to hold
true also in Riau, Sumatra (Angelsen, 1995). Farmers in the Riam Kiwa (South
Kalimantan) planted coffee and candlenut when the arrival of a pulp plantation
threatened their swidden lands (Potter, 1997). Tree planting may be part of a
complex process of establishing claims to extend into the future, and of
contesting government boundaries (Peluso, 1996) or it may result from inter-
sibling rivalry for privatisation and control over land within the household
(Mayer, 1996). Whatever its motivations, planting trees on swidden fallows is
part of a process of intensification and sedentarisation. Either the trees
themselves become the most important component (Peluso, 1996) or the trees
form part of a total landscape manipulated by the community as a means of
resisting outside pressure (Mayer, 1996). Before exploring these ideas in more
detail, let us examine the situation in part of Sulawesi, which in recent years
has experienced a smallholder-led boom in cocoa (Jamal and Pomp, 1993;
Akiyama and Nishio, 1997).

Cocoa in Sulawesi
Li and Mamar (1991) in their study of the Tinombo region of Central Sulawesi,
describe a district in which isolation and a lack of desired timber species
enabled indigenous people to pursue their agricultural strategies undisturbed by
either logging companies or officials. Nevertheless, information about
important innovations did reach the district. It occupies three ecological
zones: the coast, the middle hills and the inner hills. From 1987, hundreds of
thousands of cocoa trees were planted by small farmers in the middle hills.
This region, supporting an Islamic population of around 35/ sq km, was quite
heavily farmed, normally raising two corn crops per year together with hill
rice, shallots, peanuts and cassava. Soils were infertile and eroding, slopes 20–
30 degrees. Many fallows were for two to three years only, with a succession to
grass or light bush. Although population was not increasing and out-migration
had occurred from some villages, the slow decline of productivity after up to
ninety years of use induced farmers to innovate. Two innovations tried were
planting shallots as a cash crop and ‘living fences’ to protect crops from wild
pigs.17 Both required capital outlays, so not all could adopt them. Intensity of
land use was partly determined by inequality of access, so that families with

314 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001

August/December 2001 Agricultural intensification in Indonesia

insufficient land were forced to use it more intensively, sometimes

recultivating poor and stony land after only one year, or using even steeper
Cocoa was seized upon eagerly as a further, urgently needed, innovation.
Farmers had no previous experience with tree crops, but in 1990 they rapidly and
enthusiastically moved to this new form of production, although no extension
advice or planting materials were provided. The cocoa trees were planted over the
entire plot, thus foreclosing alternative uses of the land. For those farmers with
several plots, this strategy was one of diversification, but land-short farmers were
displacing themselves from food production. Land borrowing by the poor to
cultivate food crops, traditionally a resource-sharing strategy, was becoming
more difficult as land was perceived as more valuable. The eventual development
of true landlessness was predicted for the middle hills.
In the inner hills the people were from the same ethnic group, but being non-
Islamic, they used the wild pig as a valued resource and did not need to fence.
Secondary forest was farmed on a two to three year crop, five to ten year fallow
rotation, with taro as the staple, together with cassava and corn. Garlic and
shallot were sometimes grown for sale on separate plots. Population densities
reached 75/ sq km, yet the area had remained more forested than the middle
hills, as cultural and agricultural practices were directed towards forest
maintenance. The regenerating forest was a source of income from extracted
rattan, cinnamon and candlenut.
When the study was carried out in 1990, officials on the coast were seeking
the right to establish large-scale cocoa plantations in the inner hills. There was
a perception that much unused land existed, but it was classed as state land18 so
permission to clear it was needed. These officials had never visited the area and
knew nothing of the agricultural system, which was dismissed as valueless. A
new road to improve access was under construction. The fact that plantation
establishment would mean displacement of the people (despised as primitive
and backward), was not understood.
This case study illustrates some of the problems which an innovation of this
kind can bring, when coming rapidly into populations unprepared for it. It is
interesting that some farmers seemed ready to chance everything on the new
crop, even food security. This is not the kind of behaviour which one might
expect of careful peasants, unwilling and unable to take risks! It contradicts
one of the universal characteristics of smallholders identified by Netting
During the height of the economic crisis in 1998, the weak rupiah and high
world commodity prices produced a further boom in cocoa, as well as in other
export commodities such as coffee and pepper (Potter, 2000). For a few months
farmers made big profits, forests were felled by spontaneous migrants and large
new areas put under cocoa monocultures. However, one study concluded that
the migrants, arriving with more resources, benefited more from the windfall
prices than poorer locals (Angelsen and Resosudarmo, 1999). Two years later,
prices have returned to normal and disease has appeared in inadequately tended
gardens (Branford-Bowd, pers. comm.). Farmers have been forced to adopt a

ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001 315

Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3

more sober attitude to the ‘miracle crop’ and cultivations are becoming more
mixed as other tree crops (but not food crops) are introduced.19

Intensification of swiddens to managed forest gardens: West Kalimantan

Mayer (1996) studied a Dayak village in the district of Sanggau, currently the
site of large numbers of plantations for both pulp and oil palm. By the 1950s
the village was described as ‘. . . well into the transition from being a pioneer
settlement ‘opening’ swidden fields in primary forest, to becoming a
community with a history embedded in its landscape’ (Mayer, 1996: 57). In
examining the techniques of resource allocation within the village, Mayer
coined the phrase ‘landscape capital’. Such capital was crucial to people’s
assessment of land and forest resources and the basis for valuing village
resources against the forces of encroachment. Two basic strategies of
landscape transformation had been adopted over the previous 10 years in an
effort to ensure the future continuation of the ‘diversity and dynamism’ of
village resources: swidden lands had been converted to forest gardens of fruit
and rubber, and rice production had been moved from dry to more productive
wet fields. While the conversion of swidden to tree crops had taken place in
response to the demands of siblings that parents share out rights to land on an
equitable basis, it had the effect of privatising the lands in permanent
cultivation, making it more difficult for outsiders to take them over as simply
unused fallow. The village, after much discussion among all its interest groups,
was able to present a united front to pressure from a pulp plantation (HTI),
seeking unsuccessfully to resume part of the land for Acacia.
Padoch and Peters (1993) and Padoch, Harwell and Susanto (1998)
described similar processes taking place in another part of the Sanggau
district. The emphasis in the first of these studies was on the deliberate
management of the three types of village agroforest to maintain genetic
diversity as well as economic viability, especially promoting the wild relatives
of important economic cultivars. Yet because these forests did not appear
‘tidy’, they were not perceived as valuable by provincial and district
authorities, so were vulnerable to resumption by oil palm or timber plantations.
The second paper continues the theme of ‘untidiness’ at the scale of the
individual field. It described the tedious and uneven process of transformation
of swidden fields to sawah, a process which could take several years. During
that time the fields may appear both unproductive and weed-infested. The
intensification was slowly creating ‘landesque capital’ of permanent bunded
fields in a village where population densities reached 88/ sq km.
In the Sambas district of West Kalimantan, the village studied by Peluso
(1996) has been further transformed, though basically in the same direction. An
original swidden landscape has become one of forests and agroforestry
products, with increasingly intensive tree planting. Although irrigated rice
fields became available in an unexpected manner, when Chinese neighbours
were moved from the area, those fields initially were low-yielding and scarcely
worked. Rubber and durian crops became the basis for subsistence, with rubber

