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Socio-economic studies in java in the context of a coastal resources evaluation

Geoff Missen

The technological solution would appear to be particularly appealing both to researchers in the developed countries and to policy-makers in the developing countries, because, on the face of it, it does not violate vested interests and therefore seems to escape political opposition [and] . . . to lie beyond ideology. It . . . seems to tackle problems in a scientific, practical and workmanlike manner. Technology has been called the opium of the intellectual.

But technology is both result and cause of income, asset, and powers of distribution. As the "Green Revolution" has shown . . . technology specifically invented to overcome food shortages for the growing number of poor people has reinforced and aggravated rural inequalities.

Frances Stewart and Paul Streeten

My purpose is to present a generalized case for scientific or technological-oriented research being seen within the social and economic context of the region in which this research might be applied. I use technology and science here in the broadest sense of those terms. An underlying assumption is that such research has value if it leads directly or indirectly to welfare improvement. I shall proceed from the general to the particular.

A Preamble on Development and Technology

As Figure 1 illustrates, scientific knowledge accumulates from essentially external sources (the general body of scientific knowledge in literature and institutions) and from specific research in a particular area (in our case the Cimanuk Delta). Such research potentially has welfare value in two senses: (11 to expand resource use by introducing new products of value and/or by introducing better inputs into production and (21 to consolidate the natural resource base, i.e., to prevent ecological, and hence economic, deterioration. This scientific knowledge tends to centralize. We may therefore speak of a technocratic centre. The ideas accumulated in the centre then need to be transferred through some information flow to be applied in the local region for value to be realized.

FIG. 1. Links between scientific knowledge and local resource use

These points and Figure 1 are straightforward, simple, and seem common sense. They do, however, raise questions of how we see the world of technology, and the process of change and development. How we see these things will affect how we,.as technocrats, estimate the welfare value of our research efforts. Let me expand on this by looking at development very broadly.

In a broad sense, Figure 1 represents a neo-classical, modernization view of development (e.g., Rostow 1961; Hoselitz 1960). The flow line represents "capital" to be diffused to regions; this diffusion, which for planning needs to be efficient (Ibrahim and Fisher 1979), may have to penetrate obstacles in the local area (e.g., the conservatism of values). In this argument the centralization of capital is first necessary because it is "scarce"; concentration of capital will lead to faster national growth than if it were not concentrated, and the results of this concentration (growth) will eventually be spread or redistributed to wider regions (Hirschman 1972).

This view of development is still very much in vogue, even though within it new arguments have been developed about redistribution with growth (Chenery 1974). It is a view which rests on the work of modernization theorists of the 1950s and 1960s, typified in the American journal Economic Development and Cultural Change (for an excellent criticism, see Frank 1969). It is a view which is held by Indonesia's development planners.

Another view of Figure 1 in the broad context of development (a view which sometimes has to do with dependency theory and neo-Marxist thought but which may generally and more properly be called an unequal relations view) focuses on the inequality that capital and technology may introduce in certain socio-political contexts (e.g., Amin 1976; Emmanuel 1972; Logan and Missen 1979). This view is concerned as much with what might be called production relations as it is with technology's potential to raise "resource horizons"; technological inputs may alter the institutional fabric of old societies whereby only certain groups come to control both the ownership of the technologically advanced means of production, and, also, the way higher production is distributed.

In both views, technology and skills are seen as crucial in raising the general level of production (Emmanuel 1974); they differ in their understanding of the social, economic, and political context in which technology is applied. Within an essentially capitalist, free-market system, the first view (modernization) sees the technocratic centre as ultimately beneficial to the local region; the second view would argue that in such a system the centre is more concerned with its own values and its own growth (really in the city) within a programme of national growth, in which local regions are obliged to adjust to macro-forces.

I raise these two broad views of development simply to suggest that the way we, as technocrats, eventually assess our work in a place like the Cimanuk Delta will depend on whether we see the broader issue of development as one of modernization to be diffused, or rather as a more complex process in which technocracy, inter alia, may work to shift production processes and socio-economic institutions in favour of the rich and against the poor. In any event, we are in a sense obliged to adopt the first of these views because that is the stance adopted by Indonesia (as reflected in Repelita).

