The Jakarta Post
With its high food self-sufficiency target, the government is considering reviving the stalled 'food estate' program of the prior administration by involving private and state-owned companies.
The extensive commercial farming will focus on rice, corn and soybean ' all are food crops laid out in the self-sufficiency goal, according to State-Owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno. 'We will synergize the whole processes from seeding to fertilizing,' she said.
State-owned enterprises, such as fertilizer producer PT Pupuk Indonesia Holding Company, seedling company PT Sang Hyang Sri and agribusiness firm PT Pertani, will take the lead in the projects, Rini said.
Designed in the early days of Yudhoyono's administration in 2009, the project was meant to integrate farming and food-based energy generation to replicate the success story of Brazil's large-scale agricultural projects.
The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) program in Papua is expected to cover a 1.6 million hectare area. It has attracted dozens of investors, including Wilmar International, Artha Graha and Medco Group, that are interested in growing a wide array of food crops, including rice, corn, soybean, sugar cane and palm oil.
Similar to the food sovereignty agenda formulated by President Jokowi's administration, the former government also underlined the need of attaining self-sufficiency in key corps and beef by 2014, which, in fact, it failed to achieve.
MIFEE has proven to be a tough project to implement, particularly because of land issues, as the multi-billion project threatens conservation areas, such as virgin forests and water catchment areas, as well as the habitat of indigenous peoples in Papua.
Concerns over human rights abuses, including violations of land rights and of the requirement to obtain free, prior and informed consent, and also over the displacement of local people by inflows of workers from outside the region have also lingered.
By last year progress had stagnated in the completion of an environmental analysis (Amdel) and in provincial spatial planning, Agriculture Ministry's director general for agriculture infrastructure and facilities Gatot Irianto told The Jakarta Post.
'The stocktaking of customary land is a difficult thing and this must be endorsed further,' he said, adding that he viewed the need to make the planned food estate a special economic zone to enjoy special treatment to enable implementation.
Despite the snail-paced progress in the past, Minister Ferry said the planned project could, nevertheless, begin as soon as the second half of this year.
'We have already secured some potential plots of land to commence the project,' he told the Post, adding that some areas in Kalimantan were also under assessment as alternatives.
With the strategic location of Merauke near the sea, it will be easy to transport the output to other areas once seaports are established, according to Ferry.
Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) chief Franky Sibarani said the broader Indonesian food sector might receive investments this year, notably from foreign companies.
'We've heard about interest by American and Japanese firms to invest in growing corn and cassava,' he said.