In search of sustainable and inclusive palm oil production: The role of smallholders in Indonesia

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This dissertation builds on the old debate regarding the role of smallholder farmers in society and links it to the integration of smallholders into modern global value chains. Since the peak in global agro-commodity prices in 2007/08, interest in agriculture has increased again among policymakers and in the private sector. Modern global value chains provide opportunities for smallholder farmers but also increasingly dictate conditions in terms of production practices, and thereby determine conditions for inclusion. The Indonesian oil palm sector provides an interesting case regarding smallholder inclusion in modern global value chains and the role they play in sustainable agro-commodity production. Palm oil production in Indonesia has thrived due to insertion in global value chains, experienced massive smallholder engagement, faces considerable sustainability challenges and illustrates the impacts sustainability initiatives can have on smallholders. It thus provides a promising case to further explore the nexus of sustainable and inclusive development, smallholder agriculture and policy. The primary aim of this dissertation is to advance the understanding of how the oil palm sector can be made more sustainable and inclusive. It does so by exploring independent and organized oil palm smallholders in Sumatra, explaining their emergence and performance, and discussing strategies to improve their performance. Whereas the smallholder oil palm sector clearly has its unique characteristics, this dissertation unpicks some stereotypical views on smallholders and highlights the dynamics impacting farmers’ organizations over time, and thereby contributes to debates on the future of farming.

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