Free seeds, fertilizers, farming tools and financial capital, funded by taxpayer money, are up for grabs for thousands of poor farmers.
But, as the assistance is channeled by political actors, it comes on condition: political loyalty.
In the rice production center of Subang, West Java, for instance, farmers are held hostage by facilities provided by campaigners, linked either to the Islam-based Justice and Prosperous Party (PKS) or the ruling Democratic Party (PD).
These campaigners help broker relations between farmers with officials at the Agriculture Ministry or with politicians in Jakarta, who have the authority to channel various state-funded agriculture assistance.
“There has been an aggressive move by PKS and PD volunteers to buy our loyalty by giving us financial assistance, free seeds and fertilizers,” said Toto Marwoto, a farmer from Cijambe district, Subang.
“For us that’s really helpful, and we don’t mind voting for either one of them,” said Toto, whose area was formerly dominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P), before PKS and PD reduced its popularity in the 2009 general election.
However, not all farmers are fortunate in getting the assistance, particularly those who decided to stay out of politics. According to Mae Azar, a farmer from Gereged district in Cirebon, West Java, only those farmers who have links to parties will gain access to the assistance through their political representatives at provincial and central levels.
“It’s hard for the farmers who have no political affiliation. If we take the assistance, we must support the party in the next election, including in its campaign,” said Mae.
According to the chairman of the Progressive Farmers’ and Fishermen’s Association, Winarno Tohir, the use of the state budget to help gain future votes in rural areas has become a growing trend among
politicians since 2009.
Politicians are regularly involved in distributing several agricultural assistance programs, with the largest one includes the rural agribusiness development program, or PUAP.
The government launched PUAP in 2008 through the Agriculture Ministry, of which the PKS has held the ministerial post since 2004.
The program is aimed at curbing poverty and unemployment in villages by distributing capital to non-bank holding farmers’ groups.
Each eligible group, consisting of up to 15 farmers, will receive Rp 100 million (US$11,700) annually, on agreement that the money is paid back within a certain period, so it can be used to help other farmers.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, the government distributed Rp 1.05 trillion of PUAP funds to 10,542 farmers’ groups in 2008, Rp 988 billion to 9,884 groups in 2009, and Rp 1 trillion to 10,000 groups in 2010.
Despite a lack of precise data showing the total amount of funding repaid by the groups so far, the government is aiming to distribute another Rp 1 trillion to 10,000 groups this year. However, critics have alleged PUAP’s management of lacking transparency and accountability, leading to an opportunity for politicians to use the program to lure support in villages.
While the program is run solely under the auspices of the Agriculture Ministry, in practice, many politicians get involved and act as brokers between farmers’ groups and ministry officials when determining funding.
Indications are rife that funds have also been channeled to fictitious farmers’ groups.
Based on The Jakarta Post’s observations in rice production centers at Subang, Cirebon, and Indramayu in West Java, a political party will often create fictitious farmer groups to secure funds.
These groups are not registered as farmers’ groups in any villages, but have received PUAP funding.
According to a source at the Agriculture Ministry, who declined to be named, a regional party member usually appoints his relatives to establish a fictitious group.
The member will propose the group to the party’s representatives in the province and then to legislators in the House of Representatives, who will then liaise with the Agriculture Ministry to enable the fictitious group to receive the funds.
Funds channeled to such groups are used either to encourage farmers to support the political party in question, by providing them with free seeds and farming equipment, or for local election campaigns.
PD legislator Herman Chairon denied his party creates fictitious groups, but admitted that the party was extended the privilege from the Agriculture Ministry to select farmers’ groups eligible to receive the fund.
“We have a privilege from the minister to select our own farmers’ groups eligible to receive funding,” said Herman, who is also a member of the House’s Commission IV for agriculture, fisheries and food.
However, West Java agriculture agency official Erdono, who works as an agricultural instructor for farmers, confirmed that he had trained several members from fictitious farmer groups.
“The fictitious groups usually consist of 50 percent farmers and 50 percent party activists who have no land and no prior experience in farming.”
Officials like Erdono are tasked specifically to help farmers’ groups in West Java to manage the money they receive from the PUAP program.
PKS legislator Refrizal, who is also a Commission IV member, also denied his party’s role in brokering for the fund. However, he believes that using fund through the PUAP program is a normal practice to help constituents, particularly farmers.
“They have appointed us as their representatives, so it’s obvious that we [should] pay them back with any assistance that we can provide.”