Cultuurstelsel and Netherlands Agricultural Advance

“For the joy is not in cutting paddy; the joy is in cutting the paddy which one has planted.  And the soul of man does not rejoice in wages, but in the labour that earns those wages.” (Max Havelaar; or the Coffee Auctions of The Dutch Trading Company, Multatuli, 1860)

Those words in the preface strongly reflects the emotion of Eduard Douwes Dekker (pen name: Multatuli), a Dutch author who criticize Dutch colonial policy, Cultuurstelsel in Indonesia.

Applied in 1830, Cultuurstelsel was a system of compulsory planting, where Javanese farmers were forced to plant tradable plants to be exported, such as coffee, sugar, and nila. For Indonesians, it’s true that it was very cruel slavery. But, despite of that ‘black history’, Cultuurstelsel indirectly left footprints in Indonesian agricultural development. It turned Indonesian traditional agriculture into export-orientation farmland. Clifford Geertz (1963) explained how Cultuurstelsel creates Agricultural Involution, contributes to the process of ecological change in Indonesia. Even some Indonesian current agriculture facilities such as irrigation system and flood control means was build by Dutch colonialist in 1880-1939.

This ‘experience’ of Dutch colonialist in Indonesia might be linked to what Netherland has achieved in present day. Netherlands is the world third largest exporter of agricultural produce, after US and France. The surprising fact is that there are only 3% of Dutch populations employed in agriculture sector! This achievement become more fascinating since Netherland is a very tight country (sized only 2,2% of Indonesia). Truly, Netherlands is really a small country with limited land and labor, so how come it becomes such a huge exporter of agriculture products?

Yes, it must have very intensive agriculture system. We can look back on Cultuurstelsel period, where Dutch colonialist applied some steps of land intensification in Indonesia. Geertz (1963) wrote the steps which result in agriculture efficiency, started from pre-germination, transplanting, razor blade harvesting, etc.

But, more than that, it is a systematic and specified system of agricultural education which brings Netherlands into agricultural high productivity. Unlike other countries, agriculture education in Netherlands is separated from general schools, and is organized specifically in 4 (four) different levels. Refer to Martin Mulder and Hendrik Kupper (2006), at junior secondary level (VMBO) students can choose a track on agriculture. Then in senior secondary level (MBO) there are agriculture vocational schools (AOC). On the next level there are agricultural institutes (HAO) as professional agriculture education. The last is academic agriculture education at Wageningen University.

In agriculture vocational schools, students are intensively educated in and trained where they work as a trainee on a farm, trade, or industry. It rises their deeply understanding of agriculture problem in real field which then galvanize problem solving ability. Information technology also plays important role in agriculture education, where students can attain information in “Livelink”, a subsection of Netherlands educational intranet.

Those intensive agricultural education results in high quality of human resources, which then creates high value process of Netherlands agriculture products. So, no wonder that now Netherlands supplies 60% of the world flowers and produces millions kilogram of sugar beets, potatoes, and barley.

Behind all, we have to be proud that Netherlands might learn those agricultural advances from Indonesia, the land where they experiment mass crops planting 150 years ago…

*Dibuat dalam rangka mengikuti “KompetiBlog 2011” bertema Belanda yang diadakan NESO Indonesia*

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