Young People’s Movement out of and into Smallholder Farming: A Life-Course Perspective from Kulonprogo (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) by Prof Ben White
Date : 28 Nov 2017
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Assoc Prof Eric C. Thompson, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore


In this seminar we describe young people’s trajectories out of and into farming in the Javanese village Kaliloro, based on a life-course approach and data from field research in 1972-3, 1999-2000 and 2016-17.

Agriculture (particularly smallholder farming) is still Indonesia’s biggest single employer. However, it is widely assumed that young rural people do not aspire to be farmers; this raises questions about the sustainability of smallholder farming in the next generation. In Kaliloro today, nearly all young men and women complete secondary school and many continue to some form of tertiary education. Many of them grow up unfamiliar with farming, and do not see their future in farming, wanting to work outside agriculture and outside the village. However, this was also the case with many of their parents (the current generation of farmers) and grandparents; young people’s aspirations are not a reliable guide to actual futures. For at least three generations young people have “voted with their feet”, moving to far-away destinations in search of employment. Many however return in their young adulthood (30s) to take over land, when it becomes available. Their livelihood pattern is one of pluriactivity: living from a small-holding plus other sources (animals, wage work, petty trade, services etc.). This explains why smallholders with tiny farms of 0.1 ha or less – which technocrats consider too small to be called “farms” – have on the whole good-quality houses, TVs, motorbikes and mobile phones, and can send their children to secondary education and beyond.


Ben White is Emeritus Professor of Rural Sociology at the International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. His research interests focus on processes of change in rural societies (with a focus on land tenure, employment and livelihoods) and the anthropology and history of childhood and youth, particularly in the area of child work, education and youth employment. He has been engaged in research on these issues since the early 1970s, particularly in Indonesia. He is author or editor of 16 books and edited volumes, and more than 100 journal articles and book chapters. He is founder-member of Land Deal Politics Initiative (, and Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (


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Contact Person(s)
Minghua TAY