Transmigration: No end in sight

Down to Earth No. 39, November 1998

The government has produced a new document on transmigration which describes the 'achievements' of the past twenty five years and outlines the priorities for the future programme.

For almost fifty years, the transmigration programme has meant the violation of rights of indigenous communities whose lands are taken for resettlement sites. Their forests and other resources have been forcibly appropriated and cleared for the millions of hectares of housing sites, rice-fields, plantations, timber estates and other projects which have become part of the programme. At the same time local communities have been expected voluntarily to join the schemes, adopt Javanese farming techniques and abandon traditional, successful forms of agriculture. In many cases, badly planned sites have failed and left families from Java as well as their indigenous neighbours in abject poverty. This has put further pressure on forest resources and has led to greater social disintegration as transmigrants turn to logging, mining, prostitution and other illegal activities to make a living.

What is immediately apparent from the document, Transmigration in Indonesia, is that there is no end in sight to this treatment of indigenous peoples. During the forest fires of last year, both forestry and environment ministers (now both out of the cabinet) stated publicly for the first time that indigenous communities were not to blame as their farming techniques were not a major cause of forest destruction (see DTE 35, supplement). But other departments in the government, including the transmigration ministry, have failed to change their attitude toward indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples remain targets for resettlement. In the official English translation the terms "forest squatters" and "ever-moving farmers" do not make clear the distinction between indigenous forest-dwellers and landless newcomers trying to feed their families by clearing forest for farm land.

Similarly, there is no mention of the traditional (adat) land rights of indigenous peoples in forest areas. The 1997 Transmigration Act states baldly that "the Government supplies land for the implementation of transmigration." This hides one of the fundamental problems with transmigration: that it transfers the problem of landlessness from Java to other islands. Indeed the continuation of the programme with its target-orientated structures and ethos of national unity and "full acculturization between the transmigrants and the surrounding community" admits no problems at all.


A selection of the figures

The government document gives figures on many aspects of transmigration covering the first twenty-five year long term economic plan (PJP I: 1969/70 to 1993/94). It also includes data for the current five year plan, Pelita VI (1994/95 to 1998/1999).

The area opened for transmigration during PJP I totals 1,739,998 hectares, of which most (1,014,987 ha) was forest, 276,672 ha was classified as waste land and other neglected areas 221,086 ha. About 58,135.40 km of roads and 92,227.99 m or bridges were built along with 962,740 houses.

The total number of families settled is 1,652,683 consisting of 785,556 'sponsored' settlers and 867,127 'spontaneous' (see below for definitions). Assuming an average of five in a family, this means well over 8 million people have been moved under the programme. 2,445 settlement units or sites were established to accommodate them.

By region the breakdown is as follows: Sumatra 873,071 families (52.8% of the total); Kalimantan 348,653 (21.1%); Sulawesi 163,726 (9.9%); Nusa Tenggara and East Timor 9,054 families (0.5%); Maluku and Irian Jaya (West Papua) 81,401 (4.9%).

The current five year plan targets eastern areas over more popular areas in Sumatra. The target of 600,00 families is divided as follows: Sumatra 278,131; Kalimantan 164,533 (the highest target is for West Kalimantan, scene of serious ethnic violence early in 1997); Sulawesi: 69,646; Nusa Tenggara and East Timor: 20,480 and Maluku and West Papua 67,210. A rough projection for the next five year plan, starting in the year 1999/2000 puts the total target at 450,000 families with a higher proportion going to eastern areas.

The figures show an unwavering commitment to continue with the transmigration programme, despite all the problems it is creating. What they do not show is the result of decades of forest destruction, social dislocation and poverty – for transmigrants as well as local communities. These have led to environmental costs far in excess of any gains. How far the programme will be affected by the current economic crisis and whether this will become the main impetus for reform remains to be seen.


The new Act: little new to say

The document contains an English translation of the 1997 Act No. 15 on Transmigration, which replaced the original 1972 Act. This was designed to bring the programme into line with the government's regional development policies and provide a better match of transmigrants with resources. According to the new Act, the purpose of transmigration is to "raise the transmigrants' welfare and the surrounding community, increase and distribute evenly the regional development and strengthen the national unity and integrity." It is also aimed at "arranging a harmonious population distribution and in balance with the natural and facilitating capacity of the environment, increasing the quality of human resources and creating integrity of the community." The new Act has dropped any specific reference to the objective, present in the 1972 Act, of strengthening national security. (see DTE 32 for more on this).

Transmigration is divided into three types: 1) sponsored – carried out by the government; 2) assisted-spontaneous – carried out by the government and a commercial enterprise and 3) self-supporting spontaneous, carried out by the people concerned, who may or may not be in co-operation with a commercial enterprise, assisted by the government. Assisted spontaneous transmigrants are directed to plantation, forestry, fisheries, livestock, industrial and services projects, while sponsored transmigrants are sent to food crop production sites. Self-supporting transmigrants may go to either type of scheme.

Two types of settlement are also identified: those called Transmigration Development Areas, which pioneer settlement in an area determined by the government to set up a new regional growth centre; and Transmigration Settlement Locations, which are designed to support the regional growth centres already existing or under development.

The new Act does make one or two references to the environment and local communities, but these do not amount to an effective change of policy. For example the Act states that it is the responsibility of the transmigrant to "take care of the preservation of the environment" and "maintain good relations with the local community and pay respect to their customs." These conditions are difficult to fulfil in an area of cleared forest where the environment has already been destroyed, and where local community customs – indeed their whole way of life – have been destroyed to make way for the settlers.