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close this bookAgricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)
close this folder12. A survey of government pioneer land settlement programmes in south-east Asia
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentObjectives of land settlement programmes
View the documentOrganization of land settlement agencies
View the documentImplementation concepts and practices
View the documentIntake of settlers
View the documentConcluding remarks
View the documentReferences

Objectives of land settlement programmes

At the outset, it must be appreciated that government aims and objectives in formulating and implementing resettlement programmes are both varied and complex. In the first instance, no government is being dictated by a single aim, and sometimes it is not even easy to identify principal and secondary objectives. It must also be noted that, whereas some aspects of each type of objective would be found in all the national programmes of the ASEAN countries, their emphasis may differ from one country to another and, from time to time, within the same country. This is, of course, inevitable considering the length of time that such programmes have been implemented and, in a way, indicates how governments can be responsive to changing situations and needs.

State organized land settlements were first attempted in South-East Asia by the Dutch in the then Netherlands East Indies in 1905. The objective at that time was to alleviate the population problem in Java and Bali and at the same time to open up agricultural settlements in the sparsely peopled parts of the archipelago.

Recently, however, the Dutch attempts have been construed as having more the objective of making available an adequate supply of labour for the development of estates in Sumatra than of relieving population pressures in Java. Whatever the motive, and despite their limited success, those early attempts provided a base for succeeding independent Indonesian governments to build on. The Indonesian governments, while repeating the theme of overcrowding in Java as their main motive for resettlement, have from time to time adduced other motives, some of which corresponded with those construed for the Dutch. For example, in 1951, in restating the concept of resettlement or transmigration within an independent state, the government also outlined a number of objectives "to increase the wealth and prosperity of the people through the transfer of population from one area to another, with the objective of achieving economic development in every field"; later, the objectives included "the labour supply needed for development in those areas that have scarce population, strategic objectives and to quicken the process of assimilation." Later still, the declared objective was reworded as, "to strengthen the peace and security, to increase the wealth and prosperity of the people and to strengthen the feeling of unity among the various groups as a United Indonesian Nation" (Swasono 1971). Currently, resettlement is used to spearhead economic development in Indonesia within the scope of regional development. In this context, transmigration is considered not in isolation but as a strategic part of the development programme for each province. In short, Indonesia's previous emphasis on the reduction of the populations of Java and Bali has been altered to rest more heavily on development than resettlement.

In the Philippines, land settlement was begun in 1939 by then President Quezon as a means of resettling farmers from the heavily populated areas of Luzon and the Bisayas to less populated regions, especially Mindanao. Although results were definitely limited prior to the outbreak of World War 11, the programme has been considered sufficiently important to be continued to the present day. After the Second World War, besides the demographic aspects, resettlement became a means of effecting large-scale rice and corn production to relieve national food shortages. Again, at the height of the Huk Rebellion in the mid-1950s, especially during the tenure of then President Magsaysay, land settlement was used to implement his slogan of "land to the landless." The unemployed and landless peasants were resettled in Mindanao as a part measure to counteract the Huk propaganda. In addition, Magsaysay organized the Economic Development Corps (EDCOR) settlements under the armed forces to resettle surrendered dissidents and demobilized soldiers. After 1963, land settlement became a part of the national land reform programme. In the 1970s, these projects were used to resettle those displaced following the armed conflicts in the southern islands.

In Thailand, the Department of Public Welfare was established in September 1940 to be responsible for acquiring, allocating, and administering public lands to Thai citizens, including the landless and needy, tenant farmers, and evacuees, who had lost their farm lands through the construction of dams under national development programmes. The land settlement programme launched in 1940 aimed to promote land ownership as the basis for security and a decent livelihood for the participants (Department of Public Welfare 1971, 1). One other of the objectives of the Thai government has been to use this programme to reduce forest destruction by the shifting cultivating hill tribes, by attempting to persuade them to settle down permanently in the schemes (Amarc 1975, 374).

In Malaysia, although land settlement as understood today is essentially a postindependence phenomenon, irrigation schemes involving the opening and development of new land had already been initiated at the end of the nineteenth century. This discussion, however, only examines the settlement programmes as implemented after independence in 1957. Such programmes were launched with the popularly known objectives of raising the standard of living and incomes of the rural poor. There was also the need to solve the problem of the backlog of land applications throughout the country. This factor, important but not so widely proclaimed, was indeed one of the major considerations behind the creation of the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA), currently the largest and most important agency in the field of land settlement in the country. It was envisaged that FELDA would be able to assist those states having inadequate staff and funds to process their backlog of land applications. Through this authority, loans and other assistance would be channelled from the federal government to the various state governments. After 1960, both the federal and the state governments set up a number of other agencies to carry out land development and settlement projects.

From the above, land settlement would seem to be a common development strategy amongst the South-East Asian countries, although differences in policy and objectives are quite evident. For example, considerations of security and national unity and increased rice production do not feature in the land settlement policy of Malaysia, unlike the situation in Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. It is in the policies that guidelines for effective implementation of the programmes are obtainable; inadequacies and problems in the programmes have resulted from vacillating or conflicting policies. Even in Malaysia, where land settlement is relatively recent, the policy changes have been far too many.