Land poverty - no reforms in sight

Down to Earth No 60  February 2004

Indonesia's peasant farmers are being forced off their lands to make way for large-scale plantations, mining, forestry and industrial projects. Despite a sustained campaign for land reform from peasants' unions, indigenous peoples and civil society organisations, the government continues to prioritise the interests of big business - and to use the security forces to deal with protesters.

Indonesia's peasant farmers own less and less land as commercial projects take over. In 1993, according to the State Statistics Agency, 22.8 million farmers, or 84% of all farmers, controlled less than one hectare of land, and 70% owned less than half a hectare. By 2000, land poverty had increased: 80% of farmers now owned less than half a hectare according to Ministry of Agriculture statistics.

According to the Federation of Indonesian Peasants' Unions (FSPI), most farmers work hard to keep 0.5 ha, yet the government allows plantation, forestry and mining firms to hold concession areas covering thousands or even millions of hectares. Data compiled by the Indonesian NGO, KPA, shows that by 2000, 2,178 plantation companies controlled a total of 3.52 million ha.

Since the fall of Suharto, peasants organisations have been calling for deep reforms in the way the land is managed by the authorities, but violent suppression of land disputes by the security forces has continued. Activists warn that current policies will lead to more social conflict.*

National Peasants' Day on September 24th 2003 saw peasants rallying in towns and cities across Indonesia, to protest against the lack of progress and the government's failure to prioritise peasants' needs. They urged the government not to privatise the agricultural sector; called for a fairer distribution of land; and accused Jakarta of failing to pass legislation to guarantee farmers' access to land. There were also protests against genetically modified crops.


Land law reform

The Basic Agrarian Law of 1960, passed by Suharto's predecessor, Sukarno, is currently under review. A presidential decree issued in May last year (no.34/2003), urged the National Land Agency (BPN) to speed up the review process. Civil society organisations working on land and natural resources reform are concerned that the reform process will have the effect of opening up more land to the private sector. Instead of a new land law, they want a new natural resources management law which includes land reforms protecting the rights of peasants and indigenous peoples. They are disappointed at the lack of progress since the MPR, Indonesia's highest legislative body, passed decree IX in 2001. It was hoped that this would pave the way for the reform of all sectoral laws affecting land and natural resources management (see DTE 59).


More land disputes

Bulukumba: The highest profile land dispute during 2003 was the struggle of indigenous people in Bulukumba district, South Sulawesi, to reclaim their land from plantation company PT London Sumatra Indonesia (PT Lonsum). In July, three farmers were killed and several others wounded when special forces police (Brimob) used firearms to break up a protest. Thirty six farmers were detained and five received prison sentences of several months (see DTE 59). NGOs supporting the victims have launched a campaign to release them. In January 2004, local community organisations, the Kajang Indigenous Alliance (AMAT) and the Kajang Peasants Union (SPK), staged a three-day protest at the provincial assembly parliament, calling for PT Lonsum to be shut down. They asserted once again that they were the rightful owners of the land, and demanded that the government recognise their rights. (For more information visit - and see indigenous peoples article this issue.

Garut: On August 11, 2003, more than 60 peasant farmers were arrested by security forces in Garut, West Java, under 'Operation Wanalaga Lodaya'. The action was taken ostensibly to clear the Sancang Nature Reserve in South Garut. However, local groups suspect that the real reason was to clamp down on the activities of local peasant groups who have been struggling for several years to reclaim lands in the area. The security forces included members of Brimob, as well as local police and forestry officials. Crops, field huts and other property were destroyed in the raids. The disputed land in Garut had been taken over by state-owned forestry company Perhutani and large plantation companies. Perhutani has been involved in a number of violent incidents against local communities attempting to reclaim lands - see below. In November 2001, 47 peasants were arrested in Cibaliung, Banten, followed by more arrests the following year, because they were attempting to reclaim their land from Perhutani. This was also seen as a systematic effort by the state to clamp down on peasant activism. See DTE 55 and 52 for more background.) (Solidaritas untuk Petani Garut, 14/Aug/03)

Banggai: Five local people were arrested in Banggai district, Central Sulawesi, in September 2003, when trying to reclaim land taken over by a plantation company, PT Delta Subur Permai, owned by the Raja of Banggai, Hideo Amir. The security forces also destroyed the farmers' property in the latest of a series of incidents during 2002-2003. (WALHI Sulteng, email 23/Sep/03)

Kupang: Students protested at the East Nusa Tenggara provincial governor's office in Kupang in October against the clearing of community-owned coffee plantations. They said the Manggarai district head should be held responsible for destroying 1,140 ha of coffee crops in 9 subdistricts which were the only source of income for many local farmers. The Manggarai district administration says the coffee plantations were on state forest land. (Jakarta Post 21/Oct/03)

*In 2001 KPA published a report on post-Suharto human rights abuses in land disputes - see DTE 52

(Source: Jakarta Post 1/Aug/03; 24&25/Sep/03)


Violent evictions in Jakarta

Hired thugs joined police in carrying out a series of violent evictions in West Jakarta late in 2003, leaving thousands homeless and dozens of people injured. NGOs have called for the Jakarta Governor to be held to account, and for an investigation by the national human rights commission. The Jakarta administration has said it will continue with the evictions. The Urban Poor Consortium has proposed a scheme for land-sharing in the capital, to accommodate the growing number of urban poor, many of whom are forced out of rural areas due to increasing land poverty there.
(Source: Jakarta Post 9/Oct/03)