The Thinker: Our Farm Future
While Indonesian officials are busy anticipating a global crisis and talking about the pride of a national economic growth rate that’s the envy of the world, a lingering food crisis is imminent — and being overlooked.
Central Statistics Bureau (BPS) data shows that last year Indonesia imported 17.6 million tons of basic foodstuffs, including rice, soybeans, corn, wheat, sugar, beef and milk, worth $9.4 billion. To meet the needs of consumers, Indonesia imported 100 percent of its wheat demand, 70 percent of milk, 60 percent of soybean, 30 percent of beef and 18 percent of sugar.
Meanwhile, Indonesian food exports totalled just 250,000 tons, worth around $200 million. These figures show that Indonesia is facing a huge food deficit of $9.2 billion, according to a report published in this newspaper’s sister publication Investor Daily. The food deficit is even larger if imports of fruits and vegetables are included in the figure.
It is ironic given Indonesia is an agricultural country with rich and fertile soil. The executive director of the Indonesian Association of Flour Manufacturers, Ratna Sari Loppies, concedes it is difficult to stop imports of basic foods to meet domestic demand. But she points to the need for proper application of a strategy on food security.
Besides that, Indonesia must protect its agricultural sector and provide subsidies to farmers. If the countries that are now facing the global crisis were able to protect their farmers and raise huge food surpluses, why can’t Indonesia? Until 2025, half of the national food supply will come from advanced countries. They will keep producing food surpluses while Indonesia, if it remains as it is now, will keep encountering deficits.
Indonesia must begin reforms and provide adequate land for its farmers. Of the 23 million farming families, 95 percent have less than 0.3 hectares of arable land to use. Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) head Sofyan Wanandi says there are still problems with land certification and overlapping policies due to frequent changes in regional leadership, while Gadjah Mada University agriculture analyst Bustanul Arifin says the country’s political system does not protect farmers, unlike in Japan, South Korea and China. He believes that Indonesia should protect farmers as well.
Many businesspeople have initiated programs to promote farmers’ welfare. Aksa Mahmud, for instance, has introduced a program that empowers thousands of farmers in Sulawesi by providing technical know-how, credits and buying farmers produce at prices higher than the government offers.
Sinar Mas’s Franky Widjaya has a crop insurance program and is involved in a partnership between large and small-scale farmers to promote agriculture and farmers’ welfare.
Artha Graha’s Tommy Winata has spent a lot of time in the fields. His rice estates empower farmers to boost production from the traditional six tons per hectare to 12 tons a hectare using hybrid seeds.
Hashim Djojohadikusumo has planted corn in his plantations while Arifin Panigoro and Siswono Yudohusodo have initiated rice estates in Indonesia’s most eastern regency of Merauke, which has the largest flat farmland area in the country .
Merauke, dubbed the future “breadbasket ” of Indonesia, has been left unattended. If developed, the regency could become a large producer of rice, maize, sugar, coffee, shrimp, meat, palm oil, and Indonesia could become the world’s largest producer of food.
According to Hilman Manan, who spent several years in Merauke working for the agriculture ministry, the area has 2.5 million hectares of land that are ready for cultivation.
But, he says, a strong political will and leadership is needed to achieve self-sufficiency in food. A sovereign nation is a nation that can provide food security and welfare to its people.
Yanto Soegiarto is the managing editor of Globe Asia, a sister publication of the Jakarta Globe.