Commodities and anti-commodities: Rice on Sumatra 1915-1925

Harro Maat*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The start of World War I in 1914 was shocking news for the Dutch as it was to the rest of the world. The Netherlands, by maintaining a neutral status, avoided direct military involvement. The main concern, therefore, was the effect on the economy. In particular the capacity to import and export goods over sea was an issue as belligerent powers either sunk or confiscated steam vessels.1 The disruption of overseas trade routes caused anxiety among the Dutch population in the Netherlands Indies as well. In particular plantation companies were dependent on international shipping routes for the export of their produce. Perhaps an even bigger worry for the planters than putting their goods to the international markets was the effect of the war on the imports of rice. A prime area that concerned both private planters and government officials was the coastal zone on the eastern part of Sumatra (Figure P.1a). Here, many thousands of migrant laborers, usually recruited on a three-year contract basis, formed the productive backbone of Sumatra’s plantation belt.2 The advent of war terrified the Sumatran planters. However, immediate panic-stricken orders for rice proved unnecessary as the rice markets in SouTheast Asia continued to function during most of the war period. Toward the end of the war the situation worsened, rice prices went up and many countries restricted rice exports. This time the situation seriously threatened the international rice trade and in 1918 the colonial government issued a long list of decrees to restrict exports of rice and other food crops from and across various places in the archipelago. Securing food provisions to the Sumatran plantation workers was a central target.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRice: Global Networks and New Histories
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781107360266
ISBN (Print)9781107622371, 9781107044395
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


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