Thu, 25 Sep 2003

Farmers furious about dwindling farmland

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Farmers across the country staged street rallies on Wednesday as they commemorated the 43rd anniversary of the National Farmers Day, and urged the government not to privatize the agriculture sector as it would sideline them.

Hundreds of farmers brought some 20 tractors to the streets in Karawang, a major rice producing area in West Java, in their rallies.

Abdul Arrief, the secretary general of the Karawang Farmers Council, said the move was aimed at showing the authorities that farmers have no more land to till.

"We have less farmland nowadays as other industries have turned our farms into commercial establishments," he said.

In Jambi, hundreds of protesters staged a rally outside the Jambi city council. They asked the government to protect farmers and the agriculture sector.

Feri Yansyah, who led the protest, said that the government had failed to provide legislation that guaranteed farmer's access to land.

"It is a very sad reality that the government treats farmers poorly. They apparently forget that farmers are the main pillar of our country's agriculture sector," he said.

Feri also called for re-distribution of land from industry to farmers in a bid to prevent possible disputes in the future.

"The government must protect farmers over the ownership of farmland," he was quoted by Antara as saying.

In nearby Bandar Lampung, protesters raised their objection to the liberalization of the agriculture sector and genetically altered crops.

"Our rejection is due to the fact that the government policies have sidelined farmers, who must go to cities as blue- collar workers," said Praja Wiguna, who led the rally.

Thousands of farmers also staged rallies in West Java towns of Subang and Jatigede, South Sulawesi town of Bulukumba, Bengkulu, Yogyakarta and Central Java towns of Semarang and Wonosobo.

Several disputes involving land ownership have occurred recently in those cities. In Jatigede, farmers specifically rejected the government's plan to dam up a river that would create a reservoir covering their farmland of some 5,000 hectares.

The farmers visited the city council in each town, asking the councillors to pay attention to their condition.

Indonesia, still an agrarian-dominated country, has huge problems regarding the distribution of land ownership between poor farmers, rich farmers and the private sector. The number of farmers continues to decline as well as the average amount land that each farmer owns.

Currently, the government is drafting a bill to revise the 1960 Agrarian Law.