Call for agrarian reform

Down to Earth No 43, November 1999

On Agrarian Day, September 24th, the prominent peasants organisation, SPSU, issued a statement urging Indonesia's Consultative Assembly (MPR) to put the interests of rural communities at the heart of the government's programme.

The Agrarian Day statement issued by the North Sumatra Peasants' Union (SPSU) called on the MPR formally to recognise the importance of land reform and the rights of peasants and indigenous peoples. It also called for funds to be allocated for land reform in the next state budget. The MPR, Indonesia's highest legislative body, met in October to select the new president and set the State Guidelines for the next five years.

In its statement, SPSU outlines the main tenets of "agrarian reform" - restructuring the ownership, control, allocation and management of agrarian resources so that it is based on "agrarian justice". This in turn is described as "a situation in which it is guaranteed that the control over and benefits from agrarian resources are not concentrated in the hands of one group of people".

The SPSU statement identifies the main ways in which Suharto's New Order government made the existing imbalance between rich and poor much worse. These were:

  • the "green revolution" which focussed on rice self-sufficiency in Indonesia and brought most benefit to the large landowners and wealthy people in the villages;
  • the focus on increasing exports which encouraged large-scale exploitation of agrarian resources by an elite group through laws on forestry, mining, foreign investment and others affecting agrarian resources;
  • conversion of farm land for industrial and other uses which abused the right of the state to take control land (Hak Menguasai Negara) provided for in the 1960 land law;
  • the use of the military and police which forced people to give up their lands.

The transition government of President Habibie, continues the statement, failed to address the needs of rural communities and adhered to the development model of the previous regime. None of the new political parties had a clear commitment to farmers' and indigenous peoples' interests.

The SPSU includes both farmers' groups and indigenous peoples in its membership and so its message combines calls for land reform and agrarian justice with demands for the recognition of indigenous peoples' rights. At the same time it recognises "fundamental differences" in their respective views of current conditions in the countryside and of the efforts needed for agrarian reform. The SPSU says it aims to initiate activities that will unite these perceptions and efforts.


International influences

The SPSU is critical of international efforts towards creating a global free market which "basically aim to strengthen the position of transnational and multinational corporations" and which have a strong influence on agrarian development in Indonesia.

Among other international institutions, the statement criticises the World Bank's Land Administration Project (LAP) for its long term aim of creating a free and efficient land market. This commoditisation of land, says the SPSU, is a departure from the spirit of the 1960 Land Law which recognises the social and cultural value of land as well as its economic worth. (Tegaskan pentingnya pelaksanaan pembaruan agraria/landreform..., SPSU, 24/9/99). (See also DTE 41 Supplement for more on the SPSU)


Land protests

Agrarian Day was marked by protests in support of land reform. In North Sumatra, the SPSU reported protest marches and rallies in Asahan, Tapanuli Selatan, Labuhan Batu, Deli Serdang, Langkat and Mandailing Natal districts. These involved cases of theft of customary land, destruction of protected forests and arrests of farmers accused of burning oil palms, on a commercial plantation.

One women's rally in Asahan district called for an end to violence against women farmers and demanded that they be included in all decisions on agricultural development. (SPSU 24/9/99)