Lesson 05 Land Use

Land Use and Ownership

Roughly 20 million hectares, or nearly 10 percent of Indonesia’s total land area, were cultivated in the 1980s, with an additional 40 million hectares of potentially cultivatable land, primarily in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Smallholder cultivation of both food and estate crops predominated, accounting for about 87 percent of total land under cultivation; large plantations accounted for the remaining 13 percent. The pattern of cultivation and landholding in modern Indonesia reflected the distinctive natural ecosystems of Java and the Outer Islands, and the profound impact of colonial agricultural practices.

Java was the center of intensive rice cultivation on sawah or flooded cropland. This cultivation demanded rich volcanic soils and a fairly low gradient to permit water control, and supported a dense sedentary population. The Outer Islands ecosystem of swidden, a type of dryland agriculture known also as slash-and-burn agriculture, was practiced on the less fertile forested land with a diverse range of crops such as cassava, corn, yams, dry rice, other vegetables, and fruits. Small forest plots were cleared, harvested for a few seasons, and then permitted to return to forest. Because of the far lower productivity per hectare of land than sawah, swidden cultivation could only support low population densities. However, swidden farmers were also able to adopt commercial tree crops such as rubber and coffee and were the major suppliers of these important agricultural exports Java supplied most rice and through intercropping on sawah and cultivation on unirrigated land, most other major food crops.

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