From Poverty to Poverty: Farmers in the Crops Conversions from Paddy to Palm Oil in Indonesia

From Poverty to Poverty

Farmers in the Crops Conversions from Paddy to Palm Oil in Indonesia

Saurlin Siagian – Researcher


It was 1911, the first palm oil plantation introduced by Dutch and German companies in East Sumatera. North Sumatera (in the colonial era known as the East Sumatera) is known as the place where palm oil was first planted in estate manners in Indonesia, and most likely in the World. For a century Palm oil has already known closely by the people in North Sumatera (Santosa, 2008) and other neighbourhoods surrounded. The capital commodity and the investors have been in competition with other such as rice and farmers in particular.  “Oil palm is the most significant boom crop in Southeast Asia, and one associated with large-scale agrarian transformation (John McCarthy, 2010: 833)

On one hand, rice is not only a commodity consumed by almost all of Indonesian people every day, but also, as noted by Armin Paasch, it is consumed by half of the world’s population, and managed by 2 billion small farmers around the world. On the other hand, eliminated tarrifs[1] by the global trade and investment policies for agricultural commodities trigger the high demand for palm oil due to its use for human, livestock, and biofuels. Competition shifts from food versus food, to the food versus biofuels, which have an impact on food security and sovereignty of the farmers.

Taking the Tapanuli Migrant farmers as a case study is a unique case because of the several reasons on why those particular groups migrated in the era of 70s; extreme dry season in the high lands area, the scarcity of the fertile lands, and the density of the population in the Tapanuli highlands. For some decades the farmers enjoyed the surplus of rice and become one of the most well-known as the source of rice in North Sumatera.

Almost a half century afterwards, the similar condition -severe poverty era- is facing by the farmers after the presence of palm oil plantation to the region. There is an ongoing massive and irrational conversion of paddy rice field to palm oil plantations. Even though, the BPS (Govt) data has to be read critically, but it shows already that there is a significant land use change from paddy field to other crops from 2004 to 2008.

[1] Armin Paasch, World Agricultural Trade and Human Rights, 2009

For the full text of this paper, please visit Hutan Rakyat Institute’s Library

Jln. Bunga Rinte XVI  No. 16
Kelurahan Simpang Selayang,
Kecamatan Medan Tuntungan, Medan,
Sumatera Utara, Indonesia