Assuming that technology or scientific knowledge aims at improving local welfare, it faces two problems. First, science, or at least the advice that flows from science, must be suitable to local social and economic conditions. The responsibility of scientific advice is not simply to stretch the resource horizons, but to predict the social and institutional changes technological inputs may bring, and to judge whether these are worthwhile. I might add that social and economic forecasting is not easy. The second problem is that once we have a set of ideas we assume to be good these ideas have to be communicated. Logically, the first of these tasks should precede the second. It is not always so, of course. Let me give one example from Java.

In the early 1960s, on scientific advice, legislation was enacted to outlaw certain rent arrangements (e.g. iron, sewa, gade) in Java's rural villages and also to make the sale of village land easier (Collier et al. 1977; Hesti Wijaya and Sturgess 1979) . The general intent was to modernize agrarian laws. The advice behind this legislation was assumed good; the advice was "communicated" by way of government enactment.

The part of this legislation having to do with rent showed, in retrospect, a lack of awareness of the value of "traditional" or local rent arrangements to local people. While there are some tani in Java's villages who are wealthy, there are more who do not have enough land or other assets and many who have none, the buruh or labouring class. Established systems of rent, flexible and risk-spreading, were designed to apportion a mass of general labour to rather small resources, and to do so with some social justice, if not perfect equity. The fact that the new rent laws have not been generally adopted in nearly 20 years (where old rent systems persist they are really lapsed laws) indicates that they were laws inappropriate to local circumstances (Hesti Wijaya and Sturgess 1979).

On the other hand, the Agrarian Law of 1960 has made the sale of village land easier, and it seems that selling land is now a more widespread practice (see, e.g., the case outlined in collier at al. 1977, of a shift from communal land ownership in Desa Rowosari). This is understandable if one realizes that selling land in dire circumstances is one way a poor household can obtain some respite. One effect of the legislation has been very important in some areas: it allows outsiders to purchase land in local communities. This tendency has been in keeping with, and partly sponsored by, the capitalization forces generally operating in Javanese agriculture over the last 15 years or so. The entry of outsiders into village land ownership-and some villages have as much as three-quarters of their land owned in such a way (Collier et al. 1977) - has meant, among other things, a disruption of local institutional arrangements which allowed, with some equity, the landless and the poor access to work and income.

The complex changes that may result from technology, in its broadest sense, are perhaps best illustrated in Java with reference to the sawah, the irrigated rice field that forms the backbone of the island's village economy. Before coming to this, let me make some generalizations about the possible detrimental effects of technology and secondly put the sawah in the socio-economic context of a coastal village.

Some Possible Effects of Technology

As I said at the beginning, technology and scientific research can, in two broad ways, increase the resource horizon and also work toward conserving resources (which is, of course, not unimportant in Java, where population pressure on resources is great indeed). But along with these truly developmental possibilities may come changes in the society and the economy that arouse more concern. These changes are:

  1. An increase in production costs (e.g., seeds, fertilizers).
  2. An increase in the sea/e of operation to make the adoption of new technologies worthwhile.
  3. An increase in management needs (e.g., managing the high-yielding varieties of rice [HYVs] with their shorter growing period is much more difficult than managing the traditional varieties, which had more time to adjust to the shocks of drought, transplanting, pests, weeding, etc.). These increased management needs produce an increase in risk costs.
  4. A combination of (a) more potential value to be derived from more scientific production and (b) increased costs and scale may produce forces which concentrate production in certain hands, i.e., the wealthy; changes in asset ownership patterns result and may be associated with an increase in outside urban owners of village land. Further, mechanization is often one way the wealthy can reduce costs, so this is also a likely accompaniment.
  5. Institutional changes plus mechanization can displace labour, increase unemployment and underemployment, contribute to circular migration (whereby labour use from the household divides between the local area and the city [Hugo 1951] ), and increase inequality. These of course are all-important in Java where labour is abundant, the masses are poor, and inequities are already considerable.