316 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001

August/December 2001 Agricultural intensification in Indonesia

being sold on a daily basis to purchase rice. The carving of a nature reserve
from village land and the closing of other boundaries led to this intensification,
aided by ‘the increased market access that resulted from road improvements,
urbanization, population growth, and sedentarization’ (Peluso, 1996: 542). In a
rich and insightful paper, Peluso suggested that the ‘stereotypical’ Boserupian
model of the intensification of forest and land use towards greater field and
food crop production, had been replaced in these indigenous Borneo societies
by a move away from field crops towards forest and tree crops only (Peluso,
1996: 542). New plantings of durian inside the reserve boundary were made as
a statement of resistance to government restrictions on resource availability.
This village, with its high yielding rubber trees and access to the urban market
of Pontianak for its fresh durian fruit, was in a good position to resist inroads
on its land by plantation companies.
While Peluso was careful to show the ways in which the purposive, current
management practices of Dayak villagers build on traditional procedures,
another study (Smith, 1996) was located in a mainly Banjarese immigrant village
in the southern district of Ketapang. It also successfully operated a complex
agroforestry system, based on subsistence banana and durian cash cropping, with
no rice or other field crop. Householders claimed that the village and its
Banjarese population had been in the area for over a century. Government plans
for this village were to move it from the hillside it currently occupied (just inside
the Gunung Palung National Park) to a nearby mangrove area, so the inhabitants
could engage in wet rice production and become ‘civilised’. Few inhabitants had
any experience with wet rice, and the mangroves, which would be destroyed,
supported the local fishing industry. This is another example of the blindness of
officials towards complex agroforests and their failure to recognise the
legitimacy of long-term occupancy of a site.
There is thus a similarity between many of these reported intensification pro-
cesses. While population has increased in most districts, it is restrictions imposed
by either government edicts and government boundaries, or the encroachment of
plantation companies which have largely triggered changes in agricultural
systems, together with the opening of some areas to new opportunities through
improved market access. Unfortunately, despite the recent understanding by
researchers and scientists of the value of complex agroforests, in terms of
sustainability, nutrient cycling and biodiversity, their lack of recognition by
government authorities raises serious concerns about their future.20
The opportunity to participate in an ‘approved’ agroforestry system, using
leguminous trees on terraces, was turned by farmers in East Sumba to their own
advantage as they gave the impression of intensifying away from swidden. It is
described in the final case study presented here.

`Phantom' intensification in the Mist Kingdom: Calliandra in East Sumba

The role of a local NGO in promoting the adoption in East Sumba of
leguminous tree species, to be coppiced in hedgerows, was studied by Lee
(1995). The species recommended were especially red and white Calliandra

ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001 317

Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3

(Calliandra calothyrsus, Calliandra tetragona). Such agroforestry systems

were popular elsewhere in the world, and had been praised by international
NGOs such as World Neighbours. Officials were anxious to retain the few
remaining areas of forest in an otherwise grassy and eroding landscape, and to
intensify the farming system away from swiddening to terraced tree legumes
and alley cropping.
The NGO achieved high rates of adoption, with patches of Calliandra
appearing in many villages. One particular village centre was described as ‘a
sea of legumes’ (Lee, 1995: 275), with red Calliandra spreading out over the
hills. It won prizes for its agroforests and plaudits from international visitors.
What puzzled Lee was that there was little sign of food crops among all the
trees, most of which were not being pruned as recommended. His initial efforts
to investigate further were firmly turned away and he could find no villager
willing to take him to the food gardens. Eventually he found the answer:
extensive swidden fields in a patch of forest a few kilometres away, a stiff walk
over steep hills, enough to deter any short-term visitor! Wider investigations
found similar situations in other areas.
The problem, it was eventually admitted, was that the villagers had been
threatened with re-location out of the mountains (to which their culture was
closely tied) if they did not reforest. This prospect was especially alarming to
the elites, who exerted pressure on other villagers to conform. While people did
not find the tree legume technology appealing, especially after they discovered
that crops yielded better from the forest sites, they planted trees in places where
they would be very visible, thus satisfying officials on quick visits. Through
this ‘phantom intensification’, they were thus able to turn the technology to
their advantage, without threatening the basis of their food security.


