Large-scale commodity concessions and labor migration in Indonesia

Authors: Kimberly Marie Carlson*, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Lisa C Kelley, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Nancy Lee Peluso, University of California, Berkeley, Surya Afiff, University of Indonesia
Topics: Rural Geography, Agricultural Geography, Land Use
Keywords: oil palm, plantation, Malaysia, agrarian, livelihood, land use
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Marriott Ballroom Salon 2, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Large-scale oil palm concessions have rapidly expanded across Indonesia since the 1990s. Emerging research suggests that these land acquisitions and subsequent conversions have heterogenous impacts on resident community livelihood strategies, with outcomes partly dependent on starting conditions (e.g., land scarcity) and the terms of market incorporation (e.g., opportunities for employment in the concession). While many Indonesians migrate to and from agrarian communities for work in cities and foreign countries and send remittances home, how large-scale agricultural concessions affect labor migration from surrounding communities through changes in land tenure and livelihood trajectories remains poorly understood. We aim to assess how shifts in land availability and local employment in industrial oil palm plantation landscapes affect patterns of labor migration. To do so, we conducted four months of ethnographic research, including oral histories and in-depth interviews, in two villages in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, adjacent to the international border with Malaysia. Here, oil palm concessions began clearing and developing land in the late 1990s, and concession land claims now occupy 45-100% of village land areas. Prior to oil palm establishment, local communities depended on a mix of farming, handicrafts, and labor migration to Malaysia. Initial results suggest that rather than migrating, many village residents now work for oil palm companies, some trade and transport oil palm fruits, and others take advantage of new local markets for oil palm by converting their landholdings to oil palm. Our results offer insight into how large-scale land acquisitions in tropical countries alter labor migration from rural regions.

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