Nina Loasana, Jakarta – The coronavirus pandemic did not stop agrarian reform activists from staging a protest in front of the House of Representatives compound in Central Jakarta to mark this year's National Farmer's Day, observed annually in Indonesia every Sept. 24.
The protestors, from the National Committee of Agrarian Reform (KNPA) – an alliance of dozens of civil society groups – demanded the government realize President "Jokowi" Widodo's agrarian reform program and protested against the controversial omnibus bill on job creation.
They also placed 120 scarecrows dressed as farmers in front of the House complex in Senayan as symbols of those who could not attend the protest in person.
"Initially we planned to stage a rally involving 2,000 people. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jakarta Police only allowed 30 people to gather in front of the House compound," Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) secretary-general Dewi Kartika told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
Dewi explained that they also staged similar protests in 60 locations all across the archipelago.
Activists staged the rallies to express the disappointment of Indonesian farmers, particularly with regard to recurrent land disputes between farmers and corporations, she said.
"During the pandemic alone, 39 agrarian conflicts have occurred all across the country, with many resulting in violence and intimidation of farmers," Dewi said.
She claimed the government intentionally created an unconducive environment for farmers by allowing companies to enforce evictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
House members exacerbated this situation by continuing the deliberation of the controversial omnibus bill, she added.
"We want to make it very clear: farmers are against the omnibus bill on job creation. All this time, people think that the bill only concerns labor, however, the bill also deals with land rights, mining, forestry and plantations," Dewi added.
Farmers have long expressed opposition to the bill, which contains provisions that many believe will affect their livelihoods.
For instance, the bill seeks to relax food imports as one of the main sources of domestic food supplies by revising some articles in the 2013 Farmers' Protection and Empowerment Law, which stipulates that local sources of food should be prioritized and that imports should be avoided where possible.
Dewi further said that the bill also aimed to amend the 1960 Basic Agrarian Law that protects farmers from unfair land procurement.
The bill would authorize the establishment of a new body to act as land managers under the authority of the central government to ensure a smooth land-acquisition process for investors, which would lead to even more harm to farmers."The bill would eradicate several prerequisites needed before converting farming land," she said.