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Jakarta Post

Govt needs to adopt conservation farming: FAO

  • Tama Salim

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, April 4, 2015   /  11:23 am

In its efforts to achieve food self-sufficiency in the next few years, the government needs to be prudent in implementing policies for the agricultural sector, according to an official from the UN'€™s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FAO Representative in Indonesia Mark Smulders said the government needed to introduce policies that promote good agricultural practices.

He suggested that the government would be better off investing in infrastructure development rather than providing fertilizer subsidies for farmers, which proved unsustainable in the long run.

'€œIt'€™s good to subsidize farming to encourage people to produce food, but you have to be careful how you subsidize farming. [By making] fertilizers and pesticides too cheap, it'€™s actually having a negative impact,'€ Smulders said during a discussion in Central Jakarta on Wednesday.

The state has earmarked Rp 28.5 trillion (US$2.18 billion) for fertilizer subsidies this year to help achieve President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s food self-sufficiency plan.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, the state is subsidizing 9.5 million tons of fertilizer this year with the assumption that nationwide fertilizer consumption stands at around 800,000 to 900,000 tons per month. Currently, Indonesia consumes 15.2 million tons of fertilizer annually.

Jokowi has stated that he wants the country to be self-sufficient in sugar, rice and corn within four years, asking farmers to work hard to raise production levels.

Smulders argued that the subsidy policy provided '€œshort-term gain and long-term pain'€ as costs increasingly outweighed the benefits. '€œYou can get high yield with high [use of] fertilizer [...] but it has very high costs and ruins the soil,'€ he explained.

As an alternative solution, the FAO official suggested the state adopt conservation agriculture (CA), a concept that promotes the preservation of soil and natural resources while also providing higher yields, all by using a combination of traditional techniques.

In September 2013, the international organization initiated a pilot project involving 4,902 farmers in nine districts across East and West Nusa Tenggara, '€œreintroducing'€ a number of old techniques to revitalize soil fertility.

The four-year program, implemented with the help of the Agriculture Ministry'€™s district offices and four local NGOs, was funded by the US Agency for International Development'€™s (USAID) Office for US Foreign Disaster Assistance, which disbursed $1.6 million for the first two years of the program, with the budget set to double this May.

The FAO set up 30-hectare CA demonstration plots in 237 locations across the two provinces, which were chosen for their barren land and vulnerability to climate change, according to FAO representative assistant for programmes Ageng Herianto.

After planting maize on the demonstrations plots, which used CA techniques like permanent soil cover, planting holes and intercropping, the average yield of corn crops more than doubled from 2 tons per hectare to 4.5 tons per hectare in one planting season, Ageng revealed on Wednesday.

He said that farmer groups from each location were encouraged to adopt CA on 300 hectares of their own land after witnessing such positive results, adding that the techniques could also be used for other food crops.

'€œWe'€™re trying to show that farmers notice the environment very well [...] so when they see something that works, they'€™ll immediately adopt [it],'€ Smulders explained.

'€œWe'€™d like to see the government promote these good practices, to put in place policies and mechanisms '€” and even subsidies, if they'€™re appropriate '€” to help introduce these new technologies.'€

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