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Dam Infrastructure: Do Not Let Them Just Become Monuments

KOMPAS, 23 November, 2012, Page 35, Section: Fokus Ketahanan Pangan 
By Haryo Damardono

"I have a message even to workers, so that workers would contribute their energy to the fullest for the implementation of this project. Remember, this project does not belong to a single capitalist, but this is a project of the state, a project for the people, a project for all of us", said Ir Soekarno, when visiting Jatiluhur Dam Project, 19 September, 1965.

From his speech, the strong desire of Ir Soekarno - the proclaimer [of Indonesian independence] - could be felt, that Jatiluhur Dam should be quickly completed. This is because Jatiluhur was key to increasing agricultural productivity, in addition to controlling floods and meeting the needs of raw water.

Initiated by irrigation expert WJ van Blommestein in 1930, Jatiluhur was originally designed to irrigate an area of 517,240ha. However, when President Soeharto inaugurated it on 26 August, 1967 the remaining area was only 240,000ha. Much reduced, but still it was categorically large in size and the condition continued to be excellent.

Not surprisingly, Mohammad Hasan, Director General of Water Resources of the Ministry of Public Works, expressed disappointment when he witnessed the conversion of land [that had taken place] in Bekasi, especially when he observed the land use conversion in the West Tarum Parent Channel. Its inspection road has even been transformed into Kalimalang public road.

Due to its strategic location, the Bekasi - Cikarang corridor has become a magnet for industrial estate and housing developments. Businessmen have long telescoped potential profits there. From the centre of Jakarta, Cikarang is only 24km away, while from the Port of Tanjung Priok it is 35km away.

The glittering gold in Cikarang is demonstrated by publicly listed company PT Bekasi Fajar Industrial Estate, Tbk (BEST), which recorded revenue of Rp 661.97 billion as of the third quarter of 2012, up 88.50 percent compared to revenue in the third quarter of 2011.

Meanwhile PT Lippo Cikarang, Tbk, has also armed itself with a new toll gate at KM 34 + 700 in Jakarta - Cikampek Toll Road. Lippo will soon transform 3,000ha of land into industrial estate and residential area.

Chairman of Indonesian Water Resources Network (SDA), Sudar D Atmanto, noted the importance of a strong will to stem land conversion. "The fact shows that population growth in Citarum River region has been recorded at 1.7 percent, while the entire West Java has registered growth of 1.2 percent. This is an example of how attractive the river banks are as places of domicile, so that the land will increasingly be annexed", he said.

Another fact is that, each year, there are 110,000ha of agricultural lands being converted. The modus may be illegal or legal, in line with spatial planning revisions. In the context of Jatiluhur’s presence, is food agriculture in the Citarum region, and Java, still the focus?

Is there really a future for agriculture in Java, which has recorded a planting index (IP) of 1.9, with productivity of 5.5 tonnes per ha? These numbers glaringly show imbalance, given that the national IP is 1.4 and the average productivity is 4.6 tonnes per ha.

In his book titled Infrastructure Management and Regional Development (2012), Bambang Susantono, said that the economic corridor of Java is focused more on the food and beverage, textile, machinery, and spare parts industries. So, where is the location of food agriculture of the future? The Government's vision turns to the Sulawesi corridor and the Papua - Maluku corridor, with its Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE). Some 1.2 million ha of land is allocated for MIFEE, although it is not monopolised for rice, but it may include sugarcane and palm oil.

Spatial Layout
With regard to the conversion of agricultural land, Hasan chooses to speak of the future. "The commanders are indeed the spatial layout plans (RTRW). Without them, Public Works will no longer build any water infrastructures," he said.

On 7 November, for example, Public Works gave its agreement to build Batang Asai Irrigation Area, which covers 6,210ha in Sarolangun Regency, Jambi. The development [process] begins after regional leaders and local communities sign an agreement on sustainable development of agricultural area.

"A memorandum of understanding had to be made because several regencies do not yet have RTRW", Hasan said. As of October 2012, there are only 205 regencies/cities, out of a total 498 regencies/cities, that have completed RTRW. Of the 33 provinces, only 14 provinces have finalised their RTRW.

Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani, a doctoral candidate at the UNESCO Center for Water Law Policy at the University of Dundee, Scotland, says that it is more appropriate for RTRW to follow "water planning". "Thus, we bring people, bring farmers to the water, instead of water to the people", he said.

In the midst of the many problems on the sustainability of agricultural land, Director General of Infrastructure and Facilities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Sumardjo Gatot Irianto, remains optimistic. The ministry’s main weapon is Law no. 41/2009 on Protection of Sustainable Food Agricultural Land.

"We are also currently conducting an audit of agricultural fields with a target completion in December 2012", said Gatot. He also urged local governments to not allocate lands for purposes of just meeting their food needs.

Ministry of Agriculture deals with [sizes of] land areas, while Ministry of Public Works ensures continuous construction of infrastructure. Of the 7.23 million ha of irrigated rice/agricultural fields in Indonesia, only 11 percent have guaranteed supply of water from reservoirs or dams. Hasan gave an indication that, in 2013, some 13 dams will be built, from an inventory of 100 units of potential dams.

The best solution to minimise land conversion needs to be quickly found, then determination of RTRW should be encouraged, at least making sure that the land area for food production remains preserved. It should not happen that the reservoirs and dams will be mere monuments. Understandably, they cost trillions of rupiah to build. Even, the construction cost of irrigation per ha already reaches Rp 30–40 million.

Then, what is no less important is rehabilitation of the irrigation networks. Especially because, based on a technical audit (rapid assessment) of the irrigation system in 2010, in fact 55 percent of the irrigation facilities are in damaged conditions. Most of these are under the local governments’ authority.

The problem is, about 4.8 million ha of rice/agricultural fields are under the authority of the local governments, with special allocation fund (DAK) of "only" Rp 1.4 trillion. Those under the central government’s authority involve 2.4 million ha of land, with funding of Rp 2 trillion.

"The money for the regions may be used up on personnel expenditure. They have no money", said Hasan.

Sudar has a different view. When calculated from the state budget (APBN) allocation worth Rp 1,300–1,400 trillion per year, funding needs for irrigation at the local level account for only 1.8 percent of the total development budget allocation of the regions.

"That’s peanuts (small), nothing. Regional/local governments should compensate it from their respective personnel expenditure. It has to be. If not, no matter how big the DAK is, it would never be enough", he said.

The land has been maintained, the dams are built, while the irrigation networks are rehabilitated. All for the sake of food security. But what if in the end land conversion has continued to take place?

"Well, it is difficult. The stages are indeed from agrarian to industrial, it cannot jump directly to services", said Mova.