Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Government to review ban on rice imports

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Minister of Agriculture Anton Apriyantono said on Tuesday the government would review its rice import ban in May after the domestic rice harvest, considering that Indonesia would be producing sufficient rice for its own needs this year.

"If there is any failure (in local rice production), then the import tap will be opened ... but not now," he told a press conference at the Vice Presidential Office.

The review will now take place a month earlier than previously scheduled.

State-owned company Perum Bulog had earlier proposed importing some 300,000 tons of rice, arguing that rice producers would be unable to meet Indonesia's required rice stock of 2.25 million tons this year due to a possible severe drought.

The proposal was turned down by the agriculture ministry as the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMG) and the National Institute for Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) were forecasting that there would not be a long drought this year.

The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) estimates that unhusked rice production this year will be 53 million tons, equivalent to 32 million tons of husked rice, while Indonesia's annual consumption is 31 million tons.

Bulog President Director Widjanarko Puspoyo claimed the government had requested that the company buy up more than 7 percent of the rice harvest this year in order to keep prices stable.

"Over the past 35 years, we have only ever bought 7 percent (of the harvest). If we have to buy more than that amount, then we will need to channel the additional supplies somewhere," he said.

Widjanarko said Bulog must distribute 1.5 million tons from its stock to maintain the quality of rice kept in its warehouses.

In line with this, the government is expected to provide rice allowances for civil servants, and military and police personnel. Anton said that the government would be seeking approval from involved parties on the implementation of this policy.

"We will undertake pilot projects in several cities," he said, adding that the government had yet to determine how it was going to distribute the rice.

The government imposed a ban on rice imports early last year as it was optimistic the country would be self-sufficient in this critical product for the first time since the 1980s.