Wendy Alejandra Medina de Loera
My dissertation explores the extractive industry of river sand and stone materials by drawing on empirical research in the Jeneberang river in South Sulawesi province, Indonesia. In recent years real estate capital has been key to reinvigorate the global economy, especially in Asia. This has aroused the commercial interest in sand as a basic raw material for the sector. Sand mining has drawn increasing attention from social scientists, particularly in areas of Asia where the pace and magnitude of the urbanization processes are rapid. Some of the recent social sciences literature on sand mining in English has provided valuable insights into the impacts of this extractive activity on livelihoods either dependent on or linked to sand. These analyses have highlighted the detrimental (social, economic, environmental) effects that sand mining has on livelihoods for which sand is essential such as fishing and riverbank agriculture (these studies have also recognized that livelihood opportunities are created by sand mining). Without doubt, sand mining often has negative impacts on sand-linked and sand-dependent livelihoods in source sites, as well as riverine and coastal ecologies, as has increasingly been documented by scholars, journalists, activists, and others. But these impacts are experienced differently across geographies and times and, more importantly, they are coped with by a diversity of strategies.
The extraction of sand and other materials used for construction (such as stone materials) has a long history and it has taken place almost everywhere in the world where built environments have been created. Extractive operations usually take place in source sites located in the vicinity of the markets they supply and have always been organized locally. Transportation costs make a difference so it has been usual that mining sites are located close to markets.
My research focuses on a local/regional case of river sand and stone materials extraction that could be considered as ‘common’ when compared to documented cases of sand mining that entail massive extraction for international markets and its global trade. It is ‘ordinary’ in the sense that mining of sand and stones in the Jeneberang river takes place for supplying construction materials to the nearest cities for their further urbanization, and the estimated volumes extracted are in line with this demand. In this sense, the case explored in my dissertation is representative of many other experiences with river sand and stones mining around the world. And it is precisely the ubiquity of the phenomena what makes it necessary and pressing to be investigated.
The Jeneberang river is ecologically and historically significant; with the ancient city of Makassar, now a rapidly growing major city of around 1.5 million people and the main urban hub in Eastern Indonesia, at the river mouth. Makassar’s urban growth has had an impact on the Jeneberang river as it provides the city with water resources, food, electricity, and construction materials. Within this context, the historical extraction of river sand and stones and the construction of Bili-Bili multipurpose dam (and other structures) have dramatically transformed the Jeneberang. Despite all the potential adverse effects of sand mining, however, this extractive activity continues to be highly relevant in the area.
In my dissertation I attempt to understand why people in the vicinity of mining sites in the Jeneberang river do not seem to be openly complaining about the extractive activities taking place in the proximity. I went to the field in 2019 with the expectation —shaped by some of the scholarly work on mining (of gold, nickel, and coal, for example) and by many other sources of information more accessible for the general public— that I would find conflict, resistance, and opposition among some groups of people towards extractive activities. But I did not find any visible sign of these. Apparently, there is no open and identifiable conflict, which does not necessarily mean that tensions are nonexistent. I am still wondering whether I missed something in the field, or if the conflict was not so evident to me or if I just was not able to immerse myself enough (I will do additional fieldwork soon). Reviews of local news from the recent past have shed light on complaints in the area about the dust created by the industry and the damages caused to the main road by the constant transit of dumper trucks filled with river sand and stones. More recently, the (informal/unlicensed) mining of river materials in the upper reaches of the Jeneberang has been finger-pointed by government officers and environmental activists at the district and provincial level (not in the vicinity of mining sites) as one of the causes of the 2019 flood because of the damage done to the dam infrastructure (I could not confirm this). But up until now, I have not learned of people in the surroundings having complaints about their livelihoods being disturbed by the mining of sand and stone materials taking place in the channel of the Jeneberang river. These observations have led me to ask -what explains the apparent acceptance of sand and stone materials mining in the Jeneberang river by people living near mining sites? Do the type of materials mined and their characteristics to extract them matter? Is the scale at which the extraction is conducted relevant for understanding this? (large-scale extraction for supplying international markets vs extraction for meeting a regional demand?) Is there any relationship between the type of materials extracted, the way in which their extraction is organized and the links that the extractive industry of river sand and stones establishes with people living/making a living around mining sites? I lay out below some of the conclusions I have come to so far.
