Like the larger cities of Tegal, to its west, and Pekalongan, to the east, Pemalang was dominated in the nineteenth century by sugar production. The area was known for its fertile soil, which had made it a rich rice-growing region. By the end of the nineteenth century the coastal plain, the most fertile part of the regency, was almost completely used for sugar cultivation, divided among five major plantations. Under the Japanese occupation during World War II, Pemalang's fertility provided needed rice for the Japanese war effort. The occupiers set high quotas for production, causing food shortages because little was left to remain in the village after meeting the quota.