Plantation Systems, Labour Regimes and the State in Malaysia, 1900–2012

By Amarjit Kaur

Plantation production systems, plantation labour regimes and a foreign workforce typified European investment in the large-scale agricultural sector in colonial Malaya. Analogous structures and trends continue to be influential in Malaysia’s contemporary commercial agricultural sector.

Initially, the politics and organization of the East India Company and the pursuit of tropical commodities corresponded with the facilitation and channelling of Indian migrant labour for coffee and sugar cultivation in Malaya. The subsequent development of the rubber industry represented the first major transition to more highly capitalized large-scale farming for international markets.

In the 1990s, oil palm replaced rubber as the premier crop in a second agrarian transition, consistent with Malaysia’s economic and political imperatives, social policy and the global demand for palm oil. There are important continuities in the rubber and oil palm agricultural transitions. These include comparable plantation structures, labour systems and a continuing reliance on migrant labour, despite the growth of the national labour force.

The correlation between plantation systems and Malaysia’s foreign labour policy should be viewed through the prism of challenges to large-scale agricultural production and countervailing forces that might be acting on the Malaysian state.

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Source : Kaur, Amarjit, 2014, Plantation Systems, Labour Regimes and the State in Malaysia, 1900–2012, Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 190–213.