Farmers call for agrarian justice

Down to Earth No. 41 May 1999

Two meetings of peasant farmers' organisations this year have come up with important messages for the current and future governments of Indonesia concerning land and resource rights.

The United Federation of Indonesian Farmers (FSPI), founded in July last year, held its first congress in February. The four-day meeting of member organisations from Sumatra, Aceh and Java drafted positions on agrarian reform and the current political situation, formulated a work plan for the years 1999-2002 and elected members to the its representative board and implementation section.

The meeting identified common "viewpoints, aims and priorities" of peasant farmers and indigenous peoples in Indonesia. The FSPI said it aimed to restore and restructure:

  • the economic development model in general and agrarian policy in particular;

  • democracy in politics in general and the political sovereignty of farmers and indigenous peoples in particular;

  • culture and customary life in general and for farmers and indigenous peoples in particular.

On the need for agrarian reform, the FSPI described how the New Order regime under Suharto had changed the orientation of development from people-centred to capitalist:

The results of several policies of the New Order government can be seen today. They include the "Green Revolution", Acts on Forestry, Foreign Investment, Mining and Water Resources; policies which converted agricultural land into industrial sites, real estate, tourism projects, golf courses and other non-farming uses. The economy is in dire straits.

The statement continues:

Now there has been a change from the Suharto regime to the era of reform, a time which requires a total change from all forms of state corruption suffered for 32 years. Despite this, the transitional government does not yet have a clear agenda on agrarian reform which is pivotal to overcome the imbalances in land affairs as well as in the economy as a whole. The same goes for the political parties existing in Indonesia at the moment.

As a result of the past failures and concentration of land in the hands of the few, the FSPI believes that immediate "agrarian renewal" is urgently needed:

  • Agrarian reform is a corrective measure to restructure the unbalanced agrarian system and create one with agrarian justice as its starting point. Agrarian justice means guaranteeing against the concentration of agrarian resources in the hands and for the benefit of one group.
  • Efforts to implement agrarian justice start from a programme of land reform which unites farmers' efforts to change the scale of land ownership. Farmers' capacity will be increased through various education programmes, credit facilities, encouraging the growth of a mass farmers' organisation, farmers' co-operatives and other structures.

  • Agrarian reform must recognise the sovereignty of the people, not of the state. This means affording the highest value to cultural diversity, human rights, democracy, ecological sustainability, gender equality and the perpetuation and advancement of human civilisation.

In order to achieve its aims the FSPI aims to:

  • put itself at the forefront of efforts towards agrarian renewal in Indonesia;
  • initiate the development of alliances between members of the FSPI with groups and individuals who are in favour or agrarian renewal, including intellectuals, NGOs, journalists as well as international organisations;

  • put pressure on the government so that it has the political will to implement genuine agrarian renewal;

  • make agrarian renewal the key to total renewal in Indonesia;

  • become, together with people in other countries, a people's force on the international level to balance the power of the international market.

The FSPI statement on politics rejects military intervention, direct or indirect, in cases involving farmers and in regulating village life. The FSPI has adopted a strongly non-partisan position vis-a-vis political parties and groups and does not plan to become a political party itself or attached to any other. It plans to advise members to vote in this year's elections if they are free, fair and democratic. Following the election, the FSPI plans to submit a resolution to the new parliament to secure laws that uphold the rights of farmers and withdraw the laws that disadvantage them. (Press Release Kongres I FSPI 25/2/98)


Election boycott threat

A farmers' solidarity group in South Sumatra said it would boycott the forthcoming general elections if nothing was done to resolve land cases in the province by the end of March. A press statement issued by the South Sumatra branch of the Farmers' Security Solidarity Unit (KSKP) said that not one of today's political parties had a specific agenda for returning to farmers the lands stolen from them during the Suharto era. KSKP South Sumatra leader Amir Hamzah said that under the New Order regime, farmers had been valued only in government propaganda, while their land and resource rights were stolen from them. He said not one of the laws based on Indonesia's 1945 Constitution valued farmers, indigenous peoples and others who managed agrarian resources, or guaranteed their future.

At their February Congress, KSKP South Sumatra demanded that all land disputes in the province should be settled by returning lands and resources grabbed under the New Order regime, and by securing legal right to community lands. The group, which represents around 10,000 farmers, also demanded a stop to the large-scale exploitation of agrarian resources under the various government-sponsored schemes (timber estates, logging concessions, nucleus estate/smallholder plantations, intensive shrimp farming) and an end to the certification of customary (adat) land. Existing projects which exploited agrarian resources should be re-negotiated along with official programmes dealing with "isolated peoples". [Isolated or alienated peoples is the term Indonesian governments have used to categorise indigenous peoples living in customary ways. It is rejected by Indonesia's indigenous peoples.] Other demands included "immediate agrarian renewal based on the initiative of the people"; the withdrawal or revision of all agrarian laws and regulations that are anti-people; the withdrawal of the military's political role and its intervention in civil life; the release of prisoners jailed for fighting for their land and agrarian resource rights.

The same groups issued a further statement at a protest rally outside the provincial assembly on April 5th. This said that the election boycott threat would stand if their demands were not met by June. In response the South Sumatra Governor, Rosihan Arsyad, tried to reassure the farmers that he was on their side and that their dispute was with the investors, not the local government. 156 land disputes involving at least 50 companies have been documented in the province. They include the PT TEL pulp mill case (see DTE 34).

(Sources: Press Release, KSKP and SMSP [South Sumatra Student Solidarity for Farmers] 1/3/99; Sawit Watch 27/2/99; KSKP statement 7/4/99, Sawit Watch 6/4/99)


Concessions in North Sumatra

The Movement for Agrarian Reform (GERAG) a farmers' organisation based in North Sumatra has secured some concessions from the local office of the National Land Board (BPN). Around 500 farmers took part in a protest march to the BPN office in the provincial capital of Medan, demanding the return of lands taken by state plantation companies and private firms. The farmers said they would stay at the BPN office until the land use permits (HGU) given to the companies, were withdrawn.

GERAG has documented around 400 land cases in North Sumatra. After discussion with a delegation of 15, the land office agreed to recommend to the Minister for Agrarian Affairs (also the head of the National Land Board) that disputed land use permits be cancelled. The Medan office agreed that it would not renew disputed permits. It also agreed to support profit-sharing between local people and disputed party, on lands still under dispute. (SiaR 3/3/99)


Election "don'ts"

The North Sumatra's Farmers Federation (SPSU) issued a statement listing ten "don'ts" to help its members choose which party to vote for. It warned members off parties known to be involved in supporting cases against farmers and parties which don't have a programme for land reform which favours farmers. (SPSU 6/4/99)


South Sulawesi network

In March a farmers group in Makassar, declared the formation of a network of farmers in South Sulawesi. The farmers agreed not to use chemical pesticides or fertilisers. The statement, broadcast on the internet, was welcomed by other farmers' groups. (Makassar Farmers' Declaration 10/3/99)