Peasants demand right to livelihood

Down to Earth No 55  November 2002

Peasant farmers across Indonesia are protesting against government policies which deprive them of land and livelihood. They are demanding a new, pro-poor approach to national development which promotes peasants' rights. In the meantime, violence and intimidation of peasants involved in land disputes continues.

Hundreds of peasant farmers from West Java tore down the gates to Indonesia's national parliament in Jakarta in September, during a protest to mark Farmers Day 2002. More than a thousand peasants had gathered in the capital to demand an end to government policies that marginalise them.

The protesters also called for an end to police and military intervention in land disputes. The security forces, particularly the Brimob mobile brigade of the police, are notorious for using violent means to prevent opposition to commercial schemes, such as plantations, tourism and housing projects, which take agricultural land farmed by peasants. This amounts to a systematic criminalisation of peasants and supporting organisations who try to defend their livelihoods.

Farmers Day also saw protests in other cities including Palu in Sulawesi, Mataram in Lombok, Lampung and Medan in Sumatra, Bandung in West Java and Yogyakarta, Central Java. In Bengkulu, farmers and fisherfolk - another severely marginalised group - held a day of protests at the local government. According to one West Java peasant leader, peasants in the province own just 0.013 hectares of paddy fields on average and earn only Rp 7,500 (around 80 US cents) a day.

The peasants union federation, FSPI, issued a statement drawing attention to the origin of Farmers Day - to mark the birth of the basic agricultural law (UUPA 5/1960) passed by then President Sukarno. At the time, there were high hopes that the new law would bring pro-peasant land reform, but these were dashed by the subsequent laws introduced by the Suharto regime, which focussed on foreign investment, large-scale commercial development and using the security forces to deal with any opposition. Forty-two years on, the fundamental problems facing peasant farmers have not been resolved. Violent land disputes and widespread human rights violations against peasant families have continued during the post-Suharto era (see DTE 52).

The FSPI is urging the government to launch a programme of agrarian renewal, based on the 1960 law. However, it wants ambiguities in the law which have been abused until now - particularly those regarding the rights of the state and the rights of indigenous peoples (masyarakat adat) - to be clarified.

The FSPI statement also calls on the government to:

  • release peasants in detention, including the 9 Banten peasant farmers arrested last year for re-occupying their own lands (see below);
  • settle disputes between peasants and indigenous peoples and entrepreneurs, companies or state institutions, by using a conflict resolution mechanism that supports the interests of peasants and indigenous peoples and involves independent peasants' organisations;
  • suspend or cancel the extension of leases, forest concessions and building permits (HGU, HPH and HGB) on disputed land;
  • form a National Agrarian Renewal Committee at national and regional levels to prepare for the implementation of agrarian renewal;
  • cancel the sell-off of state plantations and distribute the land to peasants, farm labourers and plantation workers;
  • reject land markets, being imposed on Indonesia by the World Bank, which treat land as a commodity and ignore its social functions;
  • impose import taxes on foreign food imports (like rice and sugar) and provide subsidies for farming equipment, especially for those practising sustainable agriculture;
  • create a system for channelling credit to farmers that is transparent and involves independent peasants' organisations
  • reform the logistics agencies such as BULOG so they protect and fulfil peasants' basic rights in trade and finance;
  • engage in a coalition with other Southern countries to press the World Trade Organisation to get out of agriculture;
  • cancel Indonesia's debts with 'international profiteers' including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In Palembang, South Sumatra, a peasants' solidarity organisation called the KSKP highlighted Jakarta's failure to implement the decree on agrarian renewal and natural resources management passed in November last year by Indonesia's highest legislative body, the MPR. The decree (TAP MPR IX/2001) allows for the revision of all laws relating to land and natural resources management and provides some scope for progress on land reform and indigenous rights (see DTE 52). KSKP pointed out that during this year's MPR session, the President's progress report did not even mention this decree.

(Source: FSPI Statement and Demands 24/Sep/02; Kesatuan Solidaritas Kesejahteraan Petani 24/Sep/02; AP 24/Sep/02; Kantor Bantuan Hukum Bengkulu email received 2/Oct/02; Republika 26/Sep/02; Jakarta Post 25&27/Sep/02)


Who controls the land?

Hundreds of years of injustice - enforced by colonial occupation and the New Order regime of president Suharto have caused landlessness among rural Indonesians.

According to Noer Fauzi from KPA, an Indonesian NGO campaigning for land reform, during the Suharto era "the government grabbed people's land and claimed it as state property". New rights were then "doled out to big industrial companies". As a result, companies - not people - control most of Indonesia's land:

  • In 1998, over 650 companies held forest concessions covering around 48.3 million hectares;
  • In 1999, around 561 companies controlled 52.5 million ha for mining;
  • In 2000, over 2,000 companies were operating big plantations controlling a total of 3.52 million ha;
  • In contrast, the 1993 agricultural census revealed that the country's 19.71 million farmers controlled a total of 17.4 million hectares of farm land, an average of 0.87ha each.
Den Upa Rombelayuk from AMAN, the national indigenous peoples alliance, said that the rightful owners of the land were the indigenous people not the state, and that the government had no right to manage the land without prior consultation with the people who had lived on the land for thousands of years. At a meeting in May, she said: "The land has been handed down to us from generation to generation for hundreds, even thousands of years, long before there was a state of Indonesia."

(Source: Jakarta Post 31/May/02)