Sunday, June 6, 2010

Essay for a university unit

Once in a while, I like to ditch with the crude stories, jingoism, slang and obscene language to present a softer more intellectual side of myself.

This was one of the essays which I handed in recently. Admittedly I'm somewhat of an amateur when it comes to essay-writing, but nonetheless, I hope any readers of this enjoy!

Transmigration: Was Indonesia used as Java’s Playground?
By Sijie Liang


A common trend for most nations throughout the 20th century has been a period of dramatically high population growth due to an improvement of agriculture and healthcare. Such high growth then led to pressures such as overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure and inequality of living standards. Such pressures in turn led governments to pursue different measures of population control. Some of these population controls were remarkably popular and successful whilst others failed to lessen such pressures and in some cases agitated other problems.

Indonesia has been no different and has followed such a pattern of high population growth then implementation of different methods of population control. In this essay I’ll attempt to assert that Transmigration, one of the more notable government population control initiatives, has failed in delivering true impact to Indonesia’s population pressures and in fact has triggered a legacy of social problems.

Brief population background of Indonesia

As of 2009, the total population of Indonesia is just under 240 million. Over two thirds of the population reside on the major islands of Java and Sumatra, which together make up only roughly a third of the total land area. Growth rates of moderate projection are set to increase the population to around 288 million within 40 years. (UN Population Division Database, 2010)
With a land area of approximately 1.9 million sq kilometres, this corresponds to an average density of around 120 people per sq km. However this figure is by no means accurate or consistent across Indonesia. Java for example has an average density of roughly 1003 per sq km which heavily exceeds the national average whilst sparsely populated regions such as Kalimantan and Papua have rather low densities of 12 and 6 per sq km respectively. (EIU Views Wire, 2008)

In turn, those regions with high densities also have high population pressures such as overcrowding in major cities. These population pressures have led the government to introduce various population control methods such as transmigration, which will be discussed later on in this essay.

One relatively successful government population control initiative has been its various family planning programs. These have been in place since the 1960s and have been responsible in reducing the total fertility rate of roughly 5.7 children to a woman to just 2.4, which is just above the replacement rate. (EIU ViewsWire, 2008)

However population growth as we will see throughout is only one of the many population issues which affects Indonesia.

Population Pressures of the “Inner” Islands

As mentioned above, population density is not consistent across the Indonesian archipelago. The majority of the population resides on the so called Inner Islands of Bali, Java and Madura. The population densities on these islands far exceed the national average. Historically the rich volcanic soils of the islands were extremely suitable for wet-rice cultivation and could thus support large populations. (Connor, 2004)

Consequently with these higher populations, the inner islands experience many population pressures such as overcrowding, inequitable distribution of wealth and limited ownership of land. Population pressures are also the direct and indirect causes of many other issues such as pollution, inadequate sanitation, inadequate infrastructure and environmental degradation.
The disparity of population density along with the population pressures of the Inner Islands was the main impetus for conception of the Transmigration policy.

Origins of Transmigration

The concept of transmigration or in Indonesian, Transmigrasi involves a redistribution of the population through re-settling people of one province into another province. This could be done for many reasons including cultural, economic and political concerns. Transmigration itself was one of the major cornerstones of the population control policy of many former Indonesian governments.

The transmigration policies gathered steam during the respective Sukarno and Suharto regimes, where they were promoted as a way of alleviating population pressure and improving national cohesion. However the concept of transmigration itself has significant historical roots which date back to the Dutch colonial government. In 1905, a “colonisation” program was started to resettle people from the crowded inner islands to outer islands, so that cheap labour could be provided to the plantations there. (Connor, 2004)

Aims of Transmigration

The initial and main aims of the transmigration were

1) Demographically balancing Indonesia by redistributing the population by resettling people from the crowded inner islands (Java, Madura, Bali) to more sparsely populated regions such as Kalimantan and Papua.
2) Alleviating poverty by providing land and new economic opportunities to generate income for poor landless settlers.
3) Exploiting more effectively the "potential" of the "outer islands".

