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Indonesia Pledges Accelerated Agrarian Reform

Government Program Should Focus on Most Vulnerable

Indonesia's President-elect Joko Widodo (C) speaks with journalists at city hall in Jakarta, August 12, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

Last week, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced a moratorium on the issuance of permits for new development of state forests into oil palm plantations until 2021. The timing of the moratorium created a buzz at the launch of Global Land Forum in Indonesia this week and renewed focus on the country’s reform efforts on land and agriculture.

Indonesia has made numerous reform commitments in recent years. These reforms, if implemented well, would add political weight to the government’s long-standing agrarian reform agenda.

In 2015, the government set a target to acquire and redistribute 9 million hectares of land as a mid-term development goal for 2015-2019. This was aimed at land that was previously granted for cultivation but not used, where the grant had expired or was not renewed. According to Moeldoko, the head of the president’s Executive Office, the government issued 5 million land certificates to small holder farmers in 2017 and will grant more by 2019.

The government also announced a target guaranteeing small-holder farmers the right to use 12.7 million hectares of state forests. President Jokowi has made similar pledges stating that indigenous peoples will get certificates over lands they live on and their customary forests. But the process has been slow, with critics calling for reform that is fair and just.

In February, Jokowi launched a program to accelerate land registration with a goal to register all land in Indonesia by 2025. And this week, the president signed another decree that would provide guidance on how government’s big targets on land redistribution and certification will be implemented.

Taken together, these new measures could breath new life into the Indonesian government’s decades-long agrarian reform agenda. The national agrarian reform, which began as far back as 1950s to address problematic land ownership during the Dutch Indies colonial rule, aims to redistribute agricultural land to close the economic gap and reduce the country’s inequality.

Implementing these policies will be a challenge given the complexities around land rights in Indonesia. Land disputes between peasants, indigenous peoples, companies and government are widespread, due to legal uncertainty over ownership, use, and procurement.

Fighting inequality means addressing these land disputes. Fair and just reforms would secure rights to land for the most marginalized and protect indigenous peoples’ right to their customary forests.

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