These generalized possibilities may be illustrated with reference to a particular case, the changes in village rice production. Before doing so, let me generalize still further to see the sawah within the broader horizons of a Javanese village.

A Socio-economic Schema of a Village

Figure 2 attempts to depict the important socio-economic elements we may need to consider in understanding a coastal village. Here I shall concentrate on the "village" side of the diagram.

  1. The production and income sources are represented in the boxes in the middle of the Figure. I assume that sawah and tambak are the primary sources, both dependent in a fundamental sense on water control.
  2. The main economic unit is the nuclear household (represented by a circle) whose main resource is its labour (for production) and whose main concern is for labour (for consumption). Both subsistence and commercial production employ household labour.
  3. Labour (thick lines) applied to the production units is derived from two sources: from the village households and from outside the village. External labour is often production- and task-specific, competing with local labour for employment in certain types of production or for particular jobs in the production cycle.
  4. The allocations of labour to productive assets, capital and income opportunities (or if you like, production relationsl, are represented by the thin lines that link households with administration, households with outside owners of productive assets (especially land), and one household with another. The specific ways labour is allocated rest on answers to the following questions: Who owns the land, the tambak, the boats, etc., and in what amounts? What are the instituted arrangements which apportion labour to these assets? What are the rewards for labour in the apportionment, A fundamental concern in examining village society and economy is to understand how these relations are changing and why, for they are central to our appreciation of growth, distribution, and employment. In the past, the Javanese village has had institutional arrangements which some have called "poverty sharing" mechanisms (Geertz 1963). These are undergoing change (related partly to technology) and there seem to be incipient class formations developing (Storer 1977). In general, we may note (from Hart, quoted in Collier et al.. 1977) three broad groups: ( 1 ) those with sufficient assets to support the family (some of whom will have enough assets to hire labour); (2) those with some, but insufficient, assets to support the family, so that some family labour will be hired out to (1), often at certain times of the year according to production cycles; and (3) those with no assets and who are solely dependent on hiring out their labour. We should make two notes in connection with the allocation of labour and assets. First, households may own assets or send labour outside the local area just as outsiders may have assets or work in the village. In general, as technological and institutional change has taken place in Java, the spatial dimension of production relations has broadened and the village has become less of a production "community." Secondly, advanced technology tends to concentrate in class (1), and tends to expand the number in class (3) which, in turn, may lower the price of labour in class (3).
  5. The "learning" lines in Figure 5 are of three types: research which is centralized and diffused; values and ideology which are part of the habits of local culture; and finally the experience of people involved in the "day to day" business of both producing and relating with owners and/or workers. Value and experience may to some extent affect how things are produced and whether new technologies are adopted; modernization theorists would, for example, see traditional values as obstacles to be overcome before new technologies are adopted. They are also related to production relations; for example, one value system may stress communal activity, another independence. Too much can be made of these matters, however. To suggest for example that a low level of production and technology within a village is the result of a learning environment unsuited to capitalism or advanced technology suggests villagers are slow learners, tradition bound, value ridden, unentrepreneurial, even lazy. None of these things may be true. Such a view of things, moreover, tends to see a value system as a constant, whereas values change as the wider social and economic environment changes. One needs to appreciate that in conditions of poverty, and particularly when men and women have little more than their labour to "sell," an individual's economic behaviour is not so much a matter of his values as it is of what he can afford, or is allowed to do.

FIG. 2 Village-coastal ecology links

Institutional and Technology Changes in Sawah

In recent years a number of institutional changes have appeared in Java's villages which have altered the ways labour has traditionally been apportioned. These changes, as we shall see, are partly related to the technological advances in high-yielding varieties of rice (HYVs) brought by the Indonesian BIMAS packages since 1968. The changes appear so far at the harvesting, hulling, and distribution-toharvester stages of rice production. The old bawon system which absorbed large numbers of villagers into rice harvesting is giving way to something far less labourabsorptive. A number of studies (for example, Collier et al. 1973; Collier et al. 1977; Palmer 1977; Sinaga 1978) have noted these changes. The following summary is drawn from Collier etal. 1977.

