What was the link between Jatropha projects and rural poverty reduction in Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta Province?

By Gunawan

Quote: “Jatropha became an icon for a hopeful technocratic narrative seeking to simultaneously address global concerns about climate change, fossil fuel depletion and rural poverty.”

One of the claims made about the positive attributes of jatropha was that it could be cultivated on poor-quality land in dry areas and still produce yields that would contribute to alleviating poverty (1). According to this claim, jatropha would provide new hope for people whose livelihoods depend on what they can produce under harsh circumstances. As evident in the case of Gunungkidul, while jatropha was readily included in the local poverty alleviation programs, the causes of the poverty itself usually remained unexplored, not   subject to analysis prior to the launch of each jatropha project. One common assumption motivating the use of jatropha in such programs is that poverty enclaves have emerged in barren lands due to their limited access to natural resources. The argument follows that, since productive land is not available, people living in these areas are unable to fulfill their basic needs (2). Jatropha is seen as a solution here, as it is claimed that it is able to grow on barren lands and produce oil as well as other products that could bring extra income. However, other authors question such an apolitical analysis of poverty, arguing that understanding the key to poverty reduction requires historical evidence and deeper, spatialized forms of political-economy analysis (3). The anthropological research conducted in several villages in Gunungkidul focused on studying the practices around jatropha schemes implemented in this area. Using case studies, the research reveals the assumptions about the link between poverty and jatropha projects, and analyzes whether they are verified by findings in the field.

The area where the field work was conducted is considered to be poor: Gunungkidul has a larger number of poor people than four other districts in the Province of Yogyakarta, reaching up to 20% of the total population in 2010 (688,145 people), according to figures from the Central Statistics Bureau.

Old aged people are the dominant laborers in agriculture in Gunungkidul, because young people moved to other areas as migrant workers. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus 22-1002012.

Old aged people are the dominant laborers in agriculture in Gunungkidul, because young people moved to other areas as migrant workers. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus 22-1002012.

Migrant labor pays off: this house has been built from oil plantation wages in Sumatra securing a good residence for the owner when he will return to his home village. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus 15-12-2012.

Migrant labor pays off: this house has been built from oil plantation wages in Sumatra securing a good residence for the owner when he will return to his home village.
Photo: Gunawan, Tepus 15-12-2012.

The statistical reports attributed the high poverty rate to the low agricultural productivity of the area, which was due to poor soil quality and other geographical characteristics, including the infertile karst land in the south of Gunungkidul (4). Gunungkidul’s climate can be extremely dry between May and September, although the average annual rainfall reached 1954.43 mm (5). Here, agriculture is mainly rain-fed, so the fields can only be cultivated once a year. The main crops are rice, maize and cassava. While rice is grown for household consumption, maize and cassava are cash crops. Due to the scarcity of arable land in the southern part of Gunungkidul, many villagers choose to become migrant workers in the urban construction sector, or to work as oil palm plantation laborers in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Still others prefer to work as seasonal laborers in neighboring towns in the dry season, so that they can return to their fields in the planting and harvesting seasons.

During the rainy season the crops and grasses in the field in Gunungkidul are green. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus 2-12-2012.

During the rainy season the crops and grasses in the field in Gunungkidul are green. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus 2-12-2012.

The same field in Gunungkidul has turned grey and brown at the end of the dry season.Photo, Gunawan, 24 -10 -2012.

The same field in Gunungkidul has turned grey and brown at the end of the dry season. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus 24 -10 -2012.

In this area jatropha has traditionally been planted on the edges of cultivated land, functioning as borders marking different landownerships; as green terraces to prevent landslides in sloping fields; and as part of the intercropping system with cassava and maize.

The jatropha project in Gunungkidul was initiated by the Forestry and Plantation Services (DISHUTBUN, Dinas Kehutanan dan Perkebunan). Undertaken partly as the Ministry of Forestry’s response to the national energy policy in 2006 for developing biofuel as an alternative energy, this program included the allocation to jatropha cultivation of forest areas deemed unsuitable for forestry or food crop purposes. In Gunungkidul, one of the areas involved in this program was Purwodadi village. In this setting the District Forestry and Plantation Services allocated land classified as “unsuitable forest land” (Afkiren Bosch, AB) for jatropha cultivation, with the aim of providing local farmers with the opportunity to earn extra income. The AB lands are part of the state-owned forest, and in Purwodadi these plots of land are small and scattered, and usually adjacent to the river, settlements and private properties (6). Another reference mentioned that AB land is Afgeschreven djati-Bosch. This terminology was used in 1932 after the restructuring of forest lands (bosch-afdeling). This land is excluded from state forest because it is fragmented and is not proper to be included as forest area (7). Owing to these characteristics, the local government could not utilize AB lands profitably, hence the decision to allocate them for jatropha cultivation.

