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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs  25 October 2010

Indo land reform criticized

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Agrarian experts agreed on Sunday that the government's effort to distribute hundreds of hectares of land to farmers was still far from a "genuine land reform program".

President Susilo Bambang Yu-dhoyono on Thursday presented symbolic land certificates that granted 260 hectares of land to more than 5,100 farmers in four villages in Cilacap, Central Java, with each farmer reportedly receiving 500 square meters of land.

H.C. Gunawan Wiradi, an expert who has authored more than 270 publications on agrarian issues, said that the president's action Thursday represented only a key "precondition" for the country's still far-fetched genuine land reform.

"Real land reform is usually very drastic in nature, has a fixed implementation time, and is usually fast. The reform is to completely alter the structural ownership and use of not only land, but also land holdings, including plantation, large ranches and agribusiness plots," Gunawan said.

The government has so far been unable to list the prerequisites for such a reform, he added. Those prerequisites include a strong political will, better understanding of agrarian issues, a solid national farmers' organization, and a separation of the political elite from the business sector, as well as the provision of national agrarian data and analyses.

In the latter case, Gunawan said he did not understand why the Central Statistics Agency had not been able to produce accurate data on how much land the country had and was available for farming.

"The Netherlands East Indies once conducted agrarian research in 1860, surveying more than 888 villages across the country for two years to obtain thorough agrarian-related information. Why can't we do the same thing?" he said.

Gunawan, who received his honoris causa from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, added that all sectors would also need to sit down together to discuss the possibility of forming a national institution, the tasks of which would be to execute and monitor the national land reform programs.

According to the Indonesian Farmers Union (SPI), there are now more than 12.4 million hectares of abandoned land. It recommends that the land be distributed to each farmer's family owning an average of less than 0.5 hectares of land.

In Central Java, many farming families possess less than 0.25 hectares of land. SPI also said in 2008 there were 28.3 million farmer families in Indonesia, with 45 percent of the total land area owned by only 11 percent of such families. In the case of crude and palm oil plantation, the state and private sector dominate 66 percent of the total plantation area in the country.

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