Agrarian reform: Favoring the poor or enriching the landlords?

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(illustration: IO/Rudraksha)

IO, Jakarta – “Land must not be a means of siphoning wealth! Land is for farmers! Land is for those who really work the land!” These historic words were uttered by President Soekarno in a State Speech on 17 August 1960. Now, 58 years after Principal Land Laws Number 5 year 1960 were validated, the inequality in land structure and control continues to bedevil Indonesia.

The data collected by the Consortium of Land Reform (Konsorsium Pembaharuan Agraria – “KPA”) shows that about 71% of land of the archipelago is controlled by forestry corporations, 16% possessed by large-scale plantation corporations, and 7% in the hands of conglomerates. It is estimated that only 6% of the total land in Indonesia is controlled by the common people.

This is ironic, since the 5th point of Jokowi-JK’s Nawacita program states that the land reform agenda is a national work priority in Indonesia, as demonstrated by the issuance of Presidential Regulation (Peraturan President – “Perpres”) No. 45/2016 concerning the Government’s Work Plan for year 2017. President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) shows off land reform as one of his advanced programs for realizing the people’s welfare.

Legalizing Inequality
According to Dewi Kartika, Secretary General of the KPA, land reform during the tenure of Jokowi-JK have occurred very slowly. Furthermore, land reform is also being narrowed down to the distribution of certificates. Dewi further said that land certification is important in land governance, as land certification provides legal guarantee to all citizens. Unfortunately, as Dewi said to the Independent Observer, “Distribution of land certificates cannot be claimed to be part of land reform, because true Land Reform requires that the land covered in the 9 million hectare-target is land that has been the subject of land conflicts until now.”

The main subject of land reform is poor farmers. In the context of our agrarian society, “poor farmers” are small tillers who own less than 0.3 hectares or about 3000 square meters of land. “According to such an economic scale, this means they can only satisfy their daily needs, but they cannot sell their harvest. Sometimes, because their land is so small, they take on a second job, such as being an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver, or working on other people’s lands,” Dewi said.

There are 56% small farmers in our society, while the remainder are landless. They used to have land, but as time passed by, they lost their lands for various reasons. “The land can be lost due to large-scale concessions or management right permits, whether for plantations, mining or other purposes,” she said.

These small-time and landless farmers should have immediate access to land so that they can cultivate crops. President Jokowi’s distribution of land certificates is the easiest step for the Government to take. “Why is certification an issue for us? Because even without land reform, land certification is already a government obligation. Land certification is a mandatory program in the Indonesian land management system. Any Indonesian citizen, whether rich or poor, everyone who has land must be certified. They must be recorded and registered into the land book,” she said.

Land certification in the context of Land Reform must be preceded by a reorganization of our land structure. For example, if inequality occurs in an area, reorganization must be made. Any overlapping and conflicting land claims must be resolved. “Especially if the land has already been transformed into villages and plots – that must be a land reform priority. That’s what Jokowi’s government has failed to target so far,” Dewi said. Land structure reorganization must be performed for social justice to occur. “So increase the amount of small lands; don’t certify them immediately. If we certify them immediately, it means our government is not resolving inequality, but instead strengthening and legalize inequality itself,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Alamsyah Saragih, an RI Ombudsman, said that the land reform figure, in relation to the land gini ratio, is currently at 0.68. “That’s higher than 0.5, which means it is severe,” he said.

One part of President Jokowi’s land reform program is “redistribution”, which means reducing inequality. Unfortunately, in relation with land reform, the current program is more towards certification. “Certification is just preparation; it is not yet in the context of land reform. It is a mere acknowledgement of rights, but it does not reduce land inequality. However, some things are already included as redistribution, which is the release of forest areas. In the past, land release was mostly for private businesses. Now the release is still dominated by private businesses, but the portion of land released to the people has increased,” Ahmad said.

Land reform is divided into two categories, i.e. access reform and asset reform. “Access reform is basically how farmers get access to capital, to technology, all things that should have been facilitated by the government,” said Dwi Andreas Santosa, General Chairman of Indonesia’s Seed Bank and Agricultural Technology Association.

Meanwhile, land reform is directed to the redistribution of land, supported by the government. “So if the President distributes certificates, this means that farmers or landowners have proof of rights with these certificates, which they can later use to access capital,” Andreas said.

Politics Requires “Image Engineering”
The President aggressively distributes certificates in various regions in Indonesia. This causes pros and cons among the people. Some say that what the President is doing is merely image engineering. Ahmad finds this to be a moot argument, because politics has always required image engineering. “Everyone needs to at least prove that they are keeping their promises. That’s how politics has always been since the classical era,” Ahmad said smilingly. Having certification means that people have access to capital.

“One of the obstacles to the People’s Business Credit (Kredit Usaha Rakyat) is the lack of assets, because nothing can be used as collateral. Certification is a means of accessing capital,” Andreas said. By certification, Andreas said, the government provides legal certainty to the people, in this case farmers.

However, according to Ahmad, the distribution of certificates by the President does not resolve land reform issues. “There is no impact yet, that’s only an acknowledgement of land rights. Because the essence of land reform is the redistribution of assets, of land rights. That’s what not yet performed. Time is running out, but how come land reform is just about land certification? If the Government is being serious, it must collect data. For example, the Business Lease Rights (Hak Guna Usaha – “HGU”) that are about to come due. There are 589 HGUs that are coming due within 2017-2025. The question is, are we simply extending them without any attempt at revision? That’s what we need to regulate,” he said.