Another characteristic of these AB lands is that their ownership is contested. In Gunungkidul the classification of AB lands, referring to lands which had been used for teak forests and which were abandoned after the teak had been logged, dates back to the 1960s. Over the years, coordinating with village government, local farmers began to grow food crops and other trees on these lands. Farmers using AB lands were exempted from annual rent; however, they were obliged to pay contributions during village traditional ritual. For instance Rasulan, a ritual of expressing gratitude to God for having bestowed a good livelihood and prosperity to farmers during the year.

Since 2008 farmers have not had to pay contributions for the use of these lands. The Forestry and Plantation Services advised the local farmers to plant teak and acacia in these areas, as part of an effort to gradually transform these lands into the classification of a hutan rakyat (community forest). Under this new classification, these lands were not supposed to be used to cultivate food crops. However, not many farmers followed this advice. At present, food crops are still dominant on AB lands, with very few teak trees planted around the borders. Jatropha itself is planted in a multi-cropping system, together with food crops and woods, thus not as the main crop on these lands.

Farmers in Gunungkidul do not cultivate jatropha but prioritize food crops when they only have a few good quality fields. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus, 12-2-2013.

Farmers in Gunungkidul do not cultivate jatropha but prioritize food crops when they only have a few good quality fields. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus, 12-2-2013.

In Purwodadi village, farmers disputed the status of AB lands, arguing that they were part of the arable land that the Sultan of Yogyakarta had given to the local communities. Although officially classified as a state-owned forest by the Ministry of Forestry, the competing claim states that the AB land is under the authority of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, referring to a century-old source: Rijksblad Nos. 16/1918 and 18/1919. According to these documents, tenants only had the utility right, not the property right; hence ownership could not be transferred to others. When the Provincial Government of Yogyakarta classified AB lands as community forest in 2008, farmers disagreed with this decision because they perceived AB lands to be the property of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, not the state.

The size of the land allocated to jatropha in Purwodadi village was ​​175 ha. This land was managed by around 2,000 farmers divided into 34 groups in 19 dusun (sub-villages). The lands consist of those belonging to individual owners, those belonging to the village government, and AB lands. However, in practice only those belonging to village government employees and rich farmers could be substantially planted with jatropha, due to these plots being larger. Common farmers with smaller plots could only plant around 500-1,500 jatropha trees because their priority was to cultivate food crops. This practice indicated therefore that, in this village, only those with power and access to the village authorities  –hence not the poor – received the benefits of the jatropha project.

The above case highlights the gap between the assumptions and the reality of the relationship between jatropha and poverty alleviation. Firstly, jatropha did not become one of the main agricultural products, and could therefore not be used as a means to reduce poverty. People still focus on maize and cassava for cash crops. Secondly, the ownership of the marginal lands allocated for the project were contested, thus they did not provide a secure source of income for the poor. Last but not least, power and authority came into play in the allocation of resources, as is common in a system of patronage politics. In this case we see that the lands allocated for jatropha would be given to those with access to the village government, which limited the opportunity for poor families to plant jatropha.

References and Notes

  1. George Francis, Raphael Edinger, Klaus Becker, A concept for simultaneous wasteland reclamation, fuel production, and socio-economic development in degraded areas in India: Need, potential and perspectives of Jatropha plantations. Natural Resources Forum 29(1), 12-24 (2005).
  2. Ramon Lopez, Alberto Valdes, Rural Poverty in Latin America (St. Martine’s Press LLC, New York, 2000).
  3. Sam Hickey, The politics of protecting the poorest: Moving beyond the “anti- politics machine”? Political Geography 28(8), 473-483 (2009).
  4. Hatma Suryatmojo, Strategi pengelolaan ekosistem karst di Kabupaten Gunungkidul. Paper for national seminar Strategi Rehabilitasi Kawasan Konservasi di Daerah Padat Penduduk, Faculty of Forestry, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Feb 9, 2009.
  5. Kabupaten Gunungkidul in Figure (2010)
  6. http://perhimpunanshorea.org/community-forestry.html
  7. Muldalyanto, Strategi Pengelolaan Kawasan hutan Produksi AB (Afgeschreven djati-Bosch) di Kabupaten Gunungkidul, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta. (The Management Strategy of AB (Afgeschreven djati-Bosch) Production Forest Area in The District of Gunungkidul  Yogyakarta Special Region. Master Thesis Faculty of Forestry, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta,2013.

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