Opinion

Who owns the land? – Peasant struggles in Indonesia

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The young republic first took over the laws of colonial power, added by the principle of ‘land to the tiller’. Absentee landlords were dispossessed, but hardly any land was actually redistributed. In 1960 the law of the ‘land reform’ capped private land-ownership and entitled every peasant to land. In principle this law still exists today, but it has never been implemented. Still, the millions of poor peasants who were organised in the peasant front of the communist party PKI often took the land redistribution into their own hands. The massacre ‘of the communists’ after the military coup in 1965/66 was largely a massacre of poor peasants by rich landlords, who feared for their landed property. The dictatorship under Soeharto tried to push a ‘Green Revolution’ on the state plantations, but without much success. The state plantations administered not only the old state land property, but they also grabbed the peasants’ land, particularly of those ‘communist’ peasants who did not dare to resist. According to Abdurrahman Wahid, the president in 2000, around 40 per cent of the property of the state plantations had been stolen from poor peasants (Dunia Dalam XX, 14). The poverty in the countryside did not decrease.

In 2000 around 42 million families in Indonesia (around 124 million people) were registered as peasants. Around 10 million of these families don’t own land at all, another 10 million own less than half a hectare. Out of 190 million hectare of land surface, the peasants own 8 million and the state plantations own 23 million hectares (FMN). Since 2000 a third party has developed which had not been of importance previously: private capitalist plantations. This is mainly about the oil palm. Having been introduced in Indonesia around 100 years ago, the most fertile soil for this tree is moorland, meaning, recently cleared rain forest. In 1995 oil palms grew on one million hectares. Today the cultivated area has grown to more than six million. No one really knows how many hectares of rain forest had been cleared for this expansion; but it is sure fact that there are open concessions for the clearing of a further 41 million hectares of forest and that despite the recently settled ‘clearing moratorium’ they will be able to go ahead with the concessions (The Jakarta Post, 11-10-10).

The struggle over land has two front-lines, which partly over-lap. Firstly, since the fall of Soeharto a lot of peasants fought for the return of their land, which had been grabbed during the times of the dictatorship and handed over to the state plantations. Many (legal) cases are still undecided. Secondly, for the few years the conflicts between peasants and private plantation corporations have been on the increase; by some means the corporations got hold of the rights of utilisation and now claim the land of the peasants.

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