“Yes, image engineering is always present in politics,” Dewi said. However, she wants to see the essence of this so-called “Land Reform”. “When we look at the essence, back in the days of SBY’s 10-year tenure, he had a target of setting aside 12 million (hectares of land) for the people, but SBY’s efforts have also narrowed down to the distribution of certificates. Our critique is that Jokowi seems to be repeating the policy enacted during SBY’s days, where ‘Land Reform’ was interpreted only as a distribution of certificates. In fact, certification should have been the authority of the National Land Agency (Badan Pertanahan Nasional – “BPN”),” he added.

Land Control
Dewi admitted that inequalities occur because the majority of the land is controlled by private businesses. She said that just from forest areas, of the 125 million hectares of land, 42 million hectares consist of lands with permit. “Of the land with permits, 95.7% is controlled by private businesses, and only 4% by the people. This is an extreme gap,” she said.

As for non-forested land, the Ministry of Land and Zoning admits that there are 2 million hectares of land with the potential of being classified as “abandoned land”. These lands abandoned by private businesses revert to becoming State land. Unfortunately, only 400,000 hectares of land is the object of Land Reform set aside for the people.

The extreme inequality of land control does not comply with standing laws, while the Law of Farmers’ Protection and Empowerment guarantees that all farmers reserve the right to own 2 hectares of land. “This is very hard to realize, especially in Java. Then what’s the ideal amount? 1 hectare, even though it is actually not “ideal”. This is why I said that small plots of land should not be legalized but increased. If we can’t make it to 2 hectares, land sizes up of about 1 hectares must be enforced by the government,” Dewi said.

Even though it is said that there is no more land in Java, but tragically, the conversion of property of forest areas into mines, real estate developments and infrastructure continue even now. This is why Dewi said that land must be protected. “For example, land in West Java as our rice basket must be protected. You can no longer convert freely from agricultural land to non-agriculture. Rural areas must be secured – no careless permits allowed, because land control is already unequal,” she said.

Ahmad also admits that only a few companies control millions of hectares of land. Such major land control shows that the land reform has been unsuccessful. “’Land reform’ has only gotten as far as planned. It’s not yet performed properly, so it’s only natural that the inequality is extreme. Land control inequality is a global issue, only if the nations are serious is it then resolvable. Serious resolution of gaps start with land reform. The framework of land reform is not just the distribution of land, but expanding the framework until the processing of redistribution to social agencies for farmers, then access to funding sources. Even now I haven’t seen any concrete framework on land redistribution,” he said.

Land for the Poor
The Government must be present. The Government must provide land for the poor. Dewi explains that land reform is just for the poor, just for those with limited access to land. “’Certification’ in the context of land reform is for the landless ones: the landless ones are given lands. The land grants are not arbitrary either: there are priority subjects, i.e. smalltime farmers, poor farmers, poor villagers who still have a sincere intent to work on and harvest from the land. Our target is social justice,” she reiterated.

There are 3 links in the land reform chain: reorganization; legalization using certificates; and redistribution of seeds, fertilizer, and market access. Dewi believes that the State must protect this. “Because when smalltime farmers or landless farmers are given land, they cannot immediately drive economic growth for their households, but they must be given a start in capacity. These are rural people who have been living in poverty for a long time, so the Government must also drive their understanding and capacity, as well as protect them. So the Government’s protection of land ownership is continuous – land must remain in the hands of the farmers in order for the economy to improve. The economy is raised by the people’s economic enterprises, which is collective in nature. The system here is joint production,” she said.

On the other hand, Ahmad said that land inequality is controllable, as long as the Government has the concrete courage to stop the flow of land control, by implementing the scheme of redistribution in the extension of Business Lease Rights. “The speed of land control must be directed, by investing in the farmers and ensuring that they have part of the area,” Ahmad added. Next, strong and concrete economic agencies must be formed, with a clear scheme. Then the access of economic agencies to funding sources must be opened.

The Government’s intentions
Andreas said that the main key of land reform is to increase farmers’ welfare. “That’s our biggest goal – we can assess whether land reform succeeds or not by checking on farmers’ welfare. When farmers’ welfare increases, land reform is on the track. Naturally, access reform and asset reform are the issues being assessed. As long as these 2 issues run properly, we can also conclude that Land Reform runs well. This is a difficult task, especially in asset reform – how can we redistribute land to smalltime farmers, to landless farmers? Farmers with adequate if small patches of land – that is the great picture to achieve,” he said.

Land reform can succeed if it is supported by strong political will. Unfortunately, the land reform of Jokowi’s government is only strong in ceremonial issues, but hopeless in practice. This is because President Jokowi has not signed the Presidential Regulation on Land Reform even now. “While in fact, the draft was in the hands of the State Secretary 2 years ago,” Dewi said.

Other than political will, a strong agency is needed. Up to now, the agency is still quite weak. “Even though we have established a Land Reform Team under the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, simplementation remains sectoral. We should have followed the example of Malaysia, the Philippines, who have special agencies to implement Land Reform,” she said. (Dessy Aipipidely)