Agriculture Bill

House vows to pass agriculture bill soon

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A bill that provides greater protection for the sustainability of agriculture will be passed by the House of Representatives before the end of its current term this year, with NGOs calling for bank credit for land ownership for farmers.

Once passed into law, the agriculture land sustainability bill will protect the country’s farmlands from being converted into industrial and commercial areas.

Agusdin Pulungan, head of the Indonesian Agriculture and Fishing Association (WAMTI), said the law was urgently needed because of the large number of farmland being converted into industrial and commercial areas.

“Farmers sell their lands to industrial companies because it’s much more profitable [than farming],” Agusdin told The Jakarta Post during a WAMTI hearing on the bill with the House on Thursday.

“That is why we need the bill to be passed, so the government can protect farmland to sustain domestic food resources, while at the same time improve farmers’ welfare.”

Data from the Agriculture Ministry shows a very slow rate of farmland development, especially for rice paddies, the country’s main source for domestic food resources.

The ministry recorded that of the 7.7 million hectares of total rice paddies in the country in 1986, there was only a slight increase to 8.25 million hectares by 1996. By 2000, that figure had gone down to 7.79 million hectares.

The slow rate is due to the large number of farmland being converted into industrial and commercial sites.

“The Indonesian Farmer’s Association [HKTI] records that such conversions reach 300,000 hectares per year, with 80 percent occurring in Java, the main domestic food resources area,” said HKTI secretary Noer Soetjipto.

“It’s very important that [once the bill is passed into law] the government immediately drafts a regulation [to put the law into execution].”

However, WAMTI deputy for advocacy Sri Naida warned that the bill should not focus entirely on Java.

“The law should also cover the issues of nomadic farmers in Kalimantan and agricultural areas located on coastlines,” she said.

“And the most important thing the law should concern is the issue of farming as a source of livelihood in rural areas.”

Winarno Tohir, head of the Farming and Fishery Contact Reliance (KTNA), also suggested the establishment of a bank that would focus on providing farmers with loans and credit for land ownership, as part of an effort to improve farmers’ welfare. Large numbers of Indonesian farmers possess no land, but work as farming laborers, which Winarno pointed out as the condition that caused their poverty.

“There’s credit for cars, houses and apartments. Why can’t we have credit for farming?” he said.

Winarno, who also attended the hearing at the House, said the government needed to revise a clause in the agriculture sustainability bill to ensure basic prices for agricultural produce.

“Clause number 55 in the bill states that the government guarantees `profitable food commodities prices’. I suggest the government should regulate a `basic price’ for farming commodities,” he said.

Hilman Indra, deputy chairman of House Commission IV, said the bill would be passed “as soon as possible, probably before the end of our tenure in 2009”. (hdt)

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