Seminar | Fortress Farming: Livelihoods and coffee value chains in a transforming Indonesia | by Dr Jeff Neilson, University of Sydney

Thursday, 31st October 2019 | from 16.00 -17.30 | Leeuwenborch building, C0079

For many years now, agriculture has been a modest contributor to the Indonesian economy. While the total number of households involved in agriculture remains substantial, it is declining in both absolute and relative terms. Furthermore, the contribution of agriculture to household income for those still farming is generally decreasing. These transformations raise interesting questions about the future of rural livelihoods and agrarian landscapes. This presentation introduces the concept of “fortress farming” amongst Indonesian coffee producers as a popular livelihood strategy, with likely relevance in other contexts. It refers to the changing function of agriculture within diversified rural livelihood strategies, whereby households rarely consider agriculture to be a potential or viable means of wealth accumulation. Agriculture, however, performs a critical “fortress” role in ensuring fundamental household needs are met while household members pursue more lucrative income-generating activities off-farm. Such a strategy helps explain why many rural households – much to the dismay of government extension officers, development agencies, downstream firms and some peasant organisations – are reluctant to invest labour and financial resources in increasing agricultural profitability. The fortress farming strategy is both a response to, and a limit imposed upon, attempts by global capital to transform farm systems through the influence of global value chains. Within a context of diminishing urban job creation, there are good reasons to believe that later-industrialising countries, like Indonesia, are experiencing a permanently truncated agrarian transition where fortress farming strategies will remain prevalent. There are important political implications that arise from fortress farming livelihood strategies, including an urgent need to secure the livelihood resources of the rural poor as good social policy.

Jeff Neilson is a geographer at the University of Sydney who has lived, worked and researched in Indonesia over a 25-year period. Jeff’s current research interests include agrarian change, land reform, food sovereignty and the impacts of value chain sustainability programs on rural communities. He pursues a multi-scalar approach to geographical research, exploring how livelihoods are shaped by the interactions between household strategies within evolving institutional environments operating at local and global scales. Jeff is currently involved in research projects with coffee-growing communities across the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, Sulawesi and Flores, and is the Indonesia Country Coordinator for the University of Sydney’s Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC).

This seminar is organized by the Agrarian Change cluster of the Centre of Space, Place and Society, Wageningen University and Research. For more info: Mark Vicol (