Tue, 19 Aug 2003

Govt allots Rp 1 trillion for farmers, villagers

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government will channel Rp 1 trillion (US$117.6 million) in September to farmers and villages most affected by the current drought, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla said on Monday.

"Priorities and the form of labor intensive programs will be discussed during a coordination meeting between the coordinating ministry for people's welfare and governors in Jakarta on Tuesday," Jusuf Kalla was quoted by Antara as saying after visiting dry paddy fields in Karawang regency, Purwakarta, West Java on Saturday.

The minister did not say where the government would take the funds from but gave his assurance that the House of Representatives had approved the disbursement of the funds to help farmers who experienced crop failure due to the prolonged drought.

The labor intensive programs will include the repair of irrigation canals and tree planting in catchment areas so that more water would be preserved during the rainy season to prevent flash floods.

"Plant seeds are ready; farmers need only plant them, for which they will get paid," Jusuf said.

The government would also sell rice to farmers at Rp 1,000 per kilogram. The cheapest rice available in the market costs Rp 1,800 per kilogram.

Jusuf said the drought had caused crop failure in some rice- producing areas on Java, affecting the national rice supply.

"This year's drought has hit the rice-producing areas and it will definitely affect the national rice supply, aside from causing a scarcity of clean water and reducing the purchasing power of farmers," said the minister.

He also said that it was possible that Indonesia would have to import rice to meet domestic demand, but stressed that the issue was being discussed.

"If the rain comes in September, we might not need to import rice," said Jusuf Kalla.

"I still believe that the national rice supply is enough although this year's drought has affected the national rice supply," he said without mentioning the amount in stock.

The minister also visited Jatiluhur reservoir. The reservoir, located in Purwakarta, provides water for 240,000 hectares of paddy fields in West Java's northern coastal regions, including the districts of Bekasi, Karawang, Subang and Indramayu.

The water level in the dam has almost reached its lowest level. Tjetjet Sudjana, president director of Jasa Tirta (PJM) II, the state-owned company managing the dam, said the dam's present water level had dropped to 82 meters.

"This is even worse than during the drought in 1997, and it is the first time that the dam's water level has dropped that low," Sudjana said.

Subang and Indramayu districts had suffered the most from the drought. In Subang district 6,000 of the region's 15,000 hectares of paddy fields could not be cultivated because of the shortage of water.

During his visit, Jusuf Kalla, who was accompanied by Minister for Resettlement and Regional Infrastructure Soenarno, State Minister for the Environment Nabiel Makarim, and West Java Governor Dany Setiawan, also officiated a water treatment unit worth Rp 2.5 billion in Balong Gandu village, Karawang. Some 3,000 families are to benefit from the unit.

He also handed over eight water tank trucks to four districts, Karawang, Indramayu, Subang and Cirebon. Each truck is valued at Rp 170 million and is able to carry 4,000 liters of water.

"The water problem is very critical and needs to be handled seriously and promptly", that is why the central government is donating the trucks," said Jusuf.