Farmers’ Day: Still Awaiting Settlement of Agrarian Conflicts

Jakarta – (Tuesday, 24th of September 2019) Many agrarian conflicts that occur in Indonesia today remind us of agrarian conflicts in the past. As we know, agrarian conflicts that occurred in Indonesia have occurred from ancient times, the most obvious is during the new order era.


The dynamics of the current series of agrarian conflicts are rooted in the ideology of the new order which confirm that development is something that must be done to boost the people’s economy. Therefore, according to the government, land is perceived as belonging to the public interest for development. Many cases of land grabbing are carried out by the government against the people.


In 1965 the government intimidated to seize people’s land. People who did not want their land to be seized were labelled with Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) accomplices, where the statement as PKI at that time was a scary thing. So that inevitably, people had to surrender their land to the government with compensation, even some people did not get compensation at all.


Under the pretext of accelerating development, the government in the new order era invited investors to carry out the development program. The wave of rejection of land seizure occurred at that time, unfortunately the wave of rejection was ignored by the new order government. The government seemed to defend investors rather than the people whose land was seized.[1] notes that the most bitter case for the public was the case of PT. Sari Rejo Bumi (RSB). The shares of PT. RSB were also mostly owned by the President’s family. From the case of PT. RSB, it could be seen how the government strongly supported investors to control the land at that time. This made it difficult for the people who mostly worked as farmers to work due to loss of land.


In addition to land grabbing by investors, agrarian conflicts in the new order era were also caused by President Soeharto’s policy of implementing a food self-sufficiency program in 1984 to boost the people’s economy. Seen from the side of success, indeed President Soeharto was very successful in implementing a food self-sufficiency program in 1984 where the people were so prosperous, they had enough money for food and no difficulties at all.


But behind it all there were prices that must be paid expensively by the farmers. With agricultural land already controlled by this country, farmers had to be willing to become agricultural labourers. They became farmers but not on their own land. Compounded by President Soeharto’s policy of liberalising the agricultural sector.


President Soeharto hooked foreign investors to implement this self-sufficiency program. With the lure of cheap farm labourers’ wages, quite a lot of foreign investors entered the country. Not infrequently, these farmers were forced to plant with low wages. But in that way, Indonesia won an award from the FAO (International Food Organization) in 1984 for achieving food self-sufficiency.


This agrarian conflict, which ultimately always harmed farmers, continued into the era of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Lots of agrarian conflicts occurred in this period. Documented, according to KPA (Consortium for Agrarian Reform), 618 cases of agrarian conflicts occurred during the administration of President SBY. This figure shows that there was a significant increase related to cases of agrarian conflict in Indonesia. The most remembered by the public was in 2010, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) program [2] launched by President SBY. The MIFEE project took over two million hectares of community land. This project was carried out under the pretext of realising Indonesia’s food self-sufficiency and saving the world food crisis. But at the end of President SBY’s tenure, the MIFEE project did not show the desired results. Contrary to the views of the farmers, according to them the MIFEE project actually resulted in local farmers not being able to farm.


A significant increase in agrarian conflicts also occurred in the period of President Joko Widodo, recorded according to the KPA (Consortium for Agrarian Reform) [3], which occurred 1,769 agrarian conflicts which left 46 people dead and 546 people persecuted. The most phenomenal case was the Kendeng-Rembang case. This case caught the public’s attention, how not, female farmers of Rembang put up their bodies in protest at the government, starting from walking, sounding mortar as a sign of danger and then cementing their feet in front of the state palace. Unfortunately, their actions have still not been heard up until now. Even though they have won this case at the Supreme Court (MA) level[4].


Some of the cases above are examples of agrarian conflicts that occur in Indonesia that illustrate that agrarian conflicts in Indonesia arise continuously and have not found the right solution to end the land conflicts. The community is really hoping for a solution from the government so that this agrarian conflict does not recur.


Every time an agrarian conflict occurs, the community and farmers are always victims. The perspective of the government which still sees that the interests of national development can be an argument for depriving people of their land rights, in the name of development, so that the community must succumb to the realisation of fair and equitable national development.


Rika Fajrini, a researcher from the Forest and Land Division of ICEL, said that the interests and welfare of the surrounding community are also national interests that must be fought for.


“If the concept of national development is still like that, oppression by the majority against minorities will continue. The minority is forced to continue to succumb to more benefits,” said Rika.


With this condition, the people really need regulations that govern the land system so that it can be a solution for them. Because current regulations cannot resolve agrarian conflicts that often occur in various regions in Indonesia. Rika continued, that the substance of the current Act, the UUPA (Basic Agrarian Law) of 1960, didn’t answer the agrarian conflicts that occur at this time.


There is hope expressed by the Joko Widodo administration when there is a discourse about the Land Bill. The community hopes that this bill can overcome agrarian conflicts, but in reality, in this Land Bill many articles are odd and do not favour the community. One of the articles which has quite a negative impact is about land acquisition for investment.


“If previously the people gave up their land for the public interest or for the sake of national development, if the Land Bill was passed, the small people who owned the land could be forced to give up their land for personal gain as long as it was an investment. This indicates that the Land Bill does not favour marginalised people,” Rika said again.


The next article that reaps pros and cons is that the government can hide the names of land lords. The community has no right to know the names of those who control the land or land around them. Even though the Supreme Court ruled that the landowner’s information could be disclosed, in this Land Bill the information is categorised as excluded information. Therefore, no one can open information about the names of the land authorities except for legal purposes by the police.


Josi Khatarina, senior ICEL researcher who is currently completing her PhD program at Melbourne University added, “There is one article which still allows exceptions based on the economies of scale of a business. Exceptions based on economies of scale are not effective for the community. Because in many fields of land-based business such as plantations, the greater and the area of ​​land controlled is also more efficient the business. Even though the mastery of big businessmen is not wanted by the UUPA.”


Josi Khatarina and Rika Fajrini, highlighted the article on land bleaching where if there is a legal entity that controls land outside of its Business Use Rights, the status of the land outside of the Cultivation Rights can be directly determined by the Minister.


“So it will be possible later, for example the company has a permit of 50 hectares, but in reality the land under its control is 100 hectares, now 50 hectares that are controlled outside of the right to operate can be made legal because the decision rests with the Minister.” Rika continued.


This proves that the Land Bill has not answered the unrest or problems of the agrarian conflict that have occurred so far. Communities that are mostly farmers have not been able to calm down and are still shadowed by land grabbing by the government under the guise of investment. They still hope that the government will soon issue regulations on land that regulate land and not harm marginalised communities. (Bachrul)