Presenter: Professor Rob Cramb

Agriculture and the forest sector in Sarawak, Malaysia, have undergone dramatic change since I first arrived as a freshly-minted agricultural economist in 1977. Semi-commercial smallholder farming systems were widespread in the 1970s and 1980s, combining shifting cultivation of upland rice and other subsistence crops with small, intensively-managed plots of cash crops like rubber and pepper. Evidence collected from surveys throughout Sarawak suggested that these systems were quite efficient and sustainable. From the 1990s two interrelated processes transformed the agricultural and forest landscape. The growth and structural transformation of the Malaysian economy drew younger generations out of farming and into urban-based employment, as analysed by many theorists and observed to varying degrees throughout Southeast Asia. Coincident with this familiar agrarian transition, however, has been the surprising resurgence and rapid spread of colonial-style plantation agriculture based mainly on oil palm. This agricultural expansion has pushed back the forest frontier much further than the shifting cultivators ever did, as far as the Indonesian border, and has partly offset the outflow of farm labour, but with migrant workers from Indonesia who make up over 80% of the plantation workforce. I examine the factors behinds these changes and the implications for rural livelihoods and landscapes.

About Rural Development, Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Seminars

The seminars will be held in Hartley-Teakle Building (83), Room S324 from 12pm - 1pm. Participants are encouraged to bring lunch to enjoy during the seminar. Arrangements will be made for Gatton colleagues to participate via a videoconference link.


Dr Dominic Smith
Seminar Convenor