Old Industry in Indonesia: Pictures of a Sugar Cane Community
Industrial communities in Indonesia form community around old sugar cane plants.
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Tomasz Tomaszewski is a regular contributor to the National Geographic magazine, and a photographer with thirty years of experience. He teaches photography in addition to taking his own photos, and specializes in press photography.
In 1933, Java was the world’s leading sugar producer, with more than 200 factories processing sugar cane and selling their output to the world. A product of colonialism, the industry had got its start in the early 19th century after the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean led to European sugar firms looking for new locations for plantations in Asia.
After failing in India, the Dutch found success in Java, expanding output throughout the 19th century. In 1945, Indonesia regained its independence and nationalized the industry.
Today, only just over ten factories remain in operation, all using steam-powered machinery installed over a century ago.
Although wages are low in Indonesia, productivity is poor, and production costs in Brazil and Suriname are lower. Most of the sugar consumed in the country is now imported.
Despite the industry’s decline, for those who still work in them, the factories are an important part of their life. Shuttered for much of the year, they awaken when the cane is harvested. Casual workers are hired, and the towns around the mills fill up with peddlers and travelling fairs.
Text and photographs by Tomasz Tomaszewski
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