Mon, 05 Jul 2010

From: The Jakarta Globe

By Arti Ekawati & Antara
The Agriculture Ministry is renewing calls for Australia to open its borders to Indonesian fruit as part of ambitious efforts to grow the country’s tiny fruit export industry by thirtyfold by the end of the year.

The head of agricultural quarantine at the Ministry of Agriculture, Hari Priyono, said the latest call comes after two years of unsuccessful attempts to export fruit such as mangos to Australia.

The Agriculture Ministry estimates that Indonesia produces between 17 million and 19 million tons of tropical fruit a year. Of that, only about 30,000 tons are exported. Mangosteens, salak (snake fruit), mangoes, pineapples, melon, watermelon and bananas make up the bulk of exports.

The ministry has set a target to export 5 percent of Indonesia’s fruit production, meaning a staggering 950,000 tons, this year.

China and Singapore are two key importers, and beside Australia the ministry is also eying other Asian countries such as Hong Kong and South Korea, as well as the Middle Eastern and European markets.

Australia is famous for its strict quarantine controls to prevent alien diseases and pests entering the country, and it has consistently argued that it would keep the market closed because it still could not be sure about the sanitary conditions of Indonesian agricultural products, on which a number of harmful organisms have been found.

The call may continue to fall on deaf ears without a change in Indonesia’s attitude towards quality. On Sunday, Benny Kusbini, the head of the National Horticultural Council (DHN), said there was a pressing need to improve local fruit quality in order to be able to compete internationally.

The poor quality of local fruit - due to odd sizes, irregular supply and uncontrolled use of pesticides - has prevented them from being shipped to many countries, he said. Poor handling after harvesting contributed to a further drop of quality, Benny said.

“Most of our fruit is still grown traditionally without paying much attention to good agricultural practices. Therefore we cannot expect continuous supply with similar quality throughout the year,” he said.

Benny said Indonesia had to improve quality to be able to compete in global markets. “If Thailand can [export to Australia], I think there is no reason for us not to improve fruit quality, as long as there is will from the government to improve both farming habits and the supporting infrastructure to market the fruit,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Suswono said the government was continuously encouraging fruit farmers to implement good agricultural practices to boost quality and productivity.

He bemoaned Australia’s refusal to open its doors to Indonesian fruit, saying he always raised the market access issue with Australia at international meetings. Australia was only too happy for agricultural products to flow the other way, Suswono pointed out.

“Australia has made Indonesia its main market for its agricultural products such as cattle and milk.” It would only be appropriate for Australia to be fair with products from Indonesia, Sus wono said.