The rate at which the country is losing farmers is a cause for concern. If it continues, Indonesia is likely to have no farmers left in 50 years. What will we eat?
“Well, we will be hungry,” said Adang Parman, 58, a farmer from Ciburial village in West Java. Every day, the father of three heads out to the field at the break of dawn to pull out weeds, water his plants or pluck vegetables from his rows of plants. His sons, meanwhile, plow the land with a handheld walking tractor.
Adang has been working in the fields for more than 40 years. The work is demanding and laborious. This probably explains why fewer and fewer people are taking up the profession.
The country lost 5.1 million farmers between 2003 and 2013, with their numbers falling to 26 million, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS). The trend is expected to continue in the next few years. At this rate, Indonesia would lose all its farmers by 2063.
“A large proportion of young people view agricultural work as low-wage, manual labor that is more suited to those from poor backgrounds who have limited education,” a 2016 SMERU Research Institute report reads.
Agriculture is a huge contributor to Indonesia’s economy. Around 29 percent of the Indonesian workforce works in the agriculture, fisheries and livestock sector, which contributes nearly 13 percent to the country’s GDP. It is the third-biggest contributor to the economy after manufacturing and trade, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS) data.
Fewer young people are pursuing farming as a profession compared with previous generations. Only 23 percent of the country’s 14.2 million people aged between 15 and 24 worked in the agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors in 2019, data from the National Labor Force Survey showed.
Asep, Tisna, Dika – Adang’s three sons – represent the minority of young people venturing into agriculture, following in their father’s footsteps.
With a population of just 12,000 — less than a quarter the capacity of a major football stadium — Ciburial offers vast expanses of lush, fertile land, perfect for farming. This is not the case elsewhere in Indonesia.
Between 2013 and 2019, Indonesia’s agricultural land decreased to 7.46 million hectares from 7.75 million ha, according to data collected by the Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry, BPS and several other government institutions.
Problems like increasing production costs, changes in weather and pest attacks have also pushed farmers to change professions, with land owners either converting land to other uses or selling it, the SMERU report states.
So, what went wrong? How can we support more farmers like Adang and his family? The Jakarta Post spoke to farmers, agriculture and food companies, policymakers and experts on the challenges and opportunities for Indonesia’s farmers and the agriculture sector.