Wed, 24 Sep 2003

Farmers' Day to see calls for national land reform

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Thousand of farmers are expected to join nationwide rallies to commemorate the 43rd National Farmer's Day on Wednesday, during which they will renew the call for land reform.

Erpan Faryadi, the general secretary of the Consortium for Land Reform (KPA), said on Tuesday that the action aimed to pressure the government to begin a land reform program soon.

"We expect a land reform program that favors farmers instead of the private sector," he said, adding that current policies had failed to address farmers' needs.

KPA has planned to stage the rallies in dozens of regencies in Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi.

Other farmer unions across the country are also planning to organize rallies to commemorate Farmer's Day.

Separately, Henry Saragih, secretary-general of the Federation of Indonesian Peasant Unions, said farmers wanted the government and the House of Representatives to accommodate the spirit of land reform in the drafting of legislation on agriculture.

"We demand that the government guarantee land reform as more and more farmland is used for industrial purposes lately," he said.

The size of farmland continues to decline, with many turned into industrial sites.

A survey revealed that in 1983 most farmers in Java owned 0.58 hectares of land each while those outside Java owned 1.58 hectares each. However, in 1993, most farmers in Java owned 0.47 hectares each while those outside Java had 1.27 hectares each.

In 2000, 80 percent of the country's farmers owned less than 0.5 hectares of land, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Usep Setiawan from the Natural Resource Working Committee (Pokja SDA) said that the current drafting of the revision of the 1960 agrarian law to be deliberated by the House must be followed closely.

"We must take caution over the legislation as it is possible that the revision will open opportunities, in term of land ownership, for the private sector rather than farmers," he said.

Land reform was actually started in the country in 1962 following the issuance of the agrarian law in 1960 under the administration of President Sukarno.

It was aimed at re-distributing land to farmers.

However, the 1965 aborted coup d'etat blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and the ensuing chaos hampered the land reform attempts. Later in 1970 the New Order regime closed down the special courts set up by Sukarno to tackle agrarian disputes.

Land ownership has been a big problem for Indonesia, with land distribution between poor and rich farmers and between farmers and the private sector the major issue.

Data from the Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPP) showed that as of 2000 there were 1,918 agrarian disputes across the country.

Agrarian disputes between farmers and private companies headed the list with 910 cases.