The Paradox of Agrarian Change: Food Security and the Politics of Social Protection in Indonesia

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Forthcoming November 2022

John F. McCarthy

Economic growth in the middle income countries of Southeast Asia over the last few decades is rightly hailed for reducing poverty, understood in both absolute and relative terms. Indonesia is a prime example. But while poverty has declined in Indonesia, one of its worst impacts — nutritional insecurity — remains high, particularly in rural areas. Patterns of food poverty persist across Indonesia, despite a fall in poverty rates. What explains this troubling paradox? How does it relate to Indonesia's enthusiastic embrace of the "entitlements revolution", the use of direct cash transfers as a tool for reducing poverty and building social inclusion? This book analyses the nature and social consequences of economic development and agrarian change processes in rural Indonesia in relation to the scope and effectiveness of Indonesia’s social protection programs.

The findings are based on a series of extensive "ground-up" case studies in Indonesian communities in a variety of eco-agrarian settings, seeking to understand the drivers of insecurity and vulnerability at a household level. The results show that while high-value farming, diversification and migration may offer a means of economic progress for poor households, opportunities for accumulation are limited. This is due to the way class, gender and power work in remote local contexts, and the fact that much surplus income is used for enhanced consumption and changing lifestyles. There are few signs of the classical structural transformation of the countryside which is considered the most decisive pathway out of rural poverty. The authors conclude that social assistance is unlikely to counter the persistence of rural poverty, food insecurity and precarity, not without other redistributive strategies which shift the structural drivers of inequality. The richly detailed findings in this study are of crucial importance to Indonesian policymakers, but will also be of relevance to scholars and practitioners of rural development in other middle income countries seeking to further their agrarian transitions.

"Contemporary rural development throwing up complex social landscapes of winners and losers. The originality of this book is that it builds an overarching explanation of why this occurs using rich multi-site evidence from rural Indonesia. It is an extraordinary research effort which should be read widely."
– Bill Pritchard, University of Sydney

John F. McCarthy is an associate professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

Publication Year: 2022
472pp || 229 x 152mm
10 maps, 37 figures, 14 b/w images, 32 tables
ISBN: 978-981-325-183-0