Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Sorghum planting movement initiated by State Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan early 2013 on 200 hectares of land in Atambua, Belu district, East Nusa Tenggara province, have been successfully harvested.

Speaking at the harvest event in Atambua on Saturday, Dahlan said the sorghum planting movement as part of Environmental Partnership Programs and Community Development (PKBL) could increase local people`s food resources.

The minister noted that with the successful harvest in Atambua, PT Bogasari Flour Mills company was ready to buy the sorghum flour from there, no matter how much it is.

It may sound exaggerating but Dahlan said, "Even the sorghum flower in Belu is as high as a mountain, PT Bogasari and other flour mill companies are ready to buy it."

He noted that Atambua has barren land, which is unsuitable for growing rice and corn but is good for growing sorghum. In fact, sorghum grows well in arid and dry areas because of its adaptation to extreme weather conditions.

The minister explained that sorghum that is planted on 200 hectares of land can feed a thousand households.

He pointed out that besides the seeds, the stalks of the plant can be harvested and crushed like sugar cane to produce sorghum syrup.

Dahlan added that the State Enterprises Ministry is training about 40 students in vocational high schools in the East Nusa Tenggara provincial city of Kupang to come up with a sorghum pressing machine.

According to Belu district head Joachim Lopez, the sorghum planting movement was part of effort to make the district the nation`s sorghum producing center.

"State Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan has become the motivator who challenges Belu district government and the farmers to cultivate sorghum in the area," Lopez said.

He noted that for the first phase, sorghum was planted on 200 hectares of land in Weliman and Wewiku sub-districts, and would soon be developed as well in the districts of Timor Tengah Selatan and Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara.

"Dahlan has asked the farmers in Belu to support their food security by developing sorghum in an effort to reduce their dependence on government," Lopez said.

To reduce Indonesia`s dependence on imported wheat, the country should now start to think of cultivating sorghum as an alternative staple diet.

As one of the top cereal crops along with wheat, corn, rice, and barley, sorghum has been in use as staple diet in much of the developing world.

Sorghum is very high in fiber, iron, and protein, and is extremely drought tolerant.

Therefore, State Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan has expressed hope that sorghum can be planted all over the country to reduce dependence on rice and imported wheat.

Now sorghum is being cultivated in a number of districts including Belu in East Nusa Tenggara, Bantul in Yogyakarta, South Lampung in Lampung, and Mukomuko in Bengkulu.

Meanwhile, Bantul district department of agriculture and forestry in Yogyakarta special province also plans to plant sorghum on 400 hectares of land this year.

"The Ministry of Agriculture will this year provide Bantul district with funds to develop sorghum on 400 hectares of land as a follow up to 2012 program of 50 hectares," local agriculture and forestry department chief Edy Suhariyanta has said in Bantul.

Edy noted that sorghum was a food crop commodity and therefore there would be an addition of 400 hectares of land for farmers to plant it.

"Each group of farmers will get Rp2.5 million to open new land and to procure fertilizer and sorghum seeds," Edy said, adding that idle and half idle lands in the district would be developed for sorghum plantation area.

"The local agriculture department has explained that the sorghum planting program will be implemented only in Bantul district because the similar program in Gunung Kidul district in 2010 was not effectively realized," he went on.

Further, he said Bantul has wide idle areas in the villages of Poncosari, Srandakan, Sedayu, Bambanglipuro, Pleret, Imogiri and Pajangan where sorghum plantation could be developed.

Meanwhile, the farmers in Lampung Selatan district, Lampung province, are also developing sweet sorghum, another type of sorghum for the raw material of bio-ethanol and the manufacture of syrup.

"This type of sorghum grows well in Lampung Selatan district and the farmers are now harvesting it," local farmers association spokesman Sutono said in the provincial city of Bandarlampung recently.

He pointed out that besides the seeds, the stalks of the plant can be harvested and crushed like sugar cane to produce sorghum syrup.

"The stalks of sorghum are used not only for the raw material of bio-ethanol but also to produce syrup because the sugar content is high enough," Sutono said, adding that sorghum can be harvested three times with the production of around 430 ton per hectare per year.

In addition, the Mukomuko district government in Bengkulu province will this year develop sorghum cultivation pilot project as a food source besides rice, corn, and wheat.

"The idea of cultivating sorghum has been in our mind for a long time but the implementation will start soon this year," Mukomuko plantation, animal husbandry and agriculture department spokesman Sunandi has said.

He noted that besides sorghum, other grain crops would also be developed in Mukumuko district as one of alternative diet besides rice and corn.

On a separate occasion in October last year, the state enterprises minister said Indonesia imported 7 million tons of wheat per year because the demand for the commodity continued to increase.

He noted that with a population of about 240 million, Indonesia was listed as the world`s second biggest wheat importer next to Egypt.

"Therefore, we will plant sorghum because we have many unemployed sorghum experts," Dahlan said.

According to him, the government wanted to develop sorghum plantations after state-owned company PT Hijau Lestari in West Java has successfully developed the commodity in the province.

Reporter: Otniel Tamindael
Editor: Jafar M Sidik
Copyright © ANTARA 2013