Speaking to journalists in Jakarta, the Agriculture Minister has admitted that the plan which President Jokowi announced in May this year, to develop 250,000 hectares of rice estate each semester, is not progressing as fast as the government had hoped. The reason is the difficulty in getting permission to use indigenous land. Given that the use of indigenous land is always a big issue, and the indigenous people of Merauke Regency have a history of refusing to give up their land for agricultural or plantation projects, this ‘problem’ was entirely predicted. Indeed it is difficult to believe that the Agriculture Ministry was not aware of this likely obstacle before committing 7 trillion Rupiah (US$ 534 million) per semester to the project.
If the report below, translated from news website detik.com, is accurate, that means a huge amount of money and equipment has been reserved for a project which can only use a fraction of that money. The likely consequences of this are either that it will provoke further conflict as there is a great incentive to grab the land without allowing indigenous communities to freely agree between themselves the best future for their land, or will simply promote corruption amongst bureaucrats involved in the project.
Agriculture Minister telephones Merauke’s Regency Leader, asking to speed up Food Estate project
Michael Agustinus – detikfinance
Agriculture Minister Andi Amran Sulaiman has said that the development of a food estate in Merauke is being held up because of problems with customary law. The land for the food estate is indigenous customary land, and there has still not been a clear agreement with local indigenous leaders about using the land.
On the other hand, Amran has said, the Agriculture Ministry has already set aside a budget and equipment for the food estate. If it weren’t for the indigenous land problem, development could move swiftly forward. In order to resolve the problem, Amran has said that he has made a call to the Bupati of Merauke.
“We made a call to the Bupati 4 days ago, asking for his help to speed up the programme. The budget is ready, the equipment and the team as well”, said Amran, speaking at an initiation ceremony for echelon II officials in the Agriculture Ministry in Jakarta on Friday 7th August.
The ministry will continue its efforts to ensure the food estate development moves forward. At the moment the ministry has started to ship heavy machinery to Merauke. “Now we’re starting to make progress, the machinery has been sent,” he announced.
Because of this indigenous land problem, plans for the food estate, for which 250,000 hectares were to be developed this year, cannot be fully realised. At most, 10,000 hectares will be developed this year. “What we ran into over there was an indigenous land problem. We wanted to be able to develop 250,000 hectares this year, but the situation on the ground doesn’t allow this”, Amran said.
He hopes that the food estate development can move faster from 2016 onwards, in order to be completed before 2019. “This year, we’ll plan for 10,000 hectares first of all. Let’s wait and see what we plan for next year,” he concluded.