The main economic activities on Flores are agriculture, fishing, and seaweed production. Flores is among the economically least developed parts of Indonesia. Reasons for this are the lack of larger industries and activities to win natural resources, as well as the geographically remote position of the island. However, the absence of larger industries and extracting enterprises has helped to keep a mostly pristine and untouched natural environment.
Most of the Florinese people are subsistence farmers who make their living by growing food crops for their own needs. Today’s basic subsistence crop is rice, grown in a sawah, or a wet paddy field. Coastal communities make their living with fishing, selling a part of their catch at local markets or trading it for staple foods, such as rice, with people from the interior. However, the omnipresence of wet-rice cultivation today was vastly different in Flores’ agricultural past.
As cash commerce has found its way into the remotest of villages of Flores, people also started to cultivate crops in order to generate cash income. Money is prominently needed to pay for children’s school fees, for taxes to the state, and for expenses related to weddings. The most popular cash crops in Flores are coffee, cloves, cocoa, vanilla, candlenuts, cashew nuts, and seaweed. With the exception of candlenut, the cultivation of these cash crops was initiated either by Catholic missionaries or the Indonesian government. As the farmers’ cash crop income depends on national and international market prices and demands, they are highly exposed to price fluctuations.
Alternative income opportunities
Alternative income opportunities are rather scarce in Flores and depend on the respective regional context. In most cases, these activities are only sidelines to subsistence production. In central Manggarai, where the climate is suitable for the aren palm, the small-scale production of palm sugar, which can be traded or sold in local markets, provides an additional income source.
In East Flores, the production of ikat cloth is a widespread activity. By selling the cloth at local markets and also to tourists, many families can generate some additional cash income.
Facing this situation, many Florinese people try their luck outside of their island – either in other parts of Indonesia, in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia or Singapore, or even in the Far East. As Flores is attracting more and more foreign visitors each year, the tourism sector is also becoming a new field of opportunity to find work, be it as a tour guide, or in a hotel, catering, or transportation business.