The Autonomy and Sustainability of Small-Scale Oil Palm Farming in Sarawak

  • Ryoji SodaEmail author
  • Yumi Kato
Part of the Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research book series (AAHER)


Although it is true that the vast majority of oil palm is grown on plantations, the participation of the indigenous people of inland Sarawak in the oil palm industry is steadily increasing. This chapter discusses the autonomy and sustainability of farming management by small-scale farmers in the Bintulu region, which has witnessed a significant increase in the number of such farmers. The nature of oil palm farming is different from that of other commercial crops that Sarawak’s small-scale farmers have cultivated in the past. This crop involves investing in the land and recovering the returns from such investments—a relatively modern agricultural economic system. This system is believed to place restrictions on time, location and area of the agricultural activities of indigenous communities. In reality, however, people engage in relatively flexible small-scale farming, by following their traditional customs and incorporating aspects of the plantation mode of operation. In addition, the active involvement of urban wage earners in oil palm cultivation is also observed. Such agricultural activities are thus not necessarily confined to the villages. Rather, the cultivation of oil palm has led to a strengthening of social and economic ties within households that are divided between urban centres and rural villages. There is, however, uncertainty concerning the future sustainability of small-scale oil palm farming. A salient issue will be finding a way to enable farmers to shift to another method of earning a livelihood when oil palm cultivation becomes stagnant or unprofitable, while still maintaining secondary fallow forests and rubber fields.


Sarawak Indigenous people Agriculture Plantations Oil palm farming Land use 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Literature and Human SciencesOsaka City UniversityOsakaJapan
  2. 2.Center for Arts and SciencesFukui Prefectural UniversityEiheijiJapan

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