Farmers hope new regulation can bring them back to evicted homes New Perpres promises faster land redistribution to landless
It has been more than three years since Suharni, 48, and hundreds of other farmers who initially lived in Cawang Gumilir hamlet in Musi Rawas regency, South Sumatra, were forced to leave their home in the village by a pulpwood company.
In 2015, the company evicted the farmers from the land on which they had been living for around five years, as it claimed the land had the status of “areas for other use” (APL). Such a claim contradicted a statement by the regency administration that said the land was abandoned land, which could be used for housing and agriculture.
Since then, the farmers have taken refuge in Bumi Makmur village, where local residents have allowed them to tap rubber. Suharni added she had been hoping to be able to return to Cawang Gumilir and be given the right to manage her own land.
Suharni’s hope may soon come true, as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has issued a long-awaited presidential regulation (Perpres) on agrarian reform in an attempt to accelerate land distribution for the landless as well as solve existing land conflicts.
The regulation was signed by the President on Sept. 24, coinciding with National Farmers Day, and according to the Executive Office of the President would become a general guideline that set the direction of agrarian reform in Indonesia.
“It’s a restatement of the 1960 Agrarian Law, as the presidential regulation contains the program’s purpose, subject [which people] and object [which land]. This is a commitment to support our program with a regulation,” Abetnego Tarigan, an expert at the Executive Office of the President, said on Tuesday.
Agrarian reform has become one of Jokowi’s priority programs, as the President has set a target in his administration’s National Medium-Term Development Plan (RPJMN) to redistribute 9 million hectares of land to farmers under the land objects for agrarian reform (TORA), as well as 12.7 million ha — which was later revised to 4.3 million ha — to communities through social forestry schemes.
Article 12 Point 3 of the Perpres stipulates 19 categories of individuals considered eligible to be beneficiaries in the agrarian reform program, including small farmers whose land is less than 0.25 ha, landless farmers and small fishermen.
Suharni and other Cawang Gumilir farmers have been hoping to get some of the redistributed land, as they are included in the category.
Also, the regulation mandates the establishment of a National Agrarian Reform Team, which will be led by the coordinating economic minister and will consist of various ministers and leaders of state institutions, including two ministries deemed to have an important role in the program: the Environment and Forestry Ministry as well as the Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry.
The Perpres has been lauded by activists, including Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) secretary-general Dewi Kartika, who said it could become an adequate guideline for the government in implementing agrarian reform.
However, she expressed concern about the list of people eligible to benefit from such reform, such as civil servants, military and police personnel as well as private company employees who have yet to own a land. “This could prevent small farmers from getting their rights as these non-farmers might have better access to information regarding the reform. Related ministries should consider drafting a priority list of land recipients,” Dewi said.
She added that the government should also prioritize disputed land, as the purpose of the reform was to solve land-tenurial conflict. The KPA recently issued, and handed over to the government, a report on Agrarian Reform Priority Locations (LPRA) involving 444 non-forest areas that encompass more than 650,000 ha in total.
While appreciating the issuance of the Perpres, Boy Sembiring of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) also criticized its lack of provisions related to agrarian conflict.
“This can hinder the resolution of such conflict, especially if it depends on the Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry, whose political will has been considered low in the reform,” he said.