Thu, 17 Jul 2003

Drought-hit farmers request cloud seeding

Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Indramayu, West Java

As the prolonged drought continues to worsen -- already threatening crop failure in Indramayu regency, one of West Java's main rice producers -- local farmers urged the government on Wednesday to start cloud seeding in order to prevent their rice farms from drying up.

They said cloud seeding would be an effective measure to immediately tackle the drought currently hitting more than 21,000 hectares of rice field.

The farms worst affected include those in the subdistricts of Sukra, Haurgeluis, Kroya, Krangkeng, Cantigi, Juntinyuat, Balongan, Arahan, Losarang and Kandanghaur.

M. Jamal, a 48-year-old farmer in Kandanghaur, admitted he and other villagers were frustrated by the drought.

"We have made several attempts to address the problem by pumping groundwater or river water nearby, but they have all been futile as the amount produced has been very small," he said.

Robadin, a 40-year-old villager in Balongan, had a similar grievance. "Rich farmers try to overcome water shortages by pumping water, but the effort is still fruitless because of limited water availability from rivers."

Moreover, it cost a lot of money to irrigate rice fields using river water as farmers had to buy pumping equipment and other items such as fuel and tubes, he said.

"Low-income farmers can rent pumping equipment, but it is also very expensive. The cheapest rental is Rp 60,000 per hour. That does not include the cost of fuel," Robadin added.

He and Jamali said the government should intervene to provide relief for farmers. "Who else can help us except the government? Farmers are no longer able to shoulder this burden," Jamali said.

Another farmer, Marjuki, 53, from Sukra subdistrict, was of a similar opinion and said cloud seeding would be the most effective way of irrigating drought-hit rice fields quickly.

"I think that other approaches are ineffective because the supply from a number of water sources has long since dried up," he said.

The call to start cloud seeding received support from Indramayu legislative council, which said the move would be an effectively way of preventing crop failure in the regency.

Council speaker Iwan Hendrawan promised to discuss the issue with the Indramyu regent. "We shall forward the farmers' request to the regent. It will be our priority for discussion as it relates to the interests of tens of thousands of farmers in Indramayu."

However, the problem is likely to focus on whether or not funds have been allocated from the regency budget to finance cloud seeding, he added.

Meanwhile, Indramyu Regent Irianto MS Syafiuddin apparently rejected the farmers' proposal for cloud seeding, saying his administration was focusing on plans to build a reservoir to accommodate as much water as possible, so as to prevent more droughts in the future.

"The dam is planned to be built, as supplies from Bendung Rentang reservoir in Majalengka regency and Jatiluhur dam in Purwakarta regency are not enough, particularly during the dry season," he said.

Irianto said the project would cost Rp 109 billion, Rp 88 billion of which was earmarked from Indramayu's budget, while the remaining Rp 21 billion would be provided by the West Java administration.