Agrarian Conflict and Violence

Agrarian Conditions in Indonesia

When Indonesia achieved its independence in 1945, the agrarian structure was very imbalanced, with a heavy concentration of land ownership in a few hands, and a large landless and near landless rural majority. In an attempt to address the agrarian question in 1960, the Soekarno’s government developed an agrarian reform policy which was based on the new Basic Agrarian Law No. 5 (known as UUPA 1960).  Unfortunately this attempt at agrarian reform did not achieve meaningful results, as implementation was halted by the new regime in 1967.

Landlessness and land-poor status continued to be the norm. In 1983 the percentage of farmers controlling (owning or renting from other parties) land of less than 0,5 hectares was 40,8 %.  In the next ten years, this percentage increased to 48,5 %, and the Agriculture Census in 2003 showed that  the number of peasants with these micro farms grew to 56,5 % of the total of farm families in Indonesia.  Today some 70% of farmers control only 13 % of the land, while 30 % of farmers controls  fully 87 %  of farmland.  Not unrelated to the agrarian problem is the growth of unemployment, now reaching 41 unemployed and underemployed people.  

Agrarian Conflict and Violence toward Peasants

Indonesia today is characterized not only by extremely unequal access to land, but also by agrarian conflict and violence toward peasants. In general, the agrarian conflicts  begin with disputes over access and tenure, in which in development itself becomes a complex conflict. The intensity of conflict is growing rapidly today,  as landless and land poor farmers – the poorest of the poor — engage in a wide range of efforts to gain access to the life-giving resource of land.  As they struggle for land, they are increasingly met by state instruments such as police and the military, as processes that begin with manipulation often end in violence toward the landless farmers. The violence can be in the form of intimidation, terror, condemnation/eviction, detainment, shooting/killing, etc.  The available data indicates that there have been approximately one thousand such cases of agrarian conflicts during the period of 1979 – 2006.

We have found that the degree of violence in a given conflict is partially determined by the size of the land in dispute, the number of the people impacted, the location of the conflict, the state apparatus involved , and the roles played by foreign and domestic private sector actors.

Some of the policies maintaining the imbalance of the agrarian structure and causing agrarian conflict include:

  1. In the attempt to achieve food self-sufficiently in Indonesia, the new era regime implemented a green revolution program, an attempt at agricultural modernization that by and large benefited only large farm  owners and investors in rural areas.
  2.  The government has often used the security apparatus (Indonesian National Army or Police), organized groups (paramilitaries), and bureaucracy to evict peoples from farmland, including from their ancestral lands and  forests, on behalf of the interests of the large- scale investors.
  3. The transition if the national political system has created a new problem, as regional autonomy has become an impediment to the  implementation of the agrarian reform.  Regional governments are very aggressive toward peasants in their desire to attract investors.
  4.  A series of new laws, policies, concessions and regulations designed to boost exports of natural gas and other products,  including the Basic Forestry Law, the Law of Foreign Investment, the Law of Mining, the Law of Water, and other laws directly related to the use of agrarian resources, have placed new control over resources in a small number of hands.   This has often been exacerbated by the impacts of the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO.
  5.  The government has in a number of cases supported the conversion of fertile farmland to industrial use, real estate, housing, golf courses, large damn development, plantations, industrial forestry, and other usages that take it out of the agriculture sector. To implement these conversions, the government has misused  the Right to State Control clause in the Basic Agrarian Law 1960.

All of th4e factors, policies and actions have been accompanied with greater structural and physical violence against peasants, both landless and with land.  The violence in Indonesia today, caused by agrarian conflicts, is easy to see, to feel, and to recognize, even by general public.   The newest, well-publicized cases include the violence accompanied by the detainment of peasants, especially members of FSPI, in Tanak awu, West Nusa Tenggara and in Bandar Pasir  Mandoge,  North Sumatra.  Sadly, alternative so-called conflict resolution methods have only benefiting certain parties, as happened in Bulukumba, South Sulawesi, where the farmers are still the object of the conflict.

To implement genuine agrarian reform based on the Basic Agrarian Law (UUPA 1960)

Because of UUPA, which is still on the books, Indonesia already has a legal framework for agrarian reform with national scope.  Within UUPA there are some basic principles for the implementation of agrarian reform:

  1. National principles
  2.  The ultimate control over land, water, sky and resources under, beneath and over the soil  rests with the state, and can only be utilized for public, people’s prosperity
  3.  Recognition of rights of  indigenous people
  4.  The principle that land has social function
  5.  The Principle that only Indonesian citizens have rights to own land
  6.  Principles on equality between men and women with regard to agrarian resources
  7.  The Principle of “land for the tiller,” that there should no “exploitation of man by man” in land tenure arrangements
  8.  Principle for land reform
  9.  Principle for cooperatives for farming activities.

In short, a genuine agrarian reform can be carried using these already existing legal principles.

Peasant Organization Position on Agrarian Reform
Under such conditions, how do farmer organizations see their position and role? To establish agrarian justice for all Indonesian people, laws are not enough.  Peasant organizations must lead a political struggle for land, and must forge alliances and unity with other sectors, including workers, fisherfolk, intellectuals, and other progressive groups. These are the principles of the role of peasant organization role in achieving the implementation of agrarian reform:

  1. FSPI as association of peasant and indigenous peoples’ organizations struggling for the implementation of agrarian reform.
  2. in favor of agrarian reforms, such as university intellectuals, non government organizations, journalists, and international organizations, among others.
  3.  FSPI has positioned itself as a pressure group to force the government to exhibit the political will to implement genuine agrarian reform.
  4.  FSPI sees agrarian reform as the foundation for larger political reform in Indonesia today.
  5.    Together with other allies in the international community, FSPI is taking a strong position against free trade because of it negative impacts on domestic agriculture.


Case Study Presented at the International Conference on Agrarian Reform And Rural Development (ICARRD) Porto Alegre, Brazil 7 – 10 March 2006

Jakarta- 2006
Agrarian Conflict and Violence
Toward Peasants in Indonesia