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Government links food security to national defense

Government links food security to national defense

A farmer (ANTARA/Suprian)

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has cautioned that the COVID-19 pandemic is posing a serious threat to food security and nutrition, and has urged governments and other stakeholders to build more resilient food systems.

As a precautionary measure, the Indonesian Government is developing a food estate project in Kapuas district and Belanti Siam village in Pulang Pisau district, Central Kalimantan province, under the National Strategic Program (PSN), which is to be implemented within the next three years.

In 2020, at least 30 thousand hectares of land will be made available for the project, and the land size will be expanded over the next two years.

The President has assigned three ministers — Defense Minister Prabowo Susanto, Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono, and State Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir — to implement the program, with the support of other ministers.

The Ministry of Defense is leading the program to build food reserves and will be responsible for boosting resilience for food security.

"Yesterday, I told you that the food estate development is being conducted in response to an FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) warning of a global food crisis. Hence, we need to take precautionary measures quickly by preparing strategic food reserves," President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) told the press on July 13, 2020.

Jokowi has justified his decision to task the Defense Minister with leading the implementation of the national food estate program.

"Defense does not only concern 'alutsista' (primary weaponry defense system), but also boosting resilience in the food sector, which is part of it (national security). The Defense Minister has already submitted the cost calculations and the amount of budget required to develop a food estate in Kapuas and Pulang Pisau," Jokowi said.

"The Minister of Agriculture will back it (the project). Other agricultural and food related matters still come under the authority of the Agriculture Minister," Jokowi noted.

The food estate is not meant as a rice field opening program, but refers to the development of a food center, explained Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, spokesperson for the Defense Minister.

The food estate will serve as a center for agricultural and strategic logistical reserves, which are crucial for supporting national defense.

Besides rice, centers of other crops, such as cassava and corn, will also be developed, depending on land conditions, the Defense Minister’s spokesperson said.

As a strategic logistics reserve that is necessary to support national defense, the food estate will assist the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Logistics Agency, if there is a disruption in food supply at any time, he explained.

The food estate will be used to develop national food reserves, which would be distributed across Indonesia when needed.

The Defense Ministry has been tasked by President Joko Widodo to implement the program to build the food estate in accordance with Law No. 3 of 2002 on National Defense.

Article 6 of the law states, "State defense is carried out through efforts to build and foster the capability of the deterrent power of the state and nation, and to overcome any threats."

"We at the Ministry of Defense understand that the threats consist of military, non-military, and hybrid threats," the spokesperson said.

Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto had earlier said that the food estate program is sustainable and will benefit the nation.

The agriculture intensification program will cover 10,594 hectares of transmigration area in 55 villages.

To support the program, the Public Works and Public Housing (PUPR) Ministry plans to redesign the irrigation network over 165 thousand hectares of land in Central Kalimantan, according to Minister Basuki Hadimuljono.

"The potential area reaches some 295,500 hectares. Some 165 thousand hectares of the area has already been prepared as an irrigated paddy field, of which only 85,500 hectares was utilized as productive land. We want to intensify production in 57,200 hectares (ha) of the productive land," he expounded.

"Last week, we had visited the area along with wetland experts. The 59,200 hectares of productive land had only produced 1.7-2.9 tons of rice per hectare," he pointed out.

The minister opined that the low productivity was owing to an inefficient irrigation system that hindered the flow of water and optimal fertilizer absorption, coupled with recurrent flooding in the swampy area.

The rehabilitation project, to be conducted in stages from 2020 to 2022, will cover an area of 1,210 ha in 2020, 33,335 ha in 2021, and 22,655 ha in 2022. A budget of Rp497.2 billion has been allocated for the project.

Hadimuljono highlighted the significance of food resilience as part of non-military defense. To this end, the Defense Minister will mobilize youth, with expertise in the fields of computer and agriculture, he said.

The PUPR Ministry had earlier targeted to revive 165 thousand hectares of land as a food estate in Central Kalimantan from 2020 to 2022 as part of a bid to build national food resilience.

The food estate is expected to reach optimum production by 2022, according to the PUPR Minister.

The government has decided to develop the food estate in Pulang Pisau district in Central Kalimantan province at the site of a failed mega-peatland development project (PLG).

The PLG project, launched by the late president Suharto in 1995 as a means to guarantee Indonesia's rice self-sufficiency, devastated a huge area of peat-swamp forests in the province.

The State Enterprises Ministry and Agriculture Ministry will now jointly develop a food estate on the site.

The PUPR Ministry will develop basic facilities, including revitalizing the irrigation system, while the State Enterprises Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry will develop farming technology to boost production.

Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo said the food estate program will use modern farming technology.

President Jokowi has expounded that the land identified for the food estate project is not a peatland, but contains alluvial soil, so the project would not be detrimental to the environment.

The environmental impact of the project has, in fact, become a concern for several parties.

Syarief Hasan, a senior politician of the Democratic Party and deputy chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), recently urged the government to reconsider its food estate program in Central Kalimantan.

"The government has decided to develop the food estate program in the former Peat Land Development (PLG ) area in Central Kalimantan. The area was once developed during the Soeharto administration, and it only caused environmental damage and a state loss," Syarief Hasan said recently.

Quoting the results of a study by the Agricultural Technical Science of the University of Gadjah Mada, Hasan said the soil in the area has degraded in the last 25 years, and it does not have ability to support optimal plant growth.

He urged the government to make a thorough and comprehensive study by involving experts and academicians.

Hasan is also of the view that the Defense Minister has a heavier task than developing the food estate program, namely developing the domestic defense industry and strengthening the national defense system, amid the tensions between China and the United States in the South China Sea, which shares a maritime border with Indonesia's North Natuna Sea.

Besides, the Agriculture Ministry should be leading the food estate program because it is the most relevant ministry to strengthen the nation’s food resilience, he opined. 

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