Food security issues spotlighted
TEMPO Interactive, Jakarta: The crisis over spiraling soybean prices is not the only problem in Indonesia portraying the fragility of our food security sector. People have long been accustomed to enjoying meat, fruits, and vegetables from other countries. To meet the needs of rice, corn, and even cassava, we have imported them - all this time.
It is hard not to state all of that as a direct result of the government's failure to implement food self-sufficiency programs. The country which has farmland in abundance has apparently been found grossly lacking at meeting the food needs of its population through its own products. Do not be surprised therefore, with the contents of the latest report released by the Global Economist Intelligence Unit last week. It placed Indonesia’s food security index in fifth position in ASEAN. Indonesia lost out to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The problem that the government, especially Minister of Agriculture, is always complaining about is the limitation of land to produce food. For soybeans, for example, in 1992, the production area was 1.66 million hectares. Today, it is merely 678 thousand hectares. Similar shrinkage occurs on land for other types of food production. Indonesia currently has cropland area spanning across 7.75 million hectares only - compared to Thailand’s 31.84 million hectares. Indonesia’s population is approximately 240 million people, or four times the population of Thailand.
The government should just stop moaning and take immediate action to expand agricultural land. Law No. 41 of 2009 on the Protection of Agricultural Land has already been promulgated, and, although somewhat late, the ensuing rule to implement it, Government Regulation No. 12 of 2012 on Agricultural Land Protection Incentives, has also been issued.
The concrete steps needed must certainly mobilize all regions to stop the conversion of agricultural land and encourage the expansion of rice paddies and fields. Do not let regents to easily give permission to large plantations for land clearing allowing farmland to shrink.
The Government must also immediately take advantage of about 7 million hectares of derelict land to expand agricultural land.
Keep in mind, however, that increasing food production is not simply a matter of expanding land areas. The government must protect the prices of agricultural products and dare to reduce dependence on imported products. The government today tends to be pragmatic: open the import taps widely when domestic production is insufficient. This overwhelms the farmers. Without the help and protection from the government, they must compete openly with farmers from Thailand, even the agricultural industry in the United States. The government should put the brakes on imports and create a buffer stock so that food prices are not easily manipulated by the market.
Many other countries, including the United States, provide incentives to farmers so their products can compete with other countries. Similar steps should be taken by the government to boost increased food production in our country.
01 August 2012