The government is planning to develop 30,000 hectares (ha) of farmland in Humbang Hasundutan district, North Sumatra, next year in an effort to secure the country’s food supply, a senior official has said.
A variety of crops will be grown on the land, including garlic, shallots and potatoes, according to the soil’s potential, Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin said.
The plan seeks to address the government’s concerns about a looming food crisis as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, heeding an earlier warning from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“The global supply chain is threatened by export restrictions. The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting food distribution at home and is hitting people’s purchasing power,” Syahrul said in a virtual briefing on Monday. “We need the right strategy so that this country can survive and come out of this pandemic.”
To develop the land, the ministry will provide farmers with tractors, tillers and hybrid corn seeds, among other forms of assistance.
The COVID-19 crisis has aggravated Indonesia’s food security issues. In late April, a month after the country’s first outbreak, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo reported that key commodities, such as garlic, sugar, chili and chicken eggs, were in short supply in more than 20 provinces, while rice, a staple food for Indonesians, was lacking in seven provinces.
Making matters worse, the dry season looms on the horizon and may impact the overall output of the agricultural sector, which employs more than a quarter of the nation’s workforce.
The Indonesia office of the World Food Programme (WFP) has estimated that that the country experienced a decline in rice production of 13.2 percent year-on-year to 16.1 million tons in the first half of 2020.
Statistics Indonesia (BPS) data shows that the country’s rice production had already fallen by 7.75 percent to 31.31 million tons in 2019, compared to 2018. In the same year, the land area used to cultivate rice fell by 6.15 percent year-on-year to 10.68 million hectares.
To ensure food availability in the country, the agriculture minister previously revealed a plan to develop 164,598 ha of farmland, including scrubland, in Pulau Pisang Regency, Central Kalimantan. About half of the land already serves as farmland.
The development is expected to be completed in 2022 and is expected to raise rice and corn production, with an expected yield of 2 tons of rice per hectare.
The Jokowi administration has also brought the rice-planting season forward this year, to May and June, so that the harvest season will be in August and September.
It estimates a harvest of 12.5 million to 15 million tons of rice by December.
Although the farmland being developed may help offset declining productivity, the government should ensure the development does not come at the expense of the environment by, among other things, banning the use of harmful pesticides, said Galuh Octania, a researcher focusing on food security at the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), a Jakarta-based think tank.
“The use of pesticides harmful to the environment may cause damage to the soil,” Galuh told The Jakarta Post by text message on Monday.