Imperata grass, though denigrated by officials everywhere, has cultural and
religious significance in Bali. It had traditionally been used as a roofing
material, for houses, rice barns and temples, but was gradually being replaced
by more ‘modern’ tiles and corrugated iron (Thorburn, 1997). Now massive
demand from the tourist industry has turned the production and preparation of
this grass into a major commercial activity, which has spread also into
neighbouring Lombok. A market for this crop began to emerge in the 1970s, as
by government decree all tourist developments in the booming Kuta area had to
be in traditional Balinese style. Now all large hotels and shopping complexes
use thatched roofs, often with thatched ceilings as well.
The grass grows all over south, central and eastern Bali, usually on small
patches of land too steep or dry for wet rice. It is usually cut at least once a
year, preferably a few months after the onset of the rainy season, when it has
attained its best growth. In some areas it is fertilised with urea to make it grow
faster, although this practice is controversial, as a fertilised grass will last only
about four years as thatch, compared with twelve years or more for the best,

318 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001

August/December 2001 Agricultural intensification in Indonesia

unfertilised varieties. During its growing period it is usually weeded to ensure a

pure stand, with Chromolaena odorata in particular being carefully removed.
After harvest the grass is sorted and graded, then combed to remove dead stems
and other impurities. The residues may be burned to encourage re-growth,
though burning is not universal. Cutters are often women, especially the poor
and landless. In the Jimbaran district of South Bali Imperata is combined with
the leguminous tree turi (Sesbania grandiflora) in a local agroforestry system,
as seen in Photo 2. The turi is kept lopped so that it will not shade out the grass,

Photo: Lesley Potter

Photo 2. Agroforestry system favouring Imperata grass in Bali

(note lopped trees of Sesbania grandiflora)

ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001 319

Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3

which is said to grow better where the tree is present and the branches are fed
to tethered cattle, which are never allowed near the Imperata (Potter, Lee and
Thorburn, 2000).
Grass is graded according to quality, with strict standards maintained in the
workshops of Jimbaran, where the highest quality thatch is made, the product
being also exported overseas. Because of the demand from these workshops,
many people in Bali prefer to grow grass in preference to other crops. They
argue that returns are always assured and there are no problems with disease.
Labour requirements, apart from weeding, are light. While such a system is not
especially ‘intensive’ in terms of inputs, it must be remembered that to tend,
weed, even fertilise Imperata, requires a different mindset from the usual
perception of the grass as a pernicious weed. It has been re-valued as a precious
crop and an expensive roofing material, in Bali more expensive than tiles.
This re-valuing of Imperata is more recent in Lombok, where the trade
started about 1995. The main areas producing grass for export to Bali are near
the port and ferry terminal in the district of Sekotong. Villagers were
expanding their areas of grass at the expense of other crops, such as soybean,
which they had previously struggled to produce. Now they were happily
growing grass for sale. There was some conflict between these villagers and the
local Forestry Department, which was not responsive to the recent
developments and advocated replacing the grass with leguminous trees. In
another village, where extensive plantings of leguminous trees had already
taken place, villagers were cutting them down and converting the land back to
grass, as the latter was more valuable (Potter, Lee and Thorburn, 2000).

The discussion on agricultural intensification in Indonesia has now come full
circle. The initial concentration on the impacts of government in forcing
intensification, as their tree crops occupied land and placed pressure on
existing systems, has been followed by the conclusion that swidden
intensification, when carried out by the people themselves, would usually
result in tree-planting in agroforests, with or without intensified food cropping.
Despite the clever manipulation of the total landscape by village interests, the
advantages of agroforests have tended to remain unrecognised, the systems still
vulnerable to destruction or takeover by plantation monocultures. That the
track to agroforests was not always followed by smallholders is exemplified by
cocoa in Central Sulawesi, where the euphoria of the new crop seemed to
displace other considerations. The sections on ‘phantom intensification’ and
the niche market re-valuing of the once-despised Imperata, are indications of
the resourcefulness of smallholders, who are not slow to seize opportunities
and over-ride entrenched attitudes.
The regimentation of the previous regime has now been replaced in
Indonesia by both a relaxation and a breakdown of rules. All forest boundaries
have been challenged, both by seekers after previously forbidden resources and
those wanting restoration of ancestral lands. Demonstrations occur almost daily

320 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001

August/December 2001 Agricultural intensification in Indonesia

with plantation authorities, again over land issues. While some outside
pressures on smallholders have been reduced, the crisis and the impacts of
globalisation on commodity prices maintain the momentum for intensification.
As people are more exposed to outside forces, they need to earn more from the
lands that they can access. Diversification is back in favour as systems become
more mixed, but it is back from a strictly economic, rather than an ecological
or traditional, perspective. Smallholders in modern Indonesia have become
more aware and articulate, at the same time more individualistic and more
demanding. In their market orientation many may no longer be considered
strictly ‘peasants’. However, both Boserup’s original population-based theory
(1965) and Brookfield’s emphasis on innovation and smallholder decision-
making (1972; 1984) have been useful in directing our understanding of
agricultural transformations, in an environment constrained as much by an
authoritarian government and its control over land resources, as simply by
population pressure.