The physical features of the historical geographical space (the Jeneberang river and its basin as an area that has experienced transformations over time) have been key for generating fixed extraction sites which contribute to shape an extractive sector that is geographically concentrated (now in the upper reaches). This has made the river sand and stone materials extractive industry strongly localized; its local aspect is noticeable in terms of the workers employed. The need for workforce, the flexibility of not requiring specialized knowledge or skills for the jobs in this industry, and the variety of existent labour arrangements have made it possible for local people to access work in this sector. Moreover, the extraction, processing and trade of river sand and stones in the Jeneberang is also strongly localized in terms of the companies who do the mining and the mechanisms to both prevent and resolve tensions when they arise. These characteristics of the local aspect of the river sand and stone materials extractive industry in the Jeneberang have contributed to ease the relationship between the sector and the local population.
River sand and stone materials extraction in the Jeneberang river has created job opportunities for people living near mining sites. For this, the type of materials mined has mattered in terms of the possibilities for people in the vicinity to partake in extractive activities. In themselves, river sand and stones in the Jeneberang are easily accessible to be mined as their extraction can be done with cheap and simple tools and no technical knowledge to extract them or specialized/expensive exploration methods to find them are necessary. These characteristics have enabled people in the area to get involved in their mining and benefit from it, regardless of their differentiated capabilities for using certain mining equipment over others. However, the easyness and simplicity with which river sand and stones can be extracted does not mean that all actors interested in their mining have equal opportunities to do it. Within this context, the participation of local people in the river sand and stone materials extractive sector is situated within broader political economic processes and is embedded within shifting social relations of production in the sector. Currently, people in the vicinity (exclusively men) have entered into a vast array of labour arrangements with mining companies who have official permits to access mining sites. Different labour arrangements might entail problematic working conditions from our perspective, but at first sight they seem to have provided people in nearby rural areas with access to what is now their either main or supplementary source of cash income. Having local people working in the sector has been relevant for the sand and stone materials extractive industry in the Jeneberang river to have more acceptance in the locality and endure.
As more studies on sand mining are being developed, I attempt to offer insights that can help us to better understand under what circumstances and conditions this extractive activity might be less disadvantageous for those living around source sites and could experience its potential adverse effects. Highlighting how local people in the Jeneberang river have been able to get involved in the river sand and stone materials extraction industry or to obtain some kind of benefit (in money or in kind) from it can shed light on the complex ways in which sand mining is navigated and accommodated by the locality.
My study draws primarily on surveys and interviews conducted from March to September 2019 by me and a local Makassarese speaker research assistant with workers of the river sand and stone extraction sector, managers of mining companies, government officials, and farmers of the area. It also draws on my observations in the field, databases and information shared by district and provincial government offices I turned to during fieldwork, statistical information prepared and made available by Statistics Indonesia at the district level (BPS Gowa -Badan Pusat Statistik Gowa), a few reports on the Jeneberang river either prepared or commissioned by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and secondary sources in English and Indonesian.
 Under the term ‘stone materials’ I have lumped together river materials that include granules, pebbles, cobbles, and boulders, as defined by the grain size classification of sediments done by Wentworth, Chester. K. “A Scale of Grade and Class Terms for Clastic Sediments.” The Journal of Geology 30, no.5 (1922): 377-92.
I am an international doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography at York University’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change. I hold a MA in Southeast Asian Studies from the Center for the Study of Asia and Africa (CEAA by its initials in Spanish), El Colegio de México. I am a student associate at the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) and an active member of Eurasian Studies Group (Grupo de Estudios sobre Eurasia -GESE). The research for my dissertation has been supported by the Mexican Ministry of Science and Technology (CONACYT by its initials in Spanish), York University’s Fieldwork Cost Fund and the Penny and John Van Esterik Award for Graduate Research on Southeast Asia. At present, I also work as a Research Assistant for the Work at Sea project led by Dr. Peter Vandergeest (York University) and Dr. Melissa Marschke (University of Ottawa).