Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia which experienced frequent rice shortages in the past several years is planning to export the commodity on account of an expected production surplus this year.
"I agree to any policy to export rice. If our stocks are bigger than our need, why won't we export the staple," Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said last week in response to a plan by the Trade Ministry to issue a regulation on rice export.
The government is planning to export rice as this year the country is expected to experience a rice production surplus of over 1.30 million tons.
Director general for food crops Sutarto Alimuso said production in 2008 was estimated to reach 58.26 million tons of dry unhusked rice or equivalent to about 33 million tons of rice.
If the population was 227.78 million with a per capita rice consumption of 139.15 kg, the national need for rice was about 31.68 million tons. So this year, there would be a rice surplus of about 1.30 million tons, excluding year-end left-over stocks in the warehouses of the National Logistics Agency (Bulog) and rice stored by the people.
This vast archipelagic country traditionally faces rice shortages at the end of the year. This had prompted the government in the past to import rice to stabilize soaring prices at home often amid objections from rice farmers at home.
This year, however, the country is expected to see a rice production surplus so that instead of importing rice, the government will most likely export the commodity while trying to stabilize prices at home.
Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said the government was drafting a regulation on exporting a number of food crops that are in surplus, including rice. Under the regulation, rice of a certain quality could be exported while the government is committed to securing stocks and stabilizing prices in the domestic market.
According to the trade minister, the regulation on rice export would be issued this month when rice farmers are to conduct grand harvests. "The main point is to guarantee rice stocks at home," she said.
For domestic stocks, Bulog President Director Mustafa Abubakar said the agency was focusing on buying an estimated 3 million tons of rice from local farmers. Of the total, 2.8 million tons would be earmarked for distribution to the poor.
Minister Pangestu said that Indonesia had never before issued a regulation on rice export because the volume it could export was still small, namely about 1,600 tons, while in fact it was still importing the staple.
The discourse on rice export emerged recently amid high prices in the world market while at the same time production at home is expected to exceed domestic need.
The price of rice in the world market is about US$500-US$700 per ton or about Rp5,000-Rp7,000 per kg, while at home the price is stable at Rp4,750-Rp6,000 per kg.
It was feared that the high prices in the world market would push up the rice price in the domestic market although the government intends to keep it at between Rp4,750 and Rp6,000 per kg.
"The government is committed to keeping the rice price stable at between Rp4,750 and Rp6,000 per kg so that it will not burden the people," Pangestu said.
"The rice price in the world market is relatively high but as long as the price at home is maintained at a stable level and we have enough in stock, we will remain secure," she added.
The increases in food stuff prices happened because of increased demand in the world market while supply was limited. Moreover, rice exporting countries like Vietnam had imposed taxes on rice exports to secure their own need for the commodity.
"The rice price at home is slightly lower than in the world market and we will continue to monitor this condition," Minister Mari Pangestu said.
The price of Philippine rice in the world market last week rose to US$618.5 - US$745 per ton while that of Thai rice ranged between US$530 and US$550 per ton. The prices did not yet include transportation costs.
At present, March and April, Indonesia is in a rice harvest season. "Indonesia's dry unhusked rice production this season is estimated at 19.3 million tons," the Agriculture Ministry's director general for food crops, Sutarto Alimuso, said.
The 19.3 million tons will come from harvests on a total of 4.12 million hectares of paddies in West Java, Central Java, East Java, Banten, South Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara, Lampung and South Sumatra provinces.
If production from January to April is counted, total rice production is estimated at 25.7 million tons of dry unhusked rice from 5.52 million hectares of paddy fields.
"As a whole, production in 2008 is estimated at 58.26 million tons of unhulled rice, equivalent to 33 million tons of rice produced on 12.29 million hectares of rice fields across the country," Sutarto Alimuso said.(*)