1 The 1999 National Labour Force Survey, on which these figures are based, includes
forestry and fishing with agriculture.
2 Associated factors have been the rapid growth of non-agricultural alternatives, fertility
declines and out-migration.
3 President Suharto banned 57 varieties of pesticide in 1986 after brown planthopper
outbreaks showed that increasing pesticide resistance and spraying was removing the
insect’s natural predators. Integrated pest management techniques have been successful in
Bali, but have been slower to develop in Java.
4 See footnote 1.
5 The composition of the forests changes across Indonesia towards the east, with fewer
dipterocarps as dominants, while more open savanna-like formations, including indigenous
acacias and eucalypts, but also the valuable sandalwood, characterise dry islands such as
6 By ‘permanent cultivation’ was usually meant wet rice or cash crops produced from
permanent gardens. Managed village forests could sometimes be included if they were
largely rubber smallholdings.
7 Japanese firms had begun the large-scale extraction of timber from East Kalimantan in the
1930s, as the value of the resource was recognised.
8 TGHK is an acronym for Tata Guna Hutan Kesepakatan
9 While it was possible for villages to be excised from national parks, this did not always
happen. In remote and inaccessible districts such as the huge Kayan Mentarang Nature
Reserve, traditional swidden activities have been permitted to continue.
10 The PIR model was originally designed for transmigrant communities planting rubber,
after the failure of food-crop based schemes. It consisted of an estate nucleus, around
which were smallholder plantings of the tree-crop. Farmers had to repay the cost of
establishment of their farms, but were granted credit to do this.
11 When palm oil prices are low, companies sometimes refuse to collect the fruit from
12 Now renamed the Minister of Forestry and Estate Crops. With the new decentralisation
system that came into force on January 1 2001, this responsibility is likely to be devolved
to the local district leader (bupati).
13 Cattle were introduced to West Timor by the Dutch in 1912, specifically to improve local
economies. However, as they were distributed to the local hierarchy, their descendants

ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001 321

Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3

have continued to have access to large numbers and ownership remains skewed. Poorer
people act as cattle minders but often have no animals of their own.
14 The author attended a protest meeting with a group of villagers in April 1995. While
people were very free with their criticism during the early part of the meeting, as soon as
company officials arrived, nobody was willing to say anything.
15 Malaysian firm Guthrie’s has recently taken over the plantations of the Salim Group in a
number of Indonesian localities.
16 This phrase was used at a conference in Riau by a local forestry official (Setiawan, 2001).
17 ‘Living fences’ consisted of fast-growing legumes, such as Gliricidia sepium, planted very
close together along fence lines.
18 It is not clear whether it comes under Forestry Department jurisdiction, and if so, whether it
is production or conversion forest. It is most likely to be the former.
19 In some cases the word here should be ‘reintroduced’, as farmers in the Luwu district of
South Sulawesi, for example, have often alternated between different tree crops. Cloves,
coffee and coconut are other possibilities in some of the cocoa areas.
20 One exception has been the famous damar agroforests of Krui on the west coast of
Lampung. After intense lobbying by international agencies, these have been recognised by
the Forestry Department as unique and are allowed to be managed as community forests on
State Forest Land under a special new classification (KdTI, Kawasan dengan Tujuan
Istemewa) (Fay, et al. 1998). It is to be hoped that other agroforests may eventually receive
a similar status.

