IDEP Foundation

Local Plants: Identity and Sustainability

Last year, a community garden was built by a group of farmers in Dusun Sedang Pasir, Pemuteran. Until now, the garden has been full of a variety of local plants. We approached this self-managed garden to see farmers’ efforts to implement permaculture on land undergoing land-rights conflict.

Community garden in Sendang Pasir, Tuesday (23/6/2021) (Photo: Gusti Diah)

In the middle of the garden, there is a flag depicting a farmer carrying a hoe. It is here we met with Rasik and other farmers of the community. They are the Suka Makmur Farmers Union (SPSM), which has been fighting for decades to reclaim the status of land rights. During this period, the farmers have managed and supported this ex-HGU (Right to Cultivate) land.

How did the land become ex-HGU land?

According to the 2011 District Court Statement, the 2,469,000 m² area of land was owned by Henry Nicholas Boon during the Dutch Government in 1915. After Indonesian independence, the government of Indonesia bought the land for Rp. 200.000. The Bali provincial government later gave this land to the Kebaktian Pejuang Foundation (YKP) to be managed. After the granting of management rights, YKP formed the business entity NV. Margarana (now called PT. Margarana) operates in the agricultural sector.

Land that for more than a decade was maintained by farmers. (Photo: Gusti Diah)

On December 18, 1957, PT. Margarana submitted an application for HGU to the Director-General of Agrarian Affairs in Jakarta. This decree was issued on December 27, 1980, under Number 78/HGU/DA/1980. After 25 years, however, there was no renewal, and the certificate expired on December 31, 2005.

In 2011 the Provincial Government of Bali filed a lawsuit against PT. Margarana related to the land of former HGU Number 1/ Pemuteran Village. This lawsuit lasted until the final court (kasasi) in 2018 and was won by the Bali Provincial Government.

Community Condition in the Middle of a Dispute

If the more than 200 hectares of land were sued in the court trial due to abandonment post-management period. It’s a different story when we hear from farmers who have maintained their gardens from generation to generation from their ancestors, even during the Dutch colonial period. Rasik even showed us the grave of his ancestors juxtaposed with the grave of Henry Nicholas Boon.

Henry Nicholas Boon grave. (Photo: Gusti Diah)

Kapok and coconut is the commodity of PT. Margarana. But the local community who have maintained this land didn’t get their welfare. “PT [company] forbade us to plant food crops. Why are people being asked to work, but they are still starving?,” said Rasik, head of SPSM.

But gradually, the company was hit by losses. Then in the 1990s, when farmers had begun to understand their sovereignty, they began to grow food crops. “Farmers started to fight. They planted cassava, corn, and other crops”, Rasik explained as he handed us fried cassava.

Farmer planting crops food. (Photo: Gusti Diah)

Apart from cassava, Singaraja’s local food crops have also begun to be revived on the ex-HGU land. Sorghum, which is also commonly called Buleleng, was re-cultivated in 2019 by farmers in Sendang Pasir. Suitable soil and climate make sorghum easy to grow. In the past, when rice was introduced through the national food policy, sorghum began to be forgotten. “Old people here say they used to be most familiar with sorghum, but because of the transmigration policy and changing food to rice, sorghum has disappeared. Not only the seeds but also the knowledge is lost,” said Roberto, who has conducted research on the existence of sorghum in Pemuteran.

Sorghum produced by Sendang Pasir farmers. (Photo: Gusti Diah)

Roberto explained not only about planting but also about how closely sorghum is related to local identity. The struggle of the farmers in Sendang Pasir is not only about land rights. But also about local food, which is actually very adaptive and has previously been used for a long time.

Farmers Struggle for Their Land Rights

For decades, farmers in Sendang Pasir have not seen progress on the status of the land they have maintained from generation to generation. Even now, the government is trying to take back the land. According to Made Indrawati (KPA Bali) in an interview with Radar Bali, “for 30 years, people in conflict areas have visited government offices many times to fight for their land rights to the land they have cared for.”

However, when the Supreme Court’s statement number 591 PK/Pdt/2018 came out on August 10, 2018, it didn’t provide relief for Sendang Pasir farmers. The land of the former HGU I Margarana is currently under the Bali Provincial government’s authority, although farmers have proposed the land as an object of agrarian reform.

The illustration describes Farmers Struggle, in the SPSM office. (Photo: Gusti Diah)

The expression farmers’ disappointment can be seen from their installation of a large banner on the side of Singaraja-Gilimanuk street, which reads, “The Priority Location for Agrarian Reform (LPRA) is Land for the People!! Implement True Agrarian Reform!!”. Unfortunately, in less than a day, the banner was taken down by the Gerokgak District Government.

Although their voices were repeatedly silenced, SPSM didn’t keep silent. Since 1993, they have attempted various litigation (legal way to the government) and non-litigation (relation with the community) steps to maintain their living and further the cause. Starting from holding meetings with the government and inviting the community to be in solidarity, and now building community gardens.

Community Gardens Strengthen Solidarity

The presence of community gardens in mid-2020 has had a significant impact on the farmer movement, especially related to regeneration. Because of the community garden, young community members can build strong relations with each other and the environment. Especially when farmers and their networks held the Progressive Agro-Ecology Training in December 2020, local youth and students from various regions met and learnt in solidarity for this special occasion.

Rasik talked about farmers' struggle to get their rights. (Photo: Gusti Diah)

Besides maintaining their struggle, the presence of community gardens also aims to increase community resilience. They can independently create food sovereignty because all basic needs can be fulfilled from their yard and community garden. They no longer depend solely on rice but instead have their own sorghum, corn, and cassava.

The various types of plants that exist in this collective garden also contribute to maintaining the diversity of local seeds. There are even local beans that Balinese communities have almost forgotten such as koro, jack bean, catjang, hyacinth bean, velvet bean, and many more.

Strolling through the farmers' gardens in Sendang Pasir. (Photo: Gusti Diah)

Gradually farmers in Sendang Pasir began to apply permaculture principles. From the chemical-free collective gardens, which have been planted with various types of plants, it has spread to productive gardens and community yards in Sendang Pasir over time. The communities have understood the destructive impact of using pesticides and chemical fertilizers for the sustainability of the soil and gardens. Now they are planting diverse varieties of plants in one production area to maintain the ecosystem health and the farmers’ sustainability. (Gd)