Wed, 25 Sep 2002

Farmers demand land reform, protection from free market

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Thousands of farmers across the country marked National Farmers' Day on Tuesday with protests demanding comprehensive land reform and protection from the relentless onslaught of the free market.

But an agricultural analyst said that the country needed agrarian reform and not land reform as demanded by farmers.

Bayu Krisnamurthi, the director of the Center for Development Studies of Bogor Agriculture Institute (IPB), told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that through agrarian reform policies, the government could protect farmland from exploitation other than agriculture and farmers from communist politicking.

Some 2,000 sugar cane farmers from Java and Sumatra protested in front of the Ministry of Finance in Jakarta on Tuesday, demanding a subsidy of Rp 500 per kilogram for sugar produced by local farmers.

Chairman of the Indonesian Sugar Cane Farmers Association (APTRI) Arum Sabil said that the decision to raise import tariffs for sugar in July had failed to boost domestic prices and he called for a temporary ban on importing the commodity.

They also demanded that import tariffs for white sugar be raised from the current Rp 700 per kilogram to Rp 1,250.

In Bandung, West Java, over 3,000 farmers from Karawang, Indramayu, Tasikmalaya, Garut, Ciamis, Banjar, Cianjur and Subang protested at the Gasibu field and urged the country's leaders and politicians to focus their attention on farmers' welfare.

"The central government and regional administrations as well as legislative members have not made a clear commitment to raise farmers' welfare," Pasundan Farmers Association chairman Agustiana said.

Agustiana said over 70 percent of West Java's population of 26 million is made up of either farmers or those who are socially disadvantaged, but the government has paid little attention to the agriculture sector as reflected in the shrinking agricultural land.

"On average, farmers in West Java have 0.013 hectares of paddy fields and earn a daily income of Rp 7,500," said Agustiana, who called for national land reform.

In Yogyakarta, over 1,000 farmers and students staged a street rally demanding land reform to bring about what they called the land for the people.

They also condemned unjust practices in land-related matters, including the issuance of building use certificates for public land and the selling of public land.

In Palu, Central Sulawesi, over 1,000 farmers from across the province marched to the local legislature, demanding land for those less fortunate and an increase in the price of unhusked rice as well as an end to discrimination against farmers.

In Medan, North Sumatra, hundreds of farmers protested in front of the provincial legislature compound, calling for an end to excessive land exploitation.

They also demanded that the government return land confiscated from the people by state-owned PT Perkebunan Nusantara II.

"Many farmers lost their ancestral land and became poor in their own village," the secretary-general of the North Sumatra Agrarian Reform Committee, Sipa A. Munthe, said.

In Lampung, some 2,500 farmers protested at the Merah Enggah field in Bandarlampung, demanding that the government settle land disputes and protect farmers from the global market threat.

They also demanded that the subsidy for agricultural products be maintained to boost the farmers' position in facing globalization.

Bayu said farmers' protests reflected their desperate situation and the weak legal status given to farmland.

He said that every year, between 80,000 hectares and 100,000 hectares of farmland in the country was converted for nonagricultural use, such as for housing, industrial sites and recreational places.

Bayu said that most farmland was not fully protected by law since the farmers rarely held land certificates.

"Most farmers only base their land claims on girik (ancestral rights), which can easily be defeated in a dispute by a land certificate because a certificate is highly respected and upheld in our national judicial system," he said.

He said that agrarian reform policies could help the farmers gain benefits from the banking sector. Most banks in the country prefer to give soft loans to manufacturing businesses or other sectors other than the agriculture sector, since farming is considered a less profitable venture.