Akiyama, T. and A. Nishio (1997) Sulawesi’s cocoa boom: lessons of smallholder dynamism
and a hands-off policy, Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies 33(2): 97–121.
Anglesen, A. (1995) Shifting cultivation and ‘deforestation’: a study from Indonesia, World
Development 23(10): 1713–1729.
Anglesen, A. and D. Resosudarmo (1999) Krismon, Farmers and Forests: the effects of the
economic crisis on farmers’ livelihoods and forest use in the outer islands of Indonesia,
Bogor: Center for International Forestry Research.
Biro Pusat Statistik (B.P.S.) (1999) Statistik Indonesia 1999, Jakarta: Biro Pusat Statistik.
Boserup E. (1965) The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: the economics of agrarian change
under population pressure, London: George Allen and Unwin
Brookfield, H.C. (1972) Intensification and disintensification in Pacific agriculture: a
theoretical approach, Pacific Viewpoint 13(1): 30–48
Brookfield, H.C. (1984) Intensification revisited, Pacific Viewpoint 25(1): 15–44.
Casson, A. (2000) The Hesitant Boom: Indonesia’s oil palm sub-sector in an era of economic
crisis and political change. Occasional Paper No. 29, Bogor: Center for International
Forestry Research.
Ditjenbun (1998) Statistik Perkebunan Indonesia 1997–1999: Karet, Jakarta: Departemen
Kehutanan dan Perkebunan.
Dove, M.R. (1993) Smallholder rubber and swidden agriculture in Borneo: a sustainable
adaptation to the ecology and economy of the tropical forest, Economic Botany 47: 136–
Fay, C., H. de Foresta, M. Sirait and T. Tomich (1998) A Policy Breakthrough for Indonesian
Farmers in the Krui Damar Agroforest, Agroforestry Today 10(2): 25–26.
Filius, A.M. (1997) Factors changing farmers’ willingness to grow trees in Gunung Kidul (Java,
Indonesia), Netherlands Journal of Agricultural Science 45: 329–345.
Goenner, C. (1998) Conflicts and fire causes in a sub-district of Kutai, East Kalimantan,
Indonesia. Unpublished report.
Gouyon, A., H. de Foresta and P. Levang (1993) Does ‘jungle rubber’ deserve its name? An
analysis of rubber agroforestry systems in southeast Sumatra, Agroforestry Systems 22:

