Navigating investment and dispossession: gendered impacts of the oil palm ‘land rush’ in East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Rebecca Elmhirst, Mia Siscawati, Bimbika Sijapati Basnett

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review


In Southeast Asia, oil palm has played an important role in driving ‘land deals’ and in providing a focal point for activist and advocacy responses to this phenomenon. In Indonesia, and particularly on the island of Kalimantan, investment in oil palm has been associated with accelerated forms of land acquisition and investment, and the dispossession of small-scale farmers and indigenous people,signalling far-reaching implications for well-being and equity. To date, limited attention has been paid to the gender dimensions of oil palm investments, despite there being clear links with parallel debates on gender and land rights, and despite recent calls to centre labour (productive and reproductive) inland grab analyses. In this paper, we use a feminist political ecology optic to explore the dynamics of gender within the current oil palm-led ‘land rush’ in Indonesia, with the aim of unsettling overly simple dualisms such as those around foreign and domestic land grabs; smallholder and plantation modes of operation; and migrant and ‘local’ communities; male capacities and female vulnerabilities.The paper draws on data from an ongoing study of the gendered impacts of investments in oil palm in five communities in East Kalimantan which have been substantially affected by large scale plantation development as well as smaller scale investments in oil palm by migrant entrepreneurs. Here, a simple land grab narrative is complicated by contrasting experiences and responses of different kinds of land users, and conflicts within communities. Together, these point to the ways oil palm becomes one of the technologies that simultaneously changes the meaning of land, legitimates particular forms of exclusion and produces particular forms of gendered agency amongst both investors and the dispossessed. Our study points to the importance of bringing a material and materialist feminist perspective to bear on the analysis of the global land rush in a context where local communities are not singular, where the social qualities of land reflect gendered histories of resource investment in the context of socio-political change and where oil palm’s agency and effect is wrought though its gendered socio-political history in this context.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLand grabbing: perspectives from Southeast Asia
Place of PublicationThe Hague, Netherlands
PublisherInternational Institute of Social Studies
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015
EventLand grabbing: perspectives from Southeast Asia - Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 5-6 June 2015
Duration: 1 Jun 2015 → …


ConferenceLand grabbing: perspectives from Southeast Asia
Period1/06/15 → …


  • oil palm
  • gender
  • dispossession
  • land grabbing
  • East Kalimantan
  • political ecology
  • feminist political ecology


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