I can assure there will be no rice imports until the end of this year."
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - As an agriculture country, Indonesia was once self-sufficient in the production of rice, the staple food for its people of 250 million, but now it is importing some of the commodity and is struggling to regain its past glory in rice production.

Through the Ministry of Agriculture, the government has continued to improve regulations deemed to have been impeding Indonesias efforts to regain its self-sufficiency in rice production.

"We are improving all regulations, which are seen to be hindering the pace towards achieving self-sufficiency in food production," Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman said on the sidelines of a function held to observe the 36th World Food Day in Boyolali, Central Java, on Friday last week (Oct. 28).

So far, all procurements such as the procurement of high-bred seeds and fertilizers should be carried out through tenders so that efforts to increase food production are often made late.

According to the Agriculture Minister, Indonesia has been hit by the El Nino and La Nina weather phenomenon for two consecutive years. The challenges faced in 2015 were extraordinary and the heaviest ones along the history of Indonesia with an intensity of 2.44 percent.

The same phenomenon also affected the country in the 1997-1998 with an intensity of only 1.9 percent at the time, but Indonesia was forced to import 12 million tons of rice.

"With hard work, we have been able to pass the heaviest season over the past two years and imported only 1.9 million tons of rice. We hope will no longer face the same problem in 2017," said Minister Amran.

Even, now the government has two million tons of rice stock, which is adequate to meet the need for the commodity up to May next year. Moreover, in March, the rice harvest season will begin so that rice stocks are adequate.

In addition, all regional governments across the country have been asked to increase their regions rice production with assistance provided by the central government. If they fail to increase production, the assistance will not be provided in the following year.

In order to regain the countrys glorious food production, the government has overhauled various regulations in the food sector and repaired damaged rice infrastructure, which reached three million hectares. President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has asked the minister to finish the job in three years but the Minister of Agriculture said his side has been trying to accomplish it in one year.

The government is also improving the distribution of fertilizers and has taken action against those who distribute fake or mixed fertilizers, which disadvantage farmers.

"Self-sufficiency in food can be achieved through efforts to modernize agriculture, while in parallel we improve regulations and infrastructure. We have to work hard to boost production and control export and imports. Organic agriculture is very attractive and prices could increase ten times and that could improve the welfare of the farmers," he said.

The government has also distributed some 160 thousand units of agricultural machine tools to the regions. This is intended to cut production costs from Rp2 million per hectare to Rp1 million.

This year, Indonesia has planned to open up 200 thousand hectares of new rice fields. The plan to increase the acreage under rice farms in the country by 200 thousand hectares is expected to help the government achieve its target of unhusked rice production of Rp76 million tons.

By increasing the acreage of the countrys rice fields by 200 thousand hectares, the rice farms in Indonesia will cover about 9.0 million hectares.

As a country where rice is a staple food, Indonesia must always have adequate rice stocks, particularly in the face of two extreme dry and rainy seasons. During the rainy season, thousands of hectares of rice could be damaged while during the drought, thousands of hectares of paddy fields could also fail to produce any harvest.

On an average, the domestic need for rice in Indonesia is predicted to reach about 30 million tons per annum.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) said Indonesia should be able to compete with other countries in the food, energy and water sectors.

"I should say that the competition among countries today has become really tough," Jokowi stated on the sidelines of the 36th World Food Day (HPS) 2016 celebrations at the Office Complex Square of the Boyolali Regional Government last weekend.

According to the President Jokowi, Indonesia, with its 17 thousand islands and fertile soil, should start preparing, planning for and anticipating the development in food sector. If the people worked hard to improve production, Indonesia will no longer have to import food commodities.

Jokowi believed that with a consistent approach, the country would no longer have to import foods such as maize by 2018.

Despite the fact that Indonesia is a big country with fertile lands, it has not been able to become self-sufficient in food. That means something is wrong. "Clearly, if such is the scenario, we need to improve. We are confident that Indonesia can be self-reliant in food in the future," the president underlined.

As of now, the government has assured that it would not import rice until the end of 2016 as there was sufficient supply of rice.

"I can assure there will be no rice imports until the end of this year. I said last year that supply during the September-October period was only 1.030 million tons but now it has reached 1.980 million tons," Jokowi disclosed while inspecting the rice harvest in the village of Trayu in Boyolali, Central Java.

Calculations made by the Ministry of Agriculture had found that the per capita consumption of rice in Indonesia is 124 kilograms per annum. So the government based its rice production target on the basis of a per capita consumption of 124 kilograms.

With a population of 250 million, the domestic need of the people for rice reaches some 31 million tons.

However, following a joint assessment conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) and the Ministry of Trade some time ago, it was found that Indonesias per capita consumption of rice is only 114 kilograms per annum.

So, based on this figure of 114 kilograms, the domestic need is pegged at only about 28.5 million tons.

Thus, if the target of 76 million tons of unhusked rice production is achieved this year, Indonesia will be able to become self-sufficient in rice production.

Reporter: Andi Abdussalam
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2016