322 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001

August/December 2001 Agricultural intensification in Indonesia

Hardjono, J. (1987) Land, Labour and Livelihood in a West Java Village, Yogyakarta: Gadjah
Mada University Press.
Jamal, S. and M. Pomp (1993) Smallholder adoption of tree crops: a case study of cocoa in
Sulawesi, Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies 29(3): 69–94.
Joshi, L., G. Wibawa, H. Beukema, S. Williams and M. van Noordwijk (in Press 2001)
Technological change and biodiversity in the rubber agroecosystem of Sumatra, in J.
Vandermeer (ed.), Tropical Agroecosystems: new directions in research.
Lee, J. (1995) Participation and Pressure in the Mist Kingdom of Sumba: a local NGO’s
approach to tree-planting. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Geography, University of
Li, T. and S. Mamar (1991) Culture, Ecology and Livelihood in the Tinombo Region of Central
Sulawesi, Environmental Management Development in Indonesia (EMDI) Environmental
Reports No. 6. Jakarta and Halifax: Environmental Development in Indonesia.
Mann, T. (1999) Population Movements, Ethnicity and Resource Management in West Timor.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Adelaide.
Mayer, J. (1996) Trees vs Trees: institutional dynamics of indigenous agroforestry and
industrial timber in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Unpublished doctoral dissertation,
University of California.
Netting, R. McC. (1993) Smallholders, householders: farm families and the ecology of
intensive, sustainable agriculture, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
Nibbering, J.W. (1991) Hoeing in the Hills: stress and resilience in an upland farming system in
Java. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Department of Human Geography, The Australian
National University.
Nibbering, J.W. (1997) Upland cultivation and soil conservation in limestone regions on Java’s
south coast: three historical case studies, in P. Boomgaard, F. Colombijn, and D. Henley
(eds.), Paper Landscapes: explorations in the environmental history of Indonesia,
Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde No 178,
Leiden: KITLV Press.
Ozinga, J. (1940) De Economische Ontwikkeling der Westerafdeeling van Borneo en de
Bevolkingsrubbercultuur [The Economic Development of the Western Division of Borneo
and Native Rubber Cultivation], Wageningen: N.V.Gebr.Zomer en Keunig’s
Padoch, C. and C. Peters (1993) Managed forest gardens in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, in C.S.
Potter, J.I. Cohen and D. Janczewski (eds.), Perspectives on Biodiversity: case studies of
genetic resource conservation and development, Washington, DC: American Association
for the Advancement of Science Press.
Padoch, C., E. Harwell and A. Susanto (1998) Swidden, sawah and in-between: agricultural
transformation in Borneo, Human Ecology 26, 4–20.
Palte, J.G.L. (1989) Upland farming on Java, Indonesia: a socio-economic study of upland
agriculture and subsistence under population pressure, Nederlandsche Geografische
Studies No 97 KNAG & Utrecht, Geografisch Instituut Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht.
Pellokila, Y. (nd) Hak Masyarakat Adat atas Sumber Daya Alam versus HTI di NTT [The rights
of traditional owners over natural resources as opposed to HTI in NTT], paper prepared for
Yayasan Haumeni, Soe, NTT.
Peluso, N.L. (1996) Fruit trees and family trees in an anthropogenic forest: ethics of access,
property zones, and environmental change in Indonesia, Comparative Studies in Society
and History 38(3): 510–548.
Potter, L.M. (1992) Report of Lesley Potter, Social Scientist, Companion report for EA of Bukit
Baka/Bukit Raya Project Site and Revised IEE of Gunung Palung, Environmental
Assessment of the Natural Resources Management Project.
Potter, L.M. (1993) Banjarese in and beyond Hulu Sungai: A study in cultural independence,
economic opportunity and mobility, in J.T. Lindblad (ed.), New Challenges in the Modern
Economic History of Indonesia, Leiden: Program of Indonesian Studies.
Potter, L.M. (1997) The dynamics of Imperata. Historical overview and modern farmer

ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001 323

Asia Pacific Viewpoint Volume 42 No 2/3

perspectives, with an example from South Kalimantan, Indonesia, Agroforestry Systems

36(1–3): 31–51.
Potter, L. and J. Lee (1998(a)) Tree-planting in Indonesia, trends, impacts and directions,
Occasional Paper No. 18, Bogor, Indonesia: Centre for International Forestry Research.
Potter, L. and J. Lee (1998(b)) Oil Palm in Indonesia: its role in forest conversion and the fires
of 1997/98, Jakarta: WWF Indonesia.
Potter, L.M. (2000) Rural livelihoods and the environment in a time of uncertainty: the situation
outside Java, in C. Manning and P. van Diermen (eds.), Indonesia in Transition: social
dimensions of reformasi and crisis, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Potter, L.M., J. Lee and K. Thorburn (2000) Re-inventing Imperata: re-valuing grasslands in
Indonesia, Development and Change 31(5): 1037–1053.
Schuitemaker, J.P. (1933(a)) Damar-Onderzoek in West Borneo, Tectona 26: 230–265.
Schuitemaker, J.P. (1933(b)) Het garoehout van West Borneo, Tectona 26: 851–892.
Setiawan, H. (2001) Pengelolaan Hutan Lestari dan Lingkungan di Kabupaten Indragiri Hulu.
Paper presented to workshop Desentralisasi Kebijakan dan Hutan di Indonesia: Studi
Kasus Propinsi Riau, Pekanbaru, March 2001.
Smith, H.F. (1996) Semi-Commercial Complex Agroforestry: a case study from West
Kalimantan, Indonesia, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Geography, University of
Thorburn, K. (1997) The Unique Status of Imperata Cylindrica in Bali: economic, mythological
and agro-ecological attributes of a common weed, Unpublished Honours thesis,
Geography, University of Adelaide.
Whitten, T., R.E. Soeriaatmadja and S.A. Afiff (1996) The Ecology of Java and Bali. The
Ecology of Indonesia Series Volume II, Halifax: Periplus Editions, Dalhousie University.

324 ß Victoria University of Wellington 2001