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Jakarta Post

Indonesian agriculture in the midst of sustainability options

  • Ridwana Saleh

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, September 19, 2013   /  10:35 am

There are various political and economic concerns behind green projects, however, '€œpro-environment'€ is a specific watchword key in the initiatives. One of the current and most familiar global initiatives is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus (REDD+), which is conducted in
Indonesia and Brazil.

There have been numerous green initiatives including REDD and Forest and Law Enforcement Governance (FLEG). A significant contribution to forest protection is made through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) as a leading global initiative, which is legally recognized and implemented through governmental actions.

Since 1970s Indonesia'€™s forests have been subject global environmental group campaigns, which focused mainly on illegal logging and forest fires. Dubbed the world'€™s third largest tropical rainforest and home to 10 percent of forest cover, Indonesia has been considered vulnerable to forest crimes due to inadequate management and law enforcement (

Air pollution and water contamination resulting from mismanaged households and industry blight the lives of Indonesians in urban and rural areas. No one would contest that the country'€™s nature should be conserve '€” as environmentally it supports domestic, regional and global natural balance while economically its products serve a variety of industries worldwide.

From Sabang in the west to Merauke in the east, nature is nothing but a wonderful and desired beauty that has lured global and national environmentalists, social developmentalists and businesspeople. Mining, fisheries, forestry as well as agriculture businesses continue to grow, while international and domestic groups are keeping an eye on the protection of the natural resources.

It is obvious that environmental issues over shadow the discussions concerning natural resource-based business. Forest conservation and HCV (high conservation value) areas have become favorable terms to outweigh the impact of the sector'€™s industrial development, which corresponds to the initiative of Good Agriculture Practices (GAP).

It was not long ago that the social impact of environmental exploitation was considered another significant aspect of natural resource-based industries.

Conclusively, sustainability was introduced to represent the wide importance of nature conservation, in which the three pillars (3Ps) '€” people = social, profit = economy and planet = environment '€” are the balancing manifestation of the natural-based business practices.

Sustainability means that business practices must be maintained at a certain rate or level, to uphold and conserve an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.

Indonesia, with its depreciating abundant natural resources but large population, needs every now and then to decide whether social impact deserves higher respect than the environment of the natural based-business practices, or vice versa.

Indonesian businesspeople request bigger attention to how natural resource-based businesses have improved the living standard of Indonesian farmers and that the campaign against palm oil industry, for example, is all about global trade war in a pro-environment package, which takes little notice of the constructive social and economic impact of the business on the lower class in the rural areas.

International initiatives have been deemed to be a new format of colonization by wealthy nations. Hence, sustainability is just a catchphrase, a trade-war paradigm that has no local wisdom and will expire when another jargon is born.

So, is it now the time for the community development agenda? Should the global agenda be translated into local program without diminishing the significance of the project?

Has the work on reforestation and nature conservation been replaced by political economy schema to let the projects rolling, because locals do not buy environmental protection initiatives given that it is part of their daily lives anyway?

Environmental and social issues against palm oil, for example, must transform from deforestation issues, peat land plantation, irresponsible land clearing and creator of social conflicts into strengthening smallholders program. The target is more toward how people can increase their living standard by protecting forests. This is the tricky bit.

Further, is the support offered to smallholders purely national agenda, or it is for the sake of global agenda? Let us take example of PISAgro, a multi-stakeholder collaboration between the government; national and global private sectors; and international organizations to address Indonesia'€™s food, climate and poverty challenges.

The initiative was announced at the June 2011 event at the East Asia'€™s World Economic Forum in Indonesia to address food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity by assisting Indonesian smallholders of eight commodities (cocoa, coffee, corn, dairy, palm oil, potatoes, rice and soybean) to increase productivity.

PISAGro aims to develop a business model that is country-led, market-based and operates under the umbrella of Indonesia'€™s national agricultural sector plans. And so the question will be: Who will benefit most from farmers'€™ productivity, the farmers themselves or the private sectors? Correct me if I'€™m wrong, but looking at the composition of the PISAgro'€™s seven private companies (Bayer Cropscience, Indofood, McKinsey, Nestlè Indonesia, Sinar Mas, Syngenta and Unilever), it appears that the beneficiaries are these gigantic companies.

Farmers only serve as the tools to produce the commodities for the participating companies. Will there be a transfer of knowledge and transfer of technology? Here lies a very good question.

Farmers are significant growth contributors and, therefore, must have access to financial and banking facilities, as well as agronomy inputs such as good quality fertilizers and seeds. Whenever there is scarcity of agriculture products (fruits or horticulture), farmers are blamed.

The government never blames big companies'€™ productivity. In view of that, how can smallholders be more productive and produce high-quality yields if they have no access to it?

No environmental and social development agenda is a disadvantage. It needs wisdom and innovative programs to try to accommodate the 3Ps into one boat: the Indonesian Sustainability Agenda. Indonesia should choose whether to start with local wisdom to strengthen the agriculture players and their relationship with each other, or to face and respond to a sort of '€œblack campaign'€ that is actually not black at all. If the campaign does serve one purpose: environmental or social improvement, or both environmental and social development at the same time it will have an economic benefit on all parties.

The writer is a professional adviser for trade policy, public affairs and strategic communications.

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