Instead of taking the spotlight, farmers all around Indonesia are often marginalized, neglected, even exploited. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

Commentary: Exploited and Neglected, the Fate of Farmers in Indonesia


NOVEMBER 07, 2016

Despite modernization, Indonesia remains largely an agricultural society. With that in mind, it's only natural to expect that farmers will take center stage in the country's constellation of power, since without them the agricultural sector would come to a standstill and the country will run out of food.

Sadly, that is not the case. Instead of taking the spotlight, farmers all around Indonesia are often marginalized, neglected, even exploited.

Though we eat what the farmers grow, they rarely earn our respect. Farmers work from morning to night and never stop working in bad weather but they never let themselves get frightened or discouraged by the burden of work. For many of them, the equation is simple: they have to work, or they (and their families) won't survive.

Despite their hard work, many farmers remain living in poverty and their welfare is never guaranteed. They become pawns of politicians — their support sought desperately during election campaigns, then ditched even before the polling booths are dismantled.

There has been a stark contrast between the development objectives for the poor and the rich. The objective of the rich is to get even richer and the objective for the poor is to keep them powerless and downtrodden.

That is the real tragedy in this country: that the rich thrive at the cost of the poor.

There are very few farmers who are successful and wealthy. These are the landowners, many of whom have been exploiting landless farmworkers for generations.

It's not a surprise then that many young people are shunning the agricultural sector for opportunities elsewhere. Most of them, even those who still live in their village of birth say they no longer want to become farmers, simply because it is not a desirable source of income.

Many of these young men and women become factory workers or find menial jobs working in a supermarket, gas station or restaurant. Those with a little bit of capital would start a small business or move to the city in search of better opportunities.

Tengkulak, a scourge on farmers everywhere

Farmers in Indonesia sell their coffee, rice and cocoa beans to brokers known as a tengkulak, who often double as loan sharks when a harvest fails.

Tengkulaks buy from farmers at an artificially low price. They set their price at will, completely disregarding the interests of the farmers. This complete disregard for the value of the farmers' labor destroys their dignity and is simply unethical.

A lack of solidarity for farmers is the reason why tengkulaks can play with commodity prices as they see fit.

Tengkulaks exploit farmers, as simple as that. The injustice to farmers all over Indonesia will continue if the government does not break this cycle of oppression.

Gabriel Adur is a Catholic priest from Ruteng in Flores, Indonesia. He is currently working in the Netherlands and Germany.