Many state-owned companies will be involved in the project, which will cost an estimated Rp 9 trillion. These companies include state fertilizer manufacturer PT Pupuk Sriwijaya (Pusri), a state agribusiness company PT Pertani and state rice-seed producer PT Sang Hyang Seri (SHS).
SHS will create 40 thousand hectares and Pusri and PT Pertani will create 30 thousand hectares each.
The area of the rice fields is almost equal to the annual rate of rice-field conversion across the country. Thousands of hectares of rice fields are converted annually to make way for the development of housing complexes, offices, industrial estates, roads, mining areas and plantations.
In the densely populated island of Java alone, the shrinking area of rice fields reached 600 thousand hectares in the past four years.
Data from the Agriculture Ministry show the area of rice fields in Java reached 3.5 million hectares in 2011 compared with 4.1 million hectares in 2007.
"The shrinking area of productive rice fields nationwide reaches more than 100 thousand hectares every year. This is really worrying us in our effort to achieve food security," Agriculture Minister Suswono said after joining a rice grand harvest at Embawang village, Muara Enim district, South Sumatra province, on March 12.
The shrinking of rice fields poses a major threat to food security in Indonesia. Suswono said the government has so far found it difficult to curb the high rate of rice-field conversion because many regions still have no spatial layout plans. No regional government has so far allocated land for farmland, he noted.
Tunggul Imam Panuju, Director of Farm Land Expansion and Development at the Agriculture Ministry, confirmed that the government plans to create 100 thousand hectares of rice fields in 2012, another 100 thousand hectares in 2013, and another 100 thousand hectares in 2014.
He expressed his optimism that the target can be achieved. In 2011 alone, 62,500 hectares of rice fields were created, out of which 55,000 hectares have been planted.
Citing an example, Panuju said 600 out of one thousand hectares of newly created rice fields in Mamuju, West Sulawesi, have been planted with rice, and 200 hectares of them have been harvested.
"The production target for the newly created rice fields does not seem high. Three tons of rice per hectare is already good. But in Mamaju, one hectare of rice fields can produce a minimum of four tons," he remarked.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, 12.3 thousand of the 100 thousand hectares will be created in Aceh, 6.4 thousand hectares in South Sumatra, 6.15 thousand hectares in West Kalimantan, 4.8 thousand hectares in West Sulawesi and 4.7 thousand hectares in Papua.
It seems that the target of creating 100 thousand hectares of rice fields this year will not be easy to achieve. In the first quarter of 2012, only the West Sumatra province was ready to open rice fields in accordance with the Agriculture Ministry`s target.
The ministry has set itself the target of creating 25.30 percent of the projected 100 thousand hectares of rice fields this year.
Gatot Irianto, Director-General of Infrastructure and Facilities at the Agriculture Ministry, said only West Sumatra was prepared to create 35 hectares of rice fields as of March this year.
Irianto argued it is somewhat difficult to create new rice fields during the monsoon season. "It will be easy to do so in the following months," he stated.
He noted a number of provinces such as South Sulawesi, Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Riau, South Sumatra, South Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, West Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, Maluku, Papua and East Nusa Tenggara are ready to create new rice fields.
To reach the target of creating rice fields this year, the government has allocated Rp 1 trillion to the project.
Agriculture Minister Suswono said the rice fields will be created in stages depending on the capacity of each region.
Moch. Amron, Acting Director General of Water Source Management at the Public Works Ministry, acknowledged the area of irrigated rice fields in the country reaches 7.230183 million hectares with an average productivity of 4.6 tons/hectare.
Nearly 89 percent of the rice fields are irrigated by water sources other than dams. The highest productivity of irrigated rice fields reaches 5.5 tons per hectare. These rice fields are found in Java.
Rice is the main staple food in this country of 240 million people. The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) said Indonesia`s per capita rice consumption reaches 139 kilograms, one of the highest in the world. This compares with the consumption of only 80 kilograms in Japan.
To meet domestic rice demand, Indonesia still imports the commodity. During the first seven months of 2011, Indonesia imported 1.57 million tons of rice worth US$829 million. Nearly 892.9 thousand tons of rice were imported from Vietnam.
"I am concerned about rice imports since Indonesia is endowed with abundant natural resources. It is not a problem to import rice but not in huge volumes. Therefore, we are cooperating with the Agriculture Ministry to lower rice imports by producing rice on our own," State Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan stated after a meeting with KH Makruf Islamuddin, chief of the Walisongo Islamic boarding school at Plumbon village, Sragen district, Central Java, on March 16.
The plan to create 100 thousand hectares of rice fields is part of efforts to achieve self-sufficiency with rice, he added.(*)