Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government must control soybean prices, bring more areas under soybean cultivation, and improve Indonesia`s soybean trading system in order to prevent the commodity`s price from increasing time and again, according to a cabinet minister.

"We need to expand the acreage of soybean plantation by at least 500 thousand hectares. The total area under soybean cultivation has not increased in along time," Agriculture Minister Suswono said at the Presidential Office here on Thursday.

The minister made the statement when speaking about the recent spikes in soybean prices that forced tempe and tofu (fermented soybean cakes) manufacturers to halt production for three days.

He noted that Indonesia was self-sufficient in soybean in 1992 when 1.6 million hectares in the country's farmlands were under soybean cultivation. Back then, Suswono continued, Indonesian farmers preferred to cultivate soybean because it was a more profitable commodity being priced 1.5 times higher than rice.

Besides, the state logistics board Bulog had set a basic purchasing price for the commodity.

"If the production cost per kg of soybean is Rp6,500, the thing that must be considered is what will be the margin for the farmers. Supposing the farmers are given a 30 percent margin, the price will then be approximately Rp8,500 per kg. Therefore, if a guarantee is given that the price will remain at that level, the farmers will cultivate soybean," the minister explained.

"When the importation of soybean is allowed, control and protection is no longer there and the commodity's price fluctuates. After all, farmers will choose to grow crops that will benefit them. Therefore, they turn to sugarcane, rice, and maize. Soybean is the last choice," the minister explained.

In many places, he said, soybean was alternated with other crops before farmers started replacing it with unions which promised better yields.

To encourage farmers cultivate soybean again, the price of soybean must be stabilized and the acreage of plantations for soybean must be expanded, the minister continued.

Otherwise, he added, the production of other crops such as maize will be negatively affected.

"Now, with the price of soybean being high, farmers are getting encouraged. Several regions have begun developing plantations. Aceh farmers have developed 50,000 hectares and West Nusa Tenggara's (NTB) 30,000 hectares," the minister pointed out.

Tempe and tofu (fermented soybean cake) makers in provinces across the country halted production on Monday to protest rising prices of imported soybean.

Tempe and tofu traders had previously received circulars from the Indonesian Tempe-Tofu Cooperatives (KOPTI), asking traders across the country to protest high soybean prices by not selling tempe and tofu.

The current price of soybean in Indonesia is around Rp9,000-10,000 per kilogram, an increase from the earlier price of about Rp7,000. This is partly due to the depreciation of the rupiah against the US dollar.

Domestic production is only 700 thousand tons, while domestic demand has reached 2.5 million tons of soybeans per year.

Producers from at least five districts in West Java Province stopped distributing tempe and tofu on Monday. According to the local industry and trade office, tempe and tofu makers stopped production from September 9 through 11 to protest the hike in the price of imported soybean from approximately Rp7,000 per kg to the current Rp9,000-10,000 per kg.(*)

Editor: Heru Purwanto
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