Land & Rural Change

Land & Rural Change

Master Class on Land, rural change and socio-economic policy in Indonesia

Click here for the programme Master Class on Land, rural change and socio-economic policy in Indonesia.

Yogyakarta, January 29 – 30 2014
Gerben Nooteboom, Laksmi Savitri, Laurens Bakker

Rapid economic development in Indonesia boosgroepsfoto masterclass Land Issuests all kinds of social, cultural and economic changes. Economic growth creates new opportunities for previously poor people both in urban and rural areas and leads to large transformations in agriculture and puts a strain on land ownership. The key focus of the masterclass was on understanding these transformation by making use of critical agrarian theory and a social science perspective.

Currently, Indonesia is facing major challenges in rural areas. Four major transformations are taking place:

1) The transition from smallholder agriculture and agriculture for subsistence to commercial agriculture leading to market incorporation and the articulation of capitalism in the most remote corners affecting all rural areas and relationships of production (Van der Ploeg 2014). Multiple impacts of this transition are visible such as the outflow of rural labour from agriculture to the commercial sector and service sectors in intermediate towns and the main urban centres of Indonesia, changing consumption styles, market dependent livelihoods, and increased dependency on food imports and multinationals for seeds and fertiliser. As a result, we see major investments in commercial agriculture and a potential stagnation of smallholder agriculture, peasants and rural incomes. Moreover, commercial agriculture and plantation establishment puts a strain on natural resources.

2) Related and entangled, a major demographic transition is taking place in rural Indonesia. On average, the age of farmers is rising, rural labour surpluses are declining and the rural, educated youth is less or not interested at all to take over the family farm. The implications of this transition only recently become visible and might lead to major transformations in landownership and extensification in rural Indonesia (De Graaf, Nooteboom and Kutanegara 2014).

3) As a result of the previous transformations major social and cultural transitions are taking place. Collective arrangements of mutual help, labour and welfare are under pressure or have disappeared. Village life and village welfare systems change and the income gap between rich and poor and urban and rural areas is rising. But also between regions differences exist. In some areas farmers are doing very well, in other places poverty remains rampant and indigenous people and peasants are largely excluded from the benefits of economic development. This becomes especially visible in rural areas with poor soils and poor resources such as NTT, East Java, Madura and some parts of Sulawesi (Li 2014; Nooteboom 2014).

4) There is a transition of knowledge from local knowledge based, diversity based, and place specific peasant production to uniform, mono cropping and commodity production for export linked to transnational commodity chains, export markets and multinationals (Van der Ploeg). All producing new opportunities as well as anxieties (Tsing).

The outcome of the above described transitions are unclear, contradictory, and highly debated. During the masterclass some main analytical frameworks were discussed. Moreover, attention has been given to the need to analyse conflicts over land and resources as rapid developments and social-economic transitions often lead to friction. Land and land ownership are among one of the key areas in which these frictions become visible. According to some critics, neoliberal economic policies in Indonesia, or its contested interpretations, are among the root causes of these tensions as they facilitate and accelerate investments in land and agriculture, leading to and accelerating social exclusion. Others refer to larger global processes of commercialization of agricultural land and food or fuel crops which produce new transformations and challenges for rural areas in Indonesia. Many of the social consequences of these rapid changes remain unknown. This master class aimed to explore the links between land conversion, neoliberal policies and friction with global issues of transnational investments and new farming futures.


At the same time, many of these processes are not new and similar developments have been studied and analysed in the past. During the masterclass we focussed on the use and applicability of old and new concepts and analytical frameworks to analyse the processes going on in rural Indonesia today. In the lecture of Dr. Laksmi Savitri (Anthropology UGM), understanding structural processes of change, social exclusions and power inequality stood central. She discussed key concepts such as inequality, class, political economy, and poverty analysis and applied them to rural development and agrarian conflict.

In the second presentation, to spark debate, an opposing perspective was presented. Dr. Gerben Nooteboom put diversity, agency and peasant agriculture at the centre in an attempt to understand rural differentiation, peasant survival, farming logics and the future of the smallholder agriculture in Indonesia from within.

The third presentation, by Dr. Eric Hiariej (FISPOL UGM), focussed on understandings of neoliberalism and democracy in Indonesia. Dr. Hiariej presented details on his current research concerning the gap between neo-liberal policies, political trust and democracy in Indonesia. It turns out that issue of political representation remains crucial in Indonesia. While trust is low, people still expect the government to solve social exclusion and inequality.

On day II, Dr Laurens Bakker spoke on neoliberalism and interpretations of neoliberalism in Indonesia by highlighting the case of foreign investors and region government preferences in East Kalimantan. Increasingly, foreign investors are prevented from getting access to natural resources in the province. The last lecture was from Dr. Gustaav Reerink who elaborated on an analytical framework to analyse legal complexity and ambiguity by making use of a legal pluralist approach.


Both on the first and the second day, the group of 20 participants was divided in small groups. On the first day, one group was focussed on publishing results from current research, the other groups focussed on writing a research proposal. Ma students and PhDs presented their ideas on REDD+ and community responses, understanding and analysing land conflicts in Yogyakarta, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua, farming logics, policy and commodity prices (rice, palm oil) and the study of agrarian change in Java. The participants presented their research and plans in English and received Intensive feedback from speakers and participants. Many of the discussions closely related to issues raised in the morning programme. The day was ended with as short instruction on how to write an article/chapter and how to write a research proposal followed by homework for the next day. During the evening, participants rewrote their abstracts and prepared presentations for the next day. One of the requirements was to use one or more of the analytical concepts as presented in the morning lectures.

On the second day, the participants were divided in four thematic groups and a new round of presentations was done followed by intensive feedback. Presentations and focus had greatly improved. We look back at a challenging, inspiring and rewarding masterclass. The organisers were impressed by the courage and quick learning of the participants. In the final evaluation, many positive facts are mentioned such as the focus on contemporary agrarian change and key analytical concepts, theoretic interpretation, the intensive rounds of feedback, the practicing of presentation skills and the good atmosphere. As the setup was ambitious, next time, less topics should be covered or more time should be allotted for the masterclass. The event is certainly in need of repetition.

groepsfoto masterclass Land Issues 2