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date: 23 March 2018

Sugar Industry in Colonial Indonesia

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.

Colonial Indonesia’s sugar industry, developed under Dutch and Sino-Indonesian auspices over a period of almost three centuries, beginning c.1650, evolved into a unique configuration, in which an industrialized sugar complex became embedded within a much larger peasant economy farming rice and “second” crops. It was on this agrarian basis and largely self-financed that Indonesia’s colonial sugar industry, located exclusively in the island of Java, became one of the leading sectors of the international sugar economy of the late colonial era, eventually rivaling even Cuba—the nonpareil of such producers—as an exporter to world markets. During the Inter-War Depression of the 1930s and the subsequent decade of war and revolution, the sugar industry lost much (and eventually all) of its international standing—yet it managed to survive into Indonesia’s post-colonial era, albeit in an attenuated form.