Farmers in Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan, say that thousands of hectares of rice fields in Tenggarong subdistrict could be rendered barren because of degraded soil and mining activity.
One of the worst-affected areas is Mulawarman village, which in the 1990s was the major rice-producing area in Kutai Kartanegara. However, since the introduction of regional autonomy in 2000, the local administration has issued many coal mining permits to operators in the area.
“We used to have 400 hectares of productive rice fields and we would have two harvests a year,” Mulawarman village head Robert Siburian said on Sunday. “Since the miners came, we’ve been unable to cultivate rice. The soil is too acidic and many of the productive fields have been converted into mining areas.”
The presence of mines in the area has also led to another issue — floods. The continued degradation of previously productive farmland has led to decreased land prices, with some farmers forced to sell off their land to mining firms.
There are now only 40 hectares of rice fields in Mulawarman.
“We call on the government to relocate us to another area because we cannot continue to make a living here,” Robert said.
Villagers live only 300 to 500 meters from mines, posing health and safety risks to residents, especially the children. Mine operators also regularly set off underground explosives.
Robert said the shock waves from the explosives had destroyed some buildings. He added that coal mining firms offered little, if any, compensation.
“This area is no longer fit to live in,” he said. “Everything is falling apart. It’s no longer safe.”
Neighboring Bangun Rejo village faces a similar problem. For the past six years, rice fields have been flooded by runoff from mines. Villagers are compensated only for lost production.
“We cannot farm anymore,” village head Siman said. “We’re tired of complaining to the government and to the mining firms. All they ever do is pay us a visit and spout empty promises. At this rate, we will be dead before we can ever harvest our fields again.”