The Agriculture Ministry has launched a program aimed at widespread cultivation of tropical sugar beet as part of efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in sugar production and augment ethanol supplies, a senior ministry official said.
Achmad Mangga Barani, the Agriculture Ministry’s director general of plantations, said the government will promote the establishment of large-scale tropical sugar beet farms.
“We need another source of sugar other than sugarcane,” Mangga said, after a meeting at the ministry to discuss the plan on Monday. “We have a scheme to produce brown sugar from coconuts, and starting in 2010 we plan to develop sugar beet farms.”
Anang Dwi Susilo, national product manager for PT Syngenta Indonesia, one of the companies working on the project, said tropical sugar beet required only one-third of the water needed to grow sugarcane.
“The beet can produce two tons of sugar per hectare per month, while sugarcane can only produce one ton of sugar per hectare per month,” he said.
It can also produce 1,200 liters to 1,500 liters of ethanol per month, he said, compared with 500 to 600 liters from sugarcane.
In addition to Syngenta Indonesia, a subsidiary of Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta AG, PT Industri Gula Nusantara is also working on the project.
Industri Gula Nusantara is a joint venture sugar producer established in 2004 by state plantation firm PT Perkebunan Nusantara IX and private firm PT Multi Manis Mandiri.
Tropical sugar beet was develop by Syngenta over 10 years. First planted in India, it delivers similar yields as sugarcane.
It can tolerate higher temperatures and requires substantially less water than sugarcane, making it suitable for relatively dry tropical areas. Standard sugar beet is normally grown in temperate climates.
Anang said tropical sugar beet in Colombia yielded $2,400 a hectare for farmers, at a cost of only $1,219 a hectare. In contrast, Colombian farmers earned only $1,964 a hectare from sugarcane, which costs about $1,000 a hectare to grow.
“The beet can be grown in various soil conditions, including alkaline and saline soils in coastal areas,” Anang said, adding that the sugar content of tropical sugar beet could reach up to 22 percent, compared with only 8 percent for sugarcane.
Mangga said the government and private sector is planning to plant tropical sugar beets in West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, Central Java and East Java.
He said the ministry would plant 50 hectares in West and East Nusa Tenggara, while IGN planned to plant 100 hectares in Central Java.
“It’s better to start with farms with a minimum of 50 hectares as pilot projects so we can identify what the problems are before we release the beet for commercial applications,” Mangga said.
However, Arum Sabil, the chairman of the Indonesian Sugarcane Farmers Association (Aptri), said the country could achieve self-sufficiency in both white sugar and refined sugar by improving existing sugarcane plantations.
“I respect innovations such as developing sugar beet, but in my opinion the government should focus on what we already have - sugarcane.
“Otherwise we will have no focus at all and won’t achieve anything,” Arum said on Tuesday.
White sugar is sold directly to consumers, while refined sugar is primarily used by the food and beverage industry.
The move to cultivate sugar beet is part of the government’s program to achieve self-sufficiency in both white and refined sugar by 2014.