However critics of the transmigration program state that other possible aims include cultural assimilation of local ethnic groups through the resettling of Javanese transmigrants as well as suppression of local culture. (Adhiati and Bobsien, 2001)

Legacies of Transmigration

Whilst the policy of transmigration was officially abandoned in 2000, inter-island migration still continues as many Indonesians look around for better economic opportunities than they otherwise would have at home. Running for more than 40 years, the transmigration policy has left many legacies and immense social change. (Oxford Analytica Daily Brief Service, 2000)

One of the very obvious legacies of Transmigration is the demographic and ethnic transformation of the Outer Islands. An overwhelming majority of transmigrants were Javanese. This led to the policy of transmigration being criticised as a convenient form of Javanese cultural assertion and assimilation, rather than a genuine attempt of population redistribution and poverty alleviation.

However ethnic groups such as the Balinese, Buginese and Madurese have also created sizable communities in regions such as Kalimantan, Papua and the Maluku Islands where prior to transmigration; they only had very minimal presence. Economic competition and local accusations of oppressive government treatment in regards to land and civil rights have triggered intermittent ethnic violence.

Another major legacy of Transmigration is that of environmentally destructive practices. Transmigrants were encouraged by the central government to clear vast tracks of land to plant rice and other major crops. Consequently, huge areas of ecologically important rainforest in Kalimantan were cleared which in turn worsened the air quality of the region. The environmental damage was also economically damaging as transmigrants eventually found that the cleared land had rather poor soils which translated to poor yields of rice and crops. The transmigrants and the government had essentially invested vast resources and effort on a very unproductive venture.

Lastly a major irony of the transmigration policies was the drive for people from the outer islands to migrate to the inner islands of Bali, Java and Madura to find more opportunities. This was partly due to chronic poverty; however it also was from the economic competition posed by transmigrants. There was close to no restriction on these outer island migrants, therefore the effect of transmigration was close to negligible. (Adhiati and Bobsien, 2001)(Davidson and Kammen, 2002)(Connor, 2004)


Transmigration seems to have been a failed program, in that its core aims have been largely inadequately dealt with. With population pressures and poverty not being alleviated by the levels anticipated by the Indonesian government, the transmigration program also had many flaws in its implementations and results. These flaws in turn have had drastic consequences for the natural environment and ethnic relations within the country.

Despite the failure of the transmigration programs, the strong need for effective policies and plans to deal with population pressures still remains in Indonesia. Indonesia, especially its “inner” islands faces many challenges in the decades to come from population pressures and growth. Family planning programs and improvements in living standards have helped to dramatically reduce fertility rates; however relative momentum will mean that Indonesia’s population will continue to grow significantly. In the long-term, this means that transmigration might have to be revisited albeit in a new more culturally sensitive and well implemented fashion; as a way to reduce overcrowding through population redistribution.

Whichever measures of population pressure control are eventually adopted, the responsibility for long-term planning and careful implementation is inherent. In addition Indonesian governments at various levels, state institutions and society must balance such measures with other interests such as ethnic diversity, environmental protection and economic growth. A population pressure control method which does not take these factors into consideration is bound to fail just as transmigration did.


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C. M. O'Connor. 2004. Effects of Central Decisions on Local Livelihoods in Indonesia: Potential Synergies Between the Programs of Transmigration and Industrial Forest Conversion. Population and Environment: Unforeseen Consequences of Policy Decisions (Guest Editor: 25, no. 4, (March 1): 319 -333. (accessed June 2, 2010).

United Nations Population Division Database. (accessed May 23,2010)

Indonesia: Population. (2008, May). EIU ViewsWire. Retrieved May 23, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global.

KALIMANTAN. Indonesia no. 73, (April 1): 53-87,188. (accessed June 2, 2010).

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