Kulon Progo’s iron sand mining project, a joint venture between Australia’s Indo Mines Limited and Indonesia’s Jogja Magasa Mining, began in 2007 on a sliver of land owned by the Sultan of Yogyakarta. But many local residents opposed this first pilot phase of the project. Their concern, said Suparlan, the director of the Yogyakarta office of Walhi, an environmental NGO, is that extracting iron from the beach’s sand could weaken the barrier against salt intrusion from the ocean into coastal farms. The mining venture proposed expanding its operation to cover a 1.8km by 22km area. The area is currently home to some 20,000 people. Residents of Kulon Progo refused to discuss land sales with either the government or mining conglomerate. “I want to return to being a farmer and to feeding my family, but I will continue to oppose the mine project,” said Tukijo, 47, speaking from the main prison in Yogyakarta City, in central Java, Indonesia. (6) Tukijo was given a three-year jail sentence in March 2012, after allegedly abducting an employee of a mining company - a charge he denied. His arrest came after several years of escalating opposition by residents of Kulon Progo to a project to mine iron deposits in the sand beneath their farms. “We want to preserve our environment, and we want to exercise our right as citizens to stay on our land,” he said. He and other community members say he was jailed in an effort to silence the community’s opposition.
By 2017 there is a new struggle in the area, against a new airport. The struggle against New Yogyakarta international airport (NYIA) is connected to the previous struggle of peasants in Kulon Progo against iron mining in which they won the struggle, not through legal means but through community grassroots struggle (riots, arrests, and massive international solidarity) that goes beyond the language of the state. The farmers established an umbrella organization, which they named PPLP (Paguyaban Petani Lahan Pantai = Association of Shoreline Farmers). (5) The careful efforts of more than 40 years made the wasteland a fertile and productive zone. All sorts of plants could thrive due to the hard work and care put into their cultivation. On the sand a range of horticultural crops can grow in both the rainy season and the dry season. Chilli, aubergine, bitter gourd, castor bean, green beans, rice, corn, watermelon and many other types of vegetables have been grown along the 25km stretch of shoreline; the hands of the farmers have turned the landscape green. The key to their success was collective knowledge. The case of the farmers’ resistance in Kulon Progo (5) is an authentic example of a struggle against power characterized by anti-politics, autonomy and self-management. (6) JATAM already condemned in 2009 the violence at the proposed Australian-owned iron mine; calling for the protection of Kulon Progo's people and coastal ecosystem. In a Press release on 23 October 2009, it said (8): “… on October 20, 2009, police brutality towards the people of Kulon Progo of Central Java for protesting against the Australian mining company PT Jogja Mangasa Iron, left 41 people injured. What happened that day is one of many examples of how the government has put foreign investor interests above the local communities' interests. The Kulon Progo communities rely on agriculture as their livelihood. On October 20, 2009, thousands of people from Kulon Progo marched to the local Kulon Progo government office to voice their resistance to mining in their area. They refused the public consultation offered by the company and said no to any plans to mine in their community. The community members view consultation as a strategy to legitimize mining in their community. PT JMI received their controversial Contract of Work on November 4, 2008, at a time when the Parliament was drafting the new Mining and Coal Act. While strongly criticizing the Contract of Work regime of the old Law No. 11/1967, the government was granting a permit to mine to PT JMI. They received a Contract of Work one month before the new Act was passed. Indo Mine Ltd. from Australia holds 70% of PT JMI's shares. The extraction of iron puts the livelihoods of 123,601 local farmers and fishers at risk.”(8). JATAM added that the PT JMI plans also threaten massive erosion along the coast of Kulon Progo in the Indian Ocean. Damaged ecosystems will not be able to stop the strong currents and sea winds from eroding the coast line. The site is also prone to earthquakes and a potential tsunami. The proposed mine threatens a unique ecosystem and would move sand dunes in Kulon Progo which also serve as a migration corridor of migratory birds. Dr. Dja'far Shiddieq, soil expert from Gadjah Mada University, mentioned that the sand dunes of southern Jogjakarta, including Kulon Progo's, are one of only three moving sand dunes in the world. (8). JATAM wrote, “protests against the mine have been held by local communities many times but the local government continues to insist that mining would increase the welfare of the people. However, no large-scale mining operation in Indonesia has ever proven to enhance the welfare of local people”. (8).
On the cultural side, the vocabulary of resistance included a Chili Festival against sand iron mining. In 2013 (7) the dangdut music gave way to a succession of speeches; some by PPLP-KP leaders like Supriyanti and Widodo and others from supporters of the organization such as UGM Professor of Agriculture Ja’far Sidiq. Excoriating the environmental and social consequences of mining the region for iron, the orators “called for a renewed spirit of struggle.” Around 12:30 p.m. the crowd was invited to walk together in procession to a chili field just 50 meters or so further south toward the coast. There, the three speakers joined together in a symbolic “first picking.” With clenched fists overflowing with freshly plucked red and ripe chilis, they voiced the hope that the land’s new-found fertility be preserved, sustained, and safeguarded for future generations. As Widodo explained in a recent interview, “the most important focus for us is to maintain our livelihood — planting and harvesting. Because if we leave it, we are not farmers anymore, and we lose our identity.” (7). The 2013 Chili Harvest festival in Gapongan thus aims to underline that in the dispute over future ownership and use of the Kulon Progo lands, nothing less than a way of life is at stake. The chili, while epitomizing new prosperity, also symbolizes steadfast commitment to a lifestyle under existential threat. The event seeks to remind what exactly is being fought over. Planting in Kulon Progo is an act of resistance. But the 2013 Chili Harvest reminds that it is also a declaration of identity. While affirming a collective identity and celebrating a shared renaissance — one driven by local innovation — it is no coincidence that the first Chili Harvest festival coincided with public disclosure of the proposed mine eight years ago (2005). As Widodo reflected, “resistance is not just about confrontation. However, when that kind of direct action is needed, we are always ready.” (7)