Parts of the land that belonged to the farmers have been converted to palm plantation.
Parts of the land that belonged to the farmers have been converted to palm plantation.

Ujang Uskandiyana wanted to change his life when he decided to move to South Konawe Regency in Southeast Sulawesi from Yogyakarta in 2011. He joined the Indonesian government’s transmigration program, which relocates people from an overpopulated island such as Java to a less dense area.

The 63-year-old was promised two hectares of land that he can use for farming. But instead of a better life, Uskandiyana says he has spent the last seven years fighting for his rights. So far, he has only received one hectare of land without a certificate. Under a Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of South Konawe Regency and Yogyakarta, people like Uskandiyana should receive their land certificate no more than four years after they relocate to the new area. 

And in 2015, he lost a portion of it because a palm company claimed 30 hectares of the farm land in Laikandonga Village, where he lives. 

“We have worked on what little land we had, planted some vegetables and fruits. But then the corporation just came and claimed some of our land as theirs. Their palms already bear fruit,” he told VOA. 

Uskandiyana said he has never stop advocating for his and his neighbors’ land and established the South Konawe Farmers’ Association with the help of the Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA), a local non-governmental organization that deals with agrarian conflicts in Indonesia.

Ujang Uskadiyana posing before the disputed land.
Ujang Uskadiyana posing before the disputed land.

?Half a Million Hectares Land Under Conflict

According to Benni Wijaya, the head of the campaign department of KPA, in 2017 there were 659 cases of agrarian conflict involving more than 500,000 hectares of land. He explained the conflict usually occurs because of two factors, corruption in giving permits and poor administration. 

The plantation sector, especially in palm, contributed to the highest number of agrarian conflicts. Based on the data from KPA, in the past 10 years, the land area for palm plantations increased by 5.9 percent.

Wijaya said KPA monitored the media and received reports from the people, but claimed the numbers barely touched the surface. 

“Not all conflicts are recorded or reported. For example in Papua, in 2017, out of 659 there were only 17 reported there. Logically it’s not possible, infrastructure projects are massive in the area and it is usually susceptible to land disputes,” he said.

Jokowi’s Agrarian Reform

The government in Jakarta has promised to tackle the problem and in October, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo issued a presidential decree on Agrarian Reform and made it a priority in his Nawacita (nine goals). Roy Septa Abimanyu, an expert staff from the presidential staff office, said agrarian reform is not new, it has been on the government agenda since the 1960s. But he added that the policy under Jokowi’s leadership is different from the previous regimes.

“In President Jokowi’s era, it’s about how the people can get agrarian land and build economic strength in the community,” he said during a public discussion on agrarian reform in Jakarta on Monday. 

With his agrarian reform, Jokowi promised to redistribute 4.5 million hectares of land and give certificates for asset legalization to another 4.5 million hectares.

But Wijaya said the government should prioritize land redistribution and solve ongoing agrarian conflicts instead of asset legalization by simply giving land certificates. 

“At the moment, Jokowi’s ministry has done a lot of certification. It’s not that we are against it, but certification should be the last step. Before that, the government should do land registration and then find out which area has inequality in land ownership,” he said.

So far, Wijaya added, only the certification program is running smoothly in the Agrarian Reform.

Farmers in South Konawe showing off pineapples har
Farmers in South Konawe showing off pineapples harvested from their land.

?Authority Agency for Agrarian Reform

KPA is urging the government to form an authoritative agency under the president to run the Agrarian Reform programs. Wijaya said one of the problems in solving land conflict is institutions from different ministries fail to cooperate with each other.

“For example between the National Land Agency and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. There are cases of disputes between institutions, because the redistribution process is under the jurisdiction of National Land Agency, but the Ministry of Environment and Forestry first has to declare the area is not part of a forest,” he said. 

In the case of Uskandiyana, the local National Land Agency in Southeast Sulawesi claimed they are waiting for the Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning to issue Land Management Rights before they can issue certificates for the farmers in South Konawe. 

“We are waiting for the central government’s approval, once they issue (the Land Management Rights) we can give land certificates,” said Saemu Alwi, the head of Southeast Sulawesi National Land Agency.

Wijaya hoped by having one authoritative agency led by Jokowi, different institutions can coordinate better. The president has appointed a task force for Agrarian Reform under the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs. But Wijaya said that the issue is not economic growth, but social justice.

“When Agrarian Reform happens, economic growth is a bonus. The easiest measure for social justice is land ownership,” he added.