Land Rights for Women Under Indonesia Agrarian Reform: Land as a Symbol of Farmers’ Dignity and Survival
RIGHTS AND RESOURCES INITIATIVE 29 .01. 2020  

In Mangkit Village, North of Sulawesi, land was returned to farming families, ending a long struggle between the community and a plantation company. This has crucial implications for the communities’ livelihoods and very survival.

Their struggle is seen across the country: Indonesia’s land ownership is among the most unequal in the world, with 74 percent of land controlled by 0.2 percent of the richest people in Indonesia. KPA—the Agrarian Reform Consortium made up of 156 members, mainly farmers’ unions—is attempting to rebalance land distribution by advocating for land redistribution under the government’s Agrarian Reform program.

In Southeast Minahasa District, North Sulawesi, 444 hectares of land were returned to the Peasant Union, benefitting 491 people in Mangkit village. For over 30 years, the Mangkit have been cultivating the disputed land occupied by PT Asiatik, a coconut plantation company that eventually split into three different companies.

Why has Agrarian Reform not been effective so far?

Thus far, the government has focused on the formalization aspect of agrarian reform, issuing certificates for those occupying undisputed land. This includes poor farmers who have been resettled under the official transmigration program and given a plot of land for agriculture.

But this is different from KPA’s goal: land redistribution. Land redistribution is about returning disputed land claimed by Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and others. It covers recognizing communities located inside forests that are currently considered “illegal” by the government despite evidence that local peoples are the best guardians of these natural resources, as well as returning agricultural land that has been taken from farmers to develop industrial plantations, infrastructures, and other projects. For KPA, land equity can only be achieved if agrarian reform is implemented to solve conflicts by redistributing land to the people, including those who have lived on and managed their lands for generations. The Agrarian Reform program targets 9 million hectares of land: 4.5 million for land redistribution and 4.5 million for formalization of land ownership. Land to be redistributed is to originate from forest area for 4.1 million hectares and from unused or expired concessions granted to companies for the remaining .4 million. Unfortunately, this part of the agrarian reform program has seen very little progress. In five years, land redistribution is still lagging behind, with less than 1 percent of the target 4.1 million hectares of forestland recognized.

One reason is that the government is still sticking to the “clean and clear principle,” which requires that any land redistributed should be free from competing claims. Another reason is that in some provinces like Java and Bali, where forest cover is under 30 percent, the government does not want to release land from forest areas. The only option offered is social forestry, granting local communities management rights to state forestlands for 35 years. But social forestry is not an adequate scheme to solve the problem of the villages “illegally” located in forest area. This also explains why unclaimed land prioritized by the government is often inadequate for farming. For instance, in one case in Aceh, the redistributed land is located in the middle of a river.

KPA Struggle for a Genuine Agrarian Reform

To counter this top-down approach, KPA has been pushing for a bottom-up approach (referred to as LPRA, priority location for agrarian reform), where land to be redistributed is prioritized by the people themselves. This important work of KPA has been supported by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and more recently by the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility.

Of course, claimed lands have often been the object of disputes that pit communities against private or public companies, or the government. But a genuine agrarian reform is about solving such conflicts by considering the interests of marginalized peoples.

So far, KPA has consolidated priority locations for Agrarian Reform in 533 villages covering over 650,000 hectares, which would benefit more than 192,000 peasant families (with over 12,000 female headed households) in 20 provinces. Out of these, the government has now prioritized 145 villages with 115,000 hectares. Yet only 785 hectares of land prioritized by the people has been redistributed.

Land Redistribution in Mangkit Village

There are however some examples of success, including the priority area claimed by the people in Mangkit. The Minahasa Peasant Union (Serikat Petani Minahasa, SPM), a local peasant organization that was supported by KPA, achieved recognition of the Mangkit’s land in October 2019 and helped ensure that people were ready to manage their lands with a strong collective governance system.

Under the collective governance of the Minahasa Peasant Union, two hectares of land consisting of two plots—one for housing and one for farming—were attributed to every household, as shown on this map. One plot is titled in the name of the husband and one plot in the name of the wife. “At least, with a land certificate, we are not left with nothing in case things turn badly in our household,” said one of the women, as even after a divorce, the woman’s tenure rights are guaranteed.

The villagers agreed that the land would not be sold for at least 15 years. All land certificates were entrusted to the village chief, who is also the head of the Peasant Union as well as the local church pastor.

Mangkit village women holding their land certificates

For Simon Aling, heading the Peasant Union, the struggle does not stop here: “After land redistribution, we have various plans under the DAMARA model,” he said. DAMARA refers to KPA’s strategy to advance village level agrarian reform. Encompassing tenure rights, collective governance, production, marketing, and consumption systems favorable to smallholders and landless farmers, DAMARA uses agrarian reform as an alternative to mainstream economic development systems that are generating inequality, poverty, and unbalanced relations between rural and urban areas. Land redistribution constitutes a first step in addressing the concentration of land ownership in the hands of corporations. And strengthening collective governance of village territory is key “to preserve and manage our land in a sustainable way, as a symbol of dignity and survival of farmers,” concluded Simon.

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