29 July 2012

Socialist Timor: Why do we say "Land for the Farmers?"

East Timor Legal News 29/07/2012 Source: Socialist Timor July 29, 2012


Why do we say “Land for the Farmers”?

In East Timor there have historically been two types agricultural land. One one hand there is cultivated land, such as coconut trees, kemiri trees, coffee and some others valuable trees, which is owned by individual farmers. But in some cases because the farmers are too poor they cannot compete with big producers. Let us give you a concrete example, coffee plantations. Due to the cost of working the coffee plantation, costs such are higher at harvest time, some of the poorest farmers prefer to work for big landowners or in order to meet the costs, they need to sell their coffee at prices which are not as competitive as those of the big landowners.

Therefore, on the other hand, because of the history of Timor’s colonisation, titles for larger parcels of land, such as coffee or other plantations, were taken over by the colonialist governments and handed over to capitalists, or small merchants, in order to develop the plantations. This situation, or mode of production, caused the poorest people, due to their need for money for their immediate needs, to sell themselves as workers to the big landowners. These same landowners were the ones that were given the land of the poor by the colonialists. Thus the poor farmers became poor workers that worked in the big plantations owned by capitalists. This was the first stage of primitive accumulation in Timor and occurred under the Portuguese and was repeated under the Indonesians.

These two situations generated a mode of production that placed the people in a situation of economic dependency which has continued throughout the course of colonial East Timorese history and which continues today.

Since Independence in 2002, a significant amount of land used for rice production has been granted to the private sector to exploit. This decision was made on the basis of the expectation that the creation of a private sector would contribute to job creation and thus reduce the rate of unemployment that still increases day by day. Despite this privatisation of rice production in some places we are still dependent on the importation of rice – a situation that has never previously existed in our history.
Harvesting the crop at a People’s Base Committee Cooperative

In order to put an end to this model of production that exploits the poor and institutionalises dependence the PST advocates a Policy that can be summarised as follows:

1. The State should take over the big plantations because this land was and has been from the very beginning the land of the Timorese people. Placing this land under State control is the first step towards redistribution and land rights for the people. It must be recognised that land held under both Portuguese or Indonesian title is in most cases land that was taken from the people.

2. In respect of agricultural production the State should assist the farmers to organise themselves in cooperative groups to exploit the plantations for the common interest;

3. The State should invest in the development and renewal of agricultural cultivation through the the cooperatives and local grassroots common production;

4. The State should provide the people with a living wage to support them when they work in the fields, no matter what the level of production;

5. The State should provide support for the establishment of common and cooperative processing facilities so that the people can add value to their produce by processing their agriculture products;

6. The State should establish a Ministry dedicated to the task of supporting the common and cooperative production, processing, marketing, sale and export of the people’s products.

In order to implement the policy, the PST advocates that the basis of all agriculture production should be the common project of the people. In order to achieve this the State should, where necessary, in the first place, collectivise production with the goal of passing these collectives to the common and cooperative control of the people within ten years. It should be from this basis that the people can, where necessary, enter into partnerships or joint ventures with the public and private sectors.

We say in order to end dependency: “Land for the Farmers!”.

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