Wed, 13 Aug 2003

Farmers union fights commercialization of water sources

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A farmers union criticized on Tuesday the water resources bill for allowing private companies to exploit springs, which it said would harm farmers who rely on free groundwater.

The water resources bill, which the House plans to discuss at its next session, would allow private companies to take control of springs for business purposes.

Abdul Muis of the Indonesian Farmers Solidarity Union said licensing private companies to control springs would prevent farmers from having access to groundwater.

"If the springs exploited by companies were located in the mountains, how could farmers irrigate their land? Would they have to pay the companies?" he asked during a discussion here on Tuesday.

Several large bottled water companies here are already exploiting springs for their private commercial use.

Muis warned of a possible conflict with farmers if the bill failed to provide farmers access to water for agricultural purposes.

Articles 41 of the bill stipulates that farmers must obtain water licenses from the authorities.

"Only certain groups will get water concessions. The requirements will leave farmers powerless to ensure their water supply," Muis said.

He also feared the concession requirement would lead to collusion between the authorities and businesspeople, at the expense of farmers.

"Farmers will suffer the most," he said, pointing out that most farmers in Indonesia occupy small plots of land that are 0.5 hectares in size on average.

M. Toha, chairman of the Federation of Indonesian Farmers Associations, said the water resources bill focused too much on infrastructure projects, and failed to ensure that farmers received water.

"It fails to guarantee the water supply for farmers because it views water just as a commodity," he argued.

A discussion participant from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture said the bill favored businesses.

"We must side with the farmers because agriculture is the core of our country's economics. How can our agricultural products beat foreign competitors if they are burdened with unnecessary costs?" he said.

The bill will become an umbrella for water management if passed into law. It also will open the way for the private sector to become more involved in managing water.

The bill is part of a program for water resources restructuring in Indonesia, which is being promoted by the World Bank through its Water Resources Sector Adjustment Loan scheme, worth US$300 million.