Indonesia Table of Contents

There was widespread agreement within the Indonesian government and among foreign advisers that one of the most pressing problems facing the nation in the early 1990s was overpopulation. While Indonesia still had high fertility rates, there were significant reductions in these levels in the 1980s. The overall population annual growth rate was reduced to an estimated 2.0 percent by 1990, down from 2.2 in the 1975-80 period. The crude birth rate declined from 48.8 births per 1,000 in 1968 to 29 per 1,000 in 1990. Although the widely publicized goal of 22 per 1,000 by 1991 was not achieved, the results were impressive for a country the size of Indonesia. The effect of the programs of the National Family Planning Coordinating Agency (BKKBN; for this and other acronyms, see table A) was particularly dramatic in Java, Bali, and in urban areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan, despite cutbacks in funding. The success of the program in these areas seemed to be directly linked to the improved education of women, their increasing tendency to postpone marriage, and, most important, to a growing awareness and effective use of modern contraceptives.

The reason behind Indonesia's overall decline in fertility rates was a matter of debate in 1992, because it was not clear that economic conditions had improved for most Indonesians during the 1970s and 1980s (the middle class did experience some improvement). Indeed, although the number of poor decreased in the 1970s and 1980s, landlessness, malnutrition, and social and economic inequality may have increased for many of the rural poor. However, some observers argued that, despite the lack of social and economic improvements among Indonesia's poor, easy availability of birth control procedures, mass education, and more mobile family structures may be sufficient to explain this impressive change.

Even though Indonesia's growth rate had decreased over the decades since independence, the population continued to grow and population density increased significantly, particularly on the main islands. In July 1992, Indonesia's population had reached 195,683,531, with an annual growth rate of 1.7 percent, according to United States estimates. The Indonesians themselves claimed 179,322,000 in their 1990 census and various foreign estimates for 1992 ranged between 183 million and 184 million, with a 1.7 percent growth rate. Population growth placed enormous pressures on land, the education system, and other social resources, and was closely linked to the dramatic rise in population mobility and urbanization. At such rates of growth, the population was expected to double by 2025. Even if birth control programs in place in the early 1990s succeeded beyond expectations and each Indonesian woman had only two children, Indonesia's population was still so young that huge numbers of women would reach their child-bearing years in the first decades of the twentyfirst century. This tremendous ballooning of the younger population groups virtually ensured that overpopulation would continue to be a major source of concern well into the next century. By the year 2000, Indonesia's population was projected to reach at least 210 million, with the country maintaining its position as the fourth most populous nation on earth.

Although Indonesia's demographic situation was cause for great concern, it had much in common with other Third World nations. Indeed, in some respects Indonesia was slightly better off than other developing countries in the early 1990s because it had initiated some of the world's most ambitious programs to control its population problem. The key features of these initiatives were the national birth control program and the massive Transmigration Program, in which some 730,000 families were relocated to underpopulated areas of the country.

The population problem was most dramatic among the rice-growing peasants of Java and Bali and in cities--particularly Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, and Medan. In 1980 the islands of Java, Madura, and Bali, which comprised 6.9 percent of the nation's land area, were home to 63.6 percent of Indonesia's population. These major islands had a population density of more than 500 persons per square kilometer, five times that of the most densely populated Outer Islands.

The inability of these islands to support ever larger populations on ever smaller plots of land was apparent in 1992, particularly to the farmers themselves. Although the intensification of padi agriculture had for decades permitted the absorption of this rising labor force, the rural poor from Java, Bali, and Madura were leaving their native areas to seek more land and opportunity elsewhere. Attempts at significant land reform, which might have improved the peasants' lot, were stalled--if not abandoned--in many areas of Java because of riots and massacres following the alleged communist coup attempt of 1965. Reformers were cautious about raising the issue of land redistribution for fear of being branded communists.


For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Indonesia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress