Experts have called on the government to urgently start promoting biotechnology in order to ensure food security and improve the living standards of farmers.
Speaking Tuesday during a seminar organized by the Indonesian Biotechnology Information Center (IndoBic), economist Bustanul Arifin said that biotechnology had the potential to greatly increase the production of important food crops, such as rice, corn, soybean and sugar.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, biotechnology, which involves the modification of an organism's genes so as to produce bigger and higher quality crops, could increase plant yields by 61 percent, nutritional content by 50 percent and food quality by 29 percent, and decrease the use of pesticides by 53 percent.
Speaking during the same seminar, Graham Brookes, a director of the U.K.-based biotechnology consultancy firm, PG Economics Limited, said that the use of genetically modified (GM) seeds could increase farmers' incomes by between 6 and 15 percent.
"Although transgenic seeds cost more -- they are around 15 to 20 percent more expensive than natural seeds -- farmers will be able to earn more as they will benefit from lower pesticide use," he said.
Brookes said the United States had reaped an economic windfall of some US$12.9 billion between 1996 and 2005 as a result of the use of the biotechnology.
The Agriculture Ministry has been setting aside about Rp 100 billion ($11.1 million) a year to fund biotechnology research.
Although such research has been going on for almost a decade, Indonesia has yet to grow any GM crops as the regulations that were issued on the subject have not been followed up by concrete initiatives.
"What I have noticed is that the government appears to be on and off about biotechnology," said Bustanul, referring to a lack of research focus.
In 2005, the government issued Regulation No. 21 on the biological safety of GM products, and their economic, social and environmental impacts.
However, the regulation cannot be put into effect as the envisaged biological safety commission to oversee the its application has yet to be established, said Eri Sofiari, an expert advisor on biotechnology to the Agriculture Ministry.
"We hope that Indonesia will be able to produce its first GM crops within the next three years," he said.
He also stressed the need for Indonesia to be able to produce GM seeds in the future, instead of importing them from major producers such as the United States.
"What we expect from this project is that Indonesia will become a producer not only of GM food, but also GM food," said Eri. (12)