Dec 01, 2023 Last Updated 8:29 PM, Nov 27, 2023

'We promote community-based land mapping'

Published: Sep 30, 2007

The Consortium for Agrarian Reform is a new umbrella grouping of NGOs interested in land issues

Noer Fauzi

You challenged Ian Anderson by saying the project makes land an economic entity, with 'acquisition' its most important characteristic. Ian Anderson had said that even if Australia did not participate in the project, Indonesia would do it anyway. AusAID contributes skills to the project, which will lead to reliable information that can be used for the right purposes.

There are some myths about this project. It veils the real problems.

First, he wants to demonstrate AusAID capabilities to other countries. But this is a type of domination. Many countries, such as Indonesia, already have a specific, heterogeneous land management system. If Australia gives its 'help' to homogenise Indonesian land administration, it is a form of management domination.

They say: 'It is better to have only a single land management system.' But this is a myth. In our view the most accurate land management is based on specific historical and cultural values. We have never made that administration homogeneous.

The second point is related to the economic interest of this project. After we register our land, who will get the comparative advantage? Big business wants to acquire the land. If we don't have the money for legal support, then it is a danger for us.

So how do you respond to his comment that 4 million Indonesians will benefit from this project?

I think they will not benefit. Having a certificate puts you into the capitalist arena. But you will be a weak participant, and you could be worse off than before. The rules will result in an unequal land distribution. This gives rise to many problems.

For example, many men and women have already lost control over their land, and have moved to the cities as migrant workers in the informal sector. Every year, more than 100 000 people come to the Jakarta Megacity. Most of them are 'land refugees'. The problems are based on the unequal land structures near the city. The loss of control over land is a real threat for many people. The project is located near the growth pool of the cities. It is facilitating big business to acquire land from ordinary people through land administration improvement.

I don't understand well enough the history of land disputes. Did this loss of control over land occur in recent times, or does it go back a long way? Were there large land holdings in West Java at the beginning of this century giving rise to unequal land distribution, or is it a result of the recent heavy industrialisation in West Java?

The unequal land distribution goes back to the Dutch colonial Agrarian Law of 1870, which permitted large plantations. There were many peasant revolts in West Java for that reason. The 1960 law on land redistribution (UUPA) aimed to change that. But reform was cut short by the violent tragedy of 1965. The New Order has a capitalist strategy that is contradictory to agrarian reform.

Recent agro- or manufacturing industrialisation needs much more land, for plantations, for the tourist industry (golf fields), for the small holder nucleus schemes, for industrial parks. If you go from Jakarta to Bandung through Cikampek you can see by the roadside many industrial parks where there used to be good rice fields.

You criticise the National Land Agency BPN for its lack of accountability. Ian Anderson said that if AusAID does not get involved, those problems will remain. He believes the problems can at least be minimised by AusAID involvement. If AusAID is not involved there will be technical strengthening from the World Bank, but no reform. What do you think?

There are different ideas about this. The Australian government assumes that if it gives a grant to the Indonesian government, that is the same as a grant to the people. But in our view the state does not adequately represent the interests of the people. The Indonesian government's idea of progress is based on state power. But there is a discrepancy between the state and the people.

Our experience with land conflicts shows we do not get the benevolence of the state or of BPN. There are many examples of this. BPN's problems are not technical, but political. It can't do much to empower the people vis-a-vis big business or the plantations. The project will empower BPN, which does not represent the people's needs. It is just a bureaucracy. The bureaucracy in Indonesia, as Arief Budiman says, is rentier, authoritarian and bureaucratic. Governments assume these characteristics benefit the people, but we dispute that.

If AusAID asked you to write an alternative proposal for land administration in Indonesia, what would it contain?

There are alternatives. We would like to see a pluralistic land management system. One alternative we promote is community- based land mapping. This is most appropriate for indigenous peoples' land. It gives people an opportunity to participate fully in the mapping of their land. After this process they can give the information to the state or to other groups and say: 'This is our land'. The government just receives their information.

This is very useful for several reasons. First, it is participatory. Second, it is a bottom-up method, not top-down. It is not a positivistic way of administration, but just common sense. The power of common sense is very great. 'This tree is the limit of our land. We declare this is the limit.' It is important for indigenous people. Our alternative is based on the NGO experience with indigenous peoples.

However, near the city, where there is a conflict with big business, there ought to be another alternative. We propose a land bank, namely a collectively controlled amount of land for landless peasants or homeless city people. The point there too is to empower the people first, and make land administration subservient to people's needs.

Inside Indonesia 47: Jul-Sep 1996

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