On International Polar Bear Day, a Look at Indonesian Farming Issues
In recent years, climate change has moved to the forefront of environmental issues. Today, Feb. 27, marks International Polar Bear Day. On this day, people around the world are invited to mark the day by making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and do their bit to combat climate change in order to help save the polar bears, whose habitat is under threat due to global warming. The message is clear: we need collective action to mitigate the impacts of global warming and the story of the polar bear reminds us that climate change affects everyone.
Many studies mention that the poor will be the most affected by the impacts of global warming. It poses dangers to their livelihoods, food security, and health.
Figures from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) reveal that two-thirds of Indonesia’s poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. On average, each farmer in Indonesia is cultivating a landholding of only 0.3 hectares of land, resulting in low gains in crop yields at the best of times. These small-scale farming activities are vulnerable to extreme weather events — such as droughts and floods — and many farmers are already experiencing the impact of global warming as changing rainfall patterns cause shifts in the planting and harvesting season. Traditionally, harvest occurs twice a year however in some places, due to global warming, harvesting can only take place once a year.
Climate change already increases the frequency of droughts and floods and this is predicted to increase over time, resulting in agricultural losses, less food production and less income for farmers. It also means that food prices in Indonesia — and internationally — are set to rise, putting further strain on the poor.
The future sustainability of small-scale farming is uncertain, with Indonesia’s long term food production and food security under threat. Currently Indonesia has a negative balance of domestic food production and a growing demand for rice, meaning Indonesia must import an increasing amount of rice to fill this gap, which will cause difficulty as global rice prices rise. Poor rural farmers — who depend on agricultural production as a source of income — will be pushed further into poverty and Indonesia’s millions of rural and urban poor will also be put under increasing strain as food prices continue to rise.
Climate change and its impact on food security will be an increasingly difficult and important policy challenge for Indonesia’s government to grapple with.
So far, the Indonesian government has responded to this problem by providing a small amount of certainty to farmers. In 2011, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced Presidential Decree No. 5/2011,which safeguards national rice production, encourages the government to act as a buyer of rice for its national reserves and distributes rice for poor households under the Raskin food subsidy program. This ruling provides only some relief to Indonesia’s farmers as they face an increasingly challenging environment.
At the micro level, small-scale farmers are urgently in need of assistance to undertake climate change adaptation efforts. In 2005 and 2006, the Indonesian government implemented a “Climate Field School,” with its first pilot project running in Indramayu, West Java. The program is still running to date in several provinces in Indonesia. The aim of the program is to increase farmers’ knowledge of the impacts of global warming and to start implementing climate mitigation efforts in their work. In the long-term, programs such as these will need to be rolled out at a nationwide level to give much needed support to Indonesia farmers as possible. These farmers need help in order to approach the rising challenges of climate change with at least some basic skills and knowledge of ways to appease the effects of global warming on their crop production.
These climate change mitigation efforts in the agricultural sector need to be enlarged and expanded upon by the government as it is not just Indonesia’s agricultural sector that will be affected but whole communities throughout Indonesia through lack of food security.
A critical issue that needs to be tackled is to ensure that farming in the future is still profitable. The development of medium-scale farming might be a direction to take for Indonesia’s future agricultural development as this would increase its long term sustainability.
Therefore, it is important that the local government provides continued support for agricultural development in the regions. Challenges exist, ranging from large-scale plantations competing with small holder farmers, to a lack of adaptive agriculture technology and lack of experienced advisers needed to educate farmers in regional areas. More efforts will have to be undertaken to tackle these problem.
The agricultural sector in Indonesia is increasingly vulnerable. Climate change can no longer be ignored or treated as a sideline issue nationally or internationally. To combat its affects, the issue needs to be put at the center of public policy.
The effects of climate change on Indonesia farmers will be borne by all — especially by the poor. Food security is therefore going to be an increasingly critical issue at the national level as climate change takes its toll.
On this International Polar Bear Day, it is important to think how we can do our bit to combat climate change and also take into consideration climate change’s multiple effects — from threatening endangered animals to threatening our food security.
Dea Paramita is a researcher at Strategic Asia, a consultancy firm promoting cooperation between Asian nations. She can be contacted at email@example.com.