Universitas Indonesia Conferences, The 8th International Symposium of Journal Antropologi Indonesia

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Labour migration, Agricultural Vulnerability, & Climate Change Adaptation in Indramayu, West Java, Indonesia
Rhino Ariefiansyah

Last modified: 2022-06-04


This paper analyses the narrative break from dominant understandings of global labour reconfiguration (Azis, Ariefiansyah & Utami, 2020). It emphasises locally-specific accounts of migration anchored on the reorganisation of agricultural production in Indramayu, West Java, Indonesia. While it is the largest rice producer on the most industrialised island of Java, Indonesia, Indramayu sends 1,726 migrant workers worldwide. At least since 2017, this regency—located on the eastern end of the coast of West Java—has been recorded as the district sending the most Indonesian migrant workers abroad. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Indonesian migrant workers dispatched abroad decreased, but the number of migrant workers from Indramayu remained higher than in other regions. This condition shows how agricultural centres have become and remained suppliers for migrant workers. This paper examines how ecological vulnerability and economic uncertainty affect tendencies for population movement. Despite being a strategic food commodity producer, economic uncertainty from farming activities due to structural inequalities and extreme climate-related events (i.e. prolonged droughts and pest outbreaks that occurred in 2015,  2017, and 2019 also increased the risk of losses due to crop failure) make farming less desirable as a source of livelihood. This article argues that ecological vulnerabilities, shaped by the long history of colonialism, the green revolution, and unanticipated climate change, exacerbate employment precarity for the people of Indramayu. This situation makes it impossible for rural workers, as in the case of Indramayu, to make a living from the agricultural sector, pushing them to migrate into domestic and informal sectors abroad (e.g. household assistants, housekeepers). The paper intimately discusses how labour migration alters land use and vice versa, providing a space for mainstreaming local accounts that suspend neoliberal optimism about migration and development.


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