Apr 22, 2024 Last Updated 1:12 AM, Apr 19, 2024

Campaigning for agrarian reform

ajiguna resized
 Rahmat Ajiguna in his office in Jakarta- Eve Warburton

Rahmat Ajiguna is secretary general of Alliance for Agrarian Reform (AGRA). This organisation represents farmers from across Indonesia and is funded almost entirely from the dues of around 250,000 members. AGRA was established in 2004 with the aim of bringing together a number of other peasant organisations in order to speak with a more coherent voice about agrarian reform. AGRA’s leadership has been outspoken on issues of food security and food sovereignty in Indonesia.

What does it mean to be food insecure in Indonesia?

Actually there is a problem with the conception of ‘food security’. The common conception of ‘food security’ doesn’t take into account where food is from. There is no thought to the quality of the food, how it is produced or where it came from. As long as there is food there is security. In order to achieve this goal of food security the Indonesian government chooses to take the ‘short cut’ of importing food from overseas.

We think it’s more important to talk about food sovereignty, which is about producing food here within Indonesia in order to achieve security. Our country is an agrarian country. We actually don’t need to import beef from Australia or garlic from Malaysia or China, for example. But the government chooses to import, rather than invest in local production. This is where my organisation, AGRA, has a different opinion to the government – our conception of food security can’t be separated from the idea of food sovereignty.

What does AGRA see as the most fundamental drivers of food insecurity?

The first is how the increasing cost of living in Indonesia means more and more poor people lack the capacity to buy food. For example, when the price of petrol goes up the cost of living goes up too. But the price of food products sold by Indonesian farmers doesn’t increase at the same rate; so neither does their profits. This leaves many poor farmers insecure.

A second factor is the government’s belief that importing is the best way to achieve food security. An agrarian country like Indonesia can achieve security internally. But the government’s focus is on developing large estates – like the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate. The goal of this estate is not to ensure food security within Indonesia; its goal is to produce food products for export. Another example is how during the global soybean crisis in 2013 the government said it would ensure that Indonesia became self sufficient in soybeans to avoid these sorts of shocks. But no action has really been taken. We keep importing rather than developing our local industry. And domestic products can’t compete with the quality of imported soybeans.

Finally, there is no real program of much-needed agrarian reform. There are too many large commercial plantations and not enough plantations that can ensure food security. Today, in reality it is the small-scale producers, or peasants, who ensure the food security of the country. But these small-scale producers are facing land grabbing by large commercial projects - palm oil plantations, property, infrastructure and mining. All of these large commercial projects convert small-scale producers’ land through land grabbing. While there are laws that protect small-scale farmland, these laws are not followed. For example the Karawang, Indramayu area has long been a source of food in West Java. When the farmland in this area was converted into factory and private property land, the government did not replace or compensate farmers for their loss.

Actually, the government has not had a strong or long-term vision since the time of Sukarno. At that time, Sukarno said that Indonesia would become self sufficient and sovereign, and not depend on foreign countries to provide food for its people.

Are there government policies that have contributed to the alleviation of food insecurity in Indonesia?

There are some good policies and laws, but implementation is the problem. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono even publically said he was going to prioritise agrarian reform. But until today this has not happened. At the very least, the government should be helping to protect farmers’ lands from being converted. But the reality is that land conversion is happening on a massive scale.

But why do you think the government is not interested in protecting farmers’ lands from conversion and supporting their productivity?

This actually can’t be separated from international markets. It’s related to the kinds of materials that developed countries want to consume from developing countries like Indonesia. In the international system, a few companies hold a monopoly on agricultural products. For example, Monsanto, Daewoo and BASF have a monopoly on seeds all around the world. But the monopoly of large multinational companies begins with the seeds and continues all the way throughout the market. In this system, countries like Indonesia are seen only as producers of raw materials. Take palm oil, for example. We are the biggest producer in the world, yet we export it in crude form; we don’t process it here in our own country. Investing in processing palm oil could help employ and feed people. Instead, large areas of land are converted in order to export raw materials for overseas consumption, rather than producing and processing materials to be consumed by our own people.

Are the issues that Indonesia faces shared with its neighbours? How do they do things differently?

These problems are the same in other agrarian countries around the world. Latin American countries, African countries and countries here in Asia all face problems of land conversion, land grabbing, trade restrictions and other international forces that contribute to a lack of food security and sovereignty.

There are Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings in Bali in October and December 2013. Together with other organisations we will also arrange meeting and activities to respond to the dialogue that comes out of these meetings. We are especially concerned with the WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali in December. Representatives of countries from around the world will attend our event in Bali and will develop alternatives to the WTO model that are based on better trade ideas that benefit more people.

What does AGRA do to try and ensure food security in Indonesia?

We want to show that Indonesia can achieve food sovereignty. We campaign and promote the idea that we can be sovereign in our food production and achieve food security. We try to demonstrate that this is more important than the government’s narrow focus on food security. AGRA also doesn’t agree with the market approach of international bodies like the WTO because it does not benefit the farmers and communities in underdeveloped countries like Indonesia. This system favours developed countries and their famers. So we oppose this approach.

We also push within Indonesia and lobby the government for agrarian reform, and for the government to pursue the best ways of giving farmers access to markets and cheap credit. We want farmers to have a voice in this process. At the moment they are left out of policy planning.

And we want food security for the long term, which means we have to fight against land grabbing by large companies for commercial crops or mining. Our focus is on how to make Indonesian farmers the answer to problems of food security. We want to make sure that we process the foods that are consumed here – soybean, meat, rice, rather than importing these products and forcing local farmers to compete with cheap imports. We want to strengthen farmers’ organisations and to help them have a voice, a unified voice, to push for real agrarian reform.

Rahmat Ajiguna (agraindonesia12@gmail.com) is secretary general of AGRA.

Inside Indonesia 114: Oct-Dec 2013{jcomments on}

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