The Jakarta Post
Nationwide controversies, which often occur whenever the government announces its plan to import rice, should come to an end now that Statistics Indonesia (BPS) has released new rice production data.
The BPS conducted its latest survey on the national rice production after the government appointed it early last month to be the only rice data provider in the country. The appointment followed protests from related government offices, politicians and NGOs over the Trade Ministry’s plan to import another 500,000 tons of rice this year.
The protesters called the rice import plan absurd as Agriculture Ministry data indicated that there would be a huge rice surplus this year, in addition to the large amount of rice stocks held by state-owned logistics company Bulog.
According to BPS data, released on Monday, Indonesia would enjoy a rice surplus of about 2.85 million tons this year, which is a far cry from the Agriculture Ministry’s estimated 16.31 million tons. The ministry’s projected figure was based on the estimated production of 46.7 million tons and the demand of about 30.37 million tons this year.
The latest BPS survey found, however, that rice production and demand would reach about 56.54 million and 32.42 million tons, respectively.
Any plan to import rice has always sparked controversy over suspicions that the Trade Ministry only issued the import permits for the benefit of certain groups or companies that would reap the rewards from the low imported rice prices. On the other hand, many parties within the government have often accused the Agriculture Ministry of inflating rice production data just to show off its success in achieving self-sufficiency in food production, which was one of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s campaign promises.
Importation of basic commodities, including rice, is a lucrative business and a number of officials and politicians have been jailed for abusing their power in this sector.
The confusing rice production data began last year with the BPS, the Agriculture Ministry and other related agencies releasing their own data that they had collected using different methodologies. The appointment of the BPS as the only agency responsible for issuing official rice data production, although quite late, should be seen as a step in the right direction to counter controversies and suspicions. Moreover, Jokowi has made it clear that the BPS rice data would serve as the government’s reference of the country’s rice farming data, which also includes the size of rice fields in provinces across the country.
Despite the issuance of more credible data on national rice production, any plan to import rice should be thoroughly assessed to ensure that the move will not hurt domestic rice farmers. In the event that importation is unavoidable, the process to appoint the importers mandates transparency.
For the BPS it is imperative that it regularly updates the methodology it applies to its rice production survey to ensure that the data collected reflects real conditions in the field, or else its credibility will be at stake.