One aspect of the old system was the use of large numbers of villagers often mostly women, harvesting the rice essentially stalk by stalk using the ani-ani, a small razor-like instrument. Harvesters were entitled to one-fifth to one-fourth share of what they gathered, an entitlement that stemmed from their status in the production and social system. One or two days after the harvest, gleaners (women and children) would come to the field to pick up what was left on the ground after the harvest; again, the system entitled them to free gatherings. At the hulling stage labour (again often female) was intensively used. At the sharing stage of the harvest, women would, at the owner's house, select the biggest stalks in their claims to, say, a fifth share; this specific and personal way of allocating shares -allowed by social pressures in the village-often meant that a fifth share became a quarter.

This system may raise some queries in the minds of traditional economists, but what it did provide was the use of much village labour in the production process, plus sharing, even if this may have been at times "sharing poverty."

A number of things are altering this system. The ani-ani was once a useful instrument to maximize yields via its stalk-bystalk cultivation. With the increase in harvesters brought on by population growth (a demographic cause) and also by an increase in people who need to harvest for income purposes (an economic cause sponsored by a change in production relations), harvesting under the,oawon system has increased the costs of production by raising the risks of harvest (e.g., loss through stamping, dropping, and theft). To reduce these sorts of risks, the land owner has often called in a middleman (penebas) to control the harvest; he is often an outsider. Under this tebasan system, social pressures to conform to the old bawon system are less and the normal result is a reduction in the number of harvesters; indeed, the middleman sometimes brings in his own harvesters.

Another change has been the introduction of the sickle in place of the ani-ani. This was a result of the general concern for reducing costs, and has halved the number of harvesters needed under the old system; it also tends to reduce what is left for gleaners; indeed, it may be argued that this was part of the reason for introducing the sickle, for recently gleaners were entering the field on the same day as the harvest, creating a general melee of people and making harvesting difficult to control. In addition, mechanized rice hullers have been widely adopted, with obvious effects on labour use. Collier et al. ( 1974) have estimated, for example, that hullers have lost some 125 million women-days of labour in Java (equal to a loss of $US 50 million to labourers). Further, the use of weighing scales, often by the penebas, has meant that the distribution of the harvest has become quite specific, at a cost to the harvester and at a saving to the owner or middleman.

Now it may be argued that these changes have been brought on by Java's population growth, although, as I have said, this growth, in the paddy field as it were, is a function not only of natural demographic increase but of economic forces releasing labour. But these changes are also part of the introduction of HYVs of rice.

Theoretically, this new technology of the 1960s (HYVs) promised a four- or five-fold increase in rice production.

What it has tended to do is replace labour and concentrate wealth. It is not simply that the promise of higher yields is attractive to those better placed to increase their sawah assets; it is also a matter of costs of production being greater with HYVs-for seeds, fertilizers, and the like. Greater risk costs are involved in the management needs we have already mentioned. There is, thus, generally a greater impulse to reduce costs-and this has tended to take the form of labour-saving devices at the harvesting and hulling stages. We might note, here, that there is further room for labour displacement through mechanization of the ploughing and transporting stages of the production process, as is occurring in Kedah in Malaysia, but which appears to be less evident so far in Java. Despite these quite considerable changes in the economic and social systems related to rice, the HYVs may not yield very much more than traditional varieties; what appeared promising in the laboratory often appears disappointing to the tani in the field (Collier etal. 1977).

It can be argued, of course, that the changes outlined for sawah are inevitable if rice production is to increase (accepting the promised potential of HYVs). Given the impact these changes have upon the poor, this is an argument I find trouble in accepting. But this is not the point I wish to make. Rather, the point is that these sorts of changes were not predicted at the time the new technology was introduced. They perhaps should have been. And perhaps they would have been had there been more awareness that technology cannot be divorced from social and economic realities.

Now what I have said concerning the "technological impact" on rice does not mean to say that technology will, in the Javanese village situation, necessarily have the result of increasing unemployment and inequality, and upsetting established institutional arrangements. Small-scale, cheap technologies that raise production may have little such impact yet improve welfare. Larger and more costly technologies will, I would argue, mean a shift of assets to larger producers and an increase in the proportion of village labour that is hired, but such changes in the production relations may still mean that employment levels can be maintained in total. Let me give an example of what I mean by referring to the tambak-the brackish-water fish pond.

