Agrarian Reform: is it really pro-poor?

Down to Earth No. 72 March 2007

More than 5 years since the MPR Decree IX/2001 was passed (see DTE 52), it seems that agrarian reform is eventually going to see the light of the day. In his postponed New Year State Address at the end of January, President Yudhoyono announced that the long overdue Agrarian Reform Program or PPAN, will take place in 2007, adhering to principle 'Land for justice and welfare of the people'. He went on to say that the government had also been providing a free land titling service, which had covered 410,361 parcels of land in 2005, 591,000 parcels in 2006 and will target 1,113,130 parcels in 2007.

The announcement did not come as a surprise for many, as the issue has been in the public domain since a meeting in September 2006 between the President, the forestry and agriculture ministers and the head of the National Land Agency (BPN). Agrarian reform was also one of Yudhoyono's 2004 election campaign pledges. Under the headings of minimising unemployment, poverty reduction and optimising the use of degraded land, land redistribution was to be part of the program to revitalise the agriculture, fishery and forestry sectors. The President himself is in charge, coordinating the whole program.

BPN's latest draft of the PPAN reveals that the main target of the planned reform is 8.15 million hectares of former productive forest, with no exact locations named yet. In some mass media, officials have talked about areas in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua as the designated places, however. Next in line as reform targets are lands affected by conflict, lands with expired and/or abandoned HGU (Cultivation Rights Title), 'emerging' land (tanah timbul)[1], village land (tanah bengkok) which has been reclassified as state land, spare HGU land and land that was previously targeted for reform, but then taken over by state-owned forestry company Perhutani or other agencies. The subjects of the reform program, as set out in the draft, are the victims of agrarian conflicts under previous administrations, poor and landless peasants, and the jobless poor who are in need of agricultural land.

Despite this apparent pro-poor emphasis, the reaction of civil society to the reform plans has been mixed. It would be no surprise if the people gaining from the reform saw the prospect of receiving 'land for free' as a gift from above. Also, after more than 40 years fighting for it, proponents of agrarian reform will finally see the program carried out, with the Basic Agrarian Law (UUPA 1960, BAL) as operational guidance. The BAL itself, after much to-ing and fro-ing, is to remain in its original form, without any amendment. For the majority of peasants organisations in Indonesia, this is positive, since the BAL is held up as the pro-peasants law.

However, for many, listening to the ministries explaining how the land redistribution program has been put under the same roof as expansion of oil palm and sugarcane plantations, gives a strong sense of deja vu. Will we see a recycled form of transmigration, with nucleus estate/smallholder schemes here?

Sceptics fear that without a clear agenda to strengthen rural economies, the program may only serve as political vehicle to buy rural votes in the 2009 election. Through redistribution, state lands (the target of the reforms) will then be 'unlocked' to become individual property and then left to market forces. It is not unlikely that instead of 'land for the welfare of the people' - to quote the president - what may actually result is wider 'poverty distribution' instead.

The targeting of so-called 'state land' also has serious implications for indigenous peoples, whose customary ownership rights (both over land and its resources) are not adequately recognized under Indonesian law.

By definition, agrarian reform is more complex than land redistribution and land certification, because it also involves the development of rural infrastructure and economy, and market security for agricultural produce. Badly thought-out land redistribution may lead to the peasants being thrown off from their lands again and ending up working as laborers in urban areas. In their call to the president for genuine pro-poor reform, the NGO-based Study Group on Agrarian Reform (KSPA) emphasises that:

  1. agrarian conflicts - both the legacy from previous years and existing cases - should be dealt with and addressed;
  2. reform should not be used as a pretext to convert so-called 'idle' state lands into big plantation estates[2];
  3. re-concentration' and/or monopoly of land ownership should be prevented;
  4. agrarian reform should not be a means to provide cheap labour, and
  5. any new form of transmigration should be avoided.

At the time of writing, the legal document of the program, which will run from 2007 to 2012 had been drafted, but not finalized. Sources of funding for the program were not yet clear.

Land conflicts continue 
In a country where laws are often overridden by cash or brute force, and the poor and the weak are left to manage on their own, sceptics raise doubts over the power of the BPN to execute agrarian reform. Land conflicts have become a persistent feature of modern Indonesia and seem to be here to stay.

A recent example of the continuing conflicts is the Rumpin[3] incident of January 21-22, when a clash occurred between local peasants and national Airforce AURI troops, causing several casualties on the peasants' side. The incident is a culmination of serial harassment against local people by the troops, following a claim over the land by the Air force for use as a military training ground. The peasants claim they were merely exercising their rights to cultivate the land they have been working for generations. Similar cases across Indonesia involving the military and local people, documented by the human rights NGO Kontras in 2005-2006, show how military repression rather than legal solutions still prevails in cases of land conflict.

Jakarta under water 
Although accustomed to monsoonal deluges, the huge floods in early February caught many Jakartans off guard. The World Health Organisation (WHO) described the floods as the worst in the last three centuries. The floods claimed 69 lives, caused around USD 500,000 in financial losses, and made thousands of people homeless, some of whom have been suffering from flood-borne diseases. These floods were also unprecedented in their reach, as they inundated dwellings along the riverbanks, right up to the presidential palace and the elite housing estates.

The failure to prevent the floods ,despite an early warning by the meteorological agency, has prompted a deluge of protest against the city authorities. FAKTA (Jakarta Community Forum, and NGO grouping) filed a complaint to the human rights body, KOMNAS HAM, against the Municipality of Jakarta for negligence, both in town planning and in their response to the flooding. The letter underlined the huge reduction in green areas from 18,000 ha in the 1965-1985 Jakarta Master Plan to just 9.56 ha in the 2002-2010 Master Plan, which has led to Jakarta being excessively built up.

While the soil is still wet, plans to improve flood prevention in Jakarta and surrounding areas have been back on the agenda. Several ideas have been floated. These include the resettlement of riverbank-dwellers to other areas, under the transmigration programme - a proposal which was promptly rejected by the people concerned - and moving the capital to another city and starting anew, rather than fixing the messy problems of Jakarta.

A similar question arises as in a conflict situation: what would be the options available for the poor after this disaster and in re-planning the city?

(Sources: SBY Terima Mentan, Menhut dan Kepala BPN : Akan Dikembangkan, Program Reforma Agraria; KSPA, January 2007,Demi Keadilan Agraria - keharusan menjalankan pembaruan agraria secara menyeluruh untuk keadilan sosial di Indonesia; Joint Press Release Rumpin case, 23/Jan/07; FMN, KontraS, AGRA, LBH Bandung, LBH Jakarta, WALHI, Serikat Mahasiswa Indonesia, STN Gabungan Serikat Buruh Independent, HUMA, PILNET, Seruni, FPPI, SPI; Jakarta Post, 17/Feb/07;$File/Full_Report.pdf

1. New land as a result of sedimentation process on the coast, which cannot be used due to lack of legal status.
2. Land defined as 'idle' may be part of indigenous communities' customary lands, but not recognized as such by the state.
3. Rumpin, near Bogor, is the location of an Air Force military base.