Sat, 21 Jun 2003

Councillors slam imported rice distribution in S. Sulawesi

Andi Hajramurni and Agus Maryono, The Jakarta Post, Makassar/Purwokerto

South Sulawesi councillors have questioned a provincial logistics agency policy to distribute imported rice in a province that already has 1.2 million tons of surplus rice.

Councillor Haerul Tallu Rahim of the Golkar faction said the agency should not import rice due to the high rice production in the province.

"The imported rice will influence our farmers' lives because the price will be lower than locally produced rice," he said on Wednesday during a hearing between Commission B, overseeing economics and development, with the agency, the provincial industry and trade office and the provincial administration in the South Sulawesi capital Makassar.

Councillor Karaeng Sijaya of the Golkar faction said the policy was "unrealistic". He said that the imported rice should be distributed to provinces that had rice deficits.

"If the agency has the money, then it should have bought the rice from our farmers. The farmers usually get much lower prices during the harvest," he said.

Head of the agency Taharyono said that in the first batch, South Sulawesi would get 8,300 tons of imported rice from Thailand and China. The rice, which is expected to arrive at the end of this month, will be stored at the agency's warehouse in Pare-pare.

The rice will be distributed to North Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, and to Maluku and Papua provinces, which have suffered rice deficits.

Taharyono said it would distribute local rice to those areas first.

"The imported rice is stocked in the warehouse as a back up when the agency runs out of local rice to supply other provinces," he said.

He guaranteed the distribution of imported rice would not lower local rice prices. However, he agreed there should be a policy to stabilize the rice price nationwide.

Some vendors in traditional markets in Makassar sell imported rice from Thailand. They claim they began selling the rice several months ago.

Tina, a rice vendor in Terong market in Makassar, said local rice prices had decreased from Rp 2,300 (28 U.S. cents) per kilogram to Rp 2,100 per kilogram.

In Purwokerto, Central Java, thousands of farmers have begun complaining about the price of unhusked rice dropping from Rp 1,500 to Rp 1,200 per kilogram prior to the harvest next week.

"We've always been unfortunate. If the unhusked rice price is only Rp 1,200 now, what about at harvest time? We might only earn Rp 500 per kilogram of unhusked rice," said Suparman, 40, a farmer from Cilongok village in Banyumas regency.

"We no longer want to plant rice due to the decreasing price of unhusked rice," said Darsito, a farmer of Margasana village, on Thursday. He said he was forced to sell the rice at the lower price to pay for his children's tuition.

Another farmer Sutarno said the production costs were higher than their incomes.

"The production costs are rising although we manage to harvest more rice. Unfortunately, the rice price has also decreased."

The difficulty in recruiting labor adds to the farmers' production costs as the workers demand higher pay.

The farmers hoped the unhusked rice price would reach Rp 1,800 per kilogram. "But it's just a dream," Sutarno said.

Banyumas regent Aris Setiono could only suggest the farmers store their unhusked rice and sell it when the price increased.

He said the regency administration had urged the logistics agency to buy rice from the farmers but the agency preferred to buy the rice from their contractors.