The tambak may be small (about 1.5 ha) or large (about 3.5 ha or more). It is used on the north coast for the cultivation of shrimp or fish (milkfish) or both. Shrimp cultivation is a day-byday operation dependent upon the entry of the tide, and milkfish cultivation is more complex and costly with cyclical operations involving repair and pest cleaning of ponds, the purchase of fry for the nursery and eventual transfer to the pond, and raising the fish (four to six months). Polyculture (fish and shrimp) is more complex and obviously difficult if one depends on tides (entry and exit) for shrimp stocking. The main labour involved in this system is for pond digging, cleaning, etc., a periodic task (Collier et al.. 1977).

There is little doubt that greater productivity can be achieved from these ponds through better operations, knowledge, and the application of better technologies (e.g., a better knowledge of tides, better sluice control, insecticides to control pests, fertilizers to increase food stock). Some of these are more costly than others, and each may have intricate repercussions on the ecological system. Fish offers the best chance of increasing incomes, but fish is more capital intensive (and dependent on the techniques of fry supply and transport-matters outside the area in the wider economy). Two other facts are needed before we comment. The construction of a tambak is costly (about 1/4 million Rp per ha). Secondly, labour employed per ha is less in the large ponds than in the small ponds and the large ponds depend relatively more on hired labour than family labour (Collier etal. 1977).

For purposes of illustration, let me describe three possible employment impacts that may stem from improved technologies. First, small-scale improvements may be made to lift the shrimp cultivators' production with no lowering of labour employed (and perhaps with some marginal increase). Second, a technology-resources package which favours fish is likely to concentrate in the hands of the big operators (for various reasons, the principles of which are similar to what happened with rice); if this occurs by big ponds taking over established small ponds with no increase in total pond area, some labour is likely to be displaced and will have to be absorbed into other parts of the economy. Third, if a higher fish-technology package is developed but for new large ponds (i.e., an increase in total pond area), increases in employment opportunities may arise. I need to add that these examples are simplified; the impacts on the socio-economic system are likely to be more intricate than this.

Let me end by saying something about the problem of communicating the ideas of science to the local population, again with reference to tambak and drawing some lessons from the sawah experience. Again, my comments are to serve as an illustration of complexity.

Assume that technology offers ideas to improve tambak operations and production. There is, it seems, likely to be resistance to these ideas on the part of some operators and labourers, especially if the ideas involve a high level of risk and require experimentation. Part of this resistance will stem from the experience with the technological impact of sawah-which has not been uniformly beneficial. One way of overcoming this resistance, perhaps, is to experiment with new tambak technology on a village scale-i.e., through co-operative or higher taxed effort through the village administration. One thing that may constrain this, however, is the fact that the village administration may no longer be strong and the amount of tax collected may be less because of the entry of outsiders into the ownership pattern of the village assets. Even if the administration is socially a cohesive part of the village and amenable to co-operative effort to experiment with a better tambak, the results of this experiment may be skewed to the larger scale, wealthier operators. If only these operators adopt the results of the experiment, it will be a case of the village labour contributing to the experiment for the ultimate benefit of the few.

To conclude, I have not been arguing that technology is irrelevant or useless. Rather I have been arguing for its relevance. But it requires an understanding of society and economy, not in a simple descriptive or static sense, not of "what is there," but an understanding of what has happened, is happening, and may happen. Until that understanding touches technocracy I suggest that priorities are misplaced and that technology runs the risk of being institutionally disruptive and irrelevant, or worse, to the poor.


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Hehuwat: The figures are very suggestive, but why have you left out land resources and external influences?

Missen: The box labelled production also represents land assets. Labour is applied to these in various ways; the labour allocation is represented by the lines between the household circles. As for external influences, yes, I agree they should be included.

Vayda: In the diagram of the UNU programme, the cultural and socio-economic factors are noted only as obstacles. Is this your view?

Missen: Cultural and socio-economic factors should not be regarded simply as obstacles.

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