Sat, 09 Oct 1999

Indonesia aims to stop rice imports in 2001: Minister

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Agriculture Soleh Solahuddin said he was optimistic that Indonesia would no longer need to import rice by 2001, due to a continued increase in local rice production.

The minister said that this year's rice imports would decline from 4.8 million tons in 1998 to 1.5 million tons.

He said that next year's imports would be slightly below this year's level, but in 2001 Indonesia would be able to stop all rice imports.

"I am sure the improvement in the local rice production will enable Indonesia to cut imports to zero percent in 2001," he told a press briefing.

To increase next years production, Soleh said, the ministry was cooperating with the Meteorology and Geophysics Bureau of the Ministry of Telecommunication and Transportation in anticipating a long drought, by inducing artificial rain.

"Previously, the artificial rain was aimed for the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Nevertheless, the rain has come to the regions and put out the fires," he said

Nevertheless, Java, a major rice production region, had not experience rainfall in last few months, he said, adding that the artificial rain would be now targeted to Java's main rice producing region.

"The rain will have to start no later than November, otherwise the major harvest next year will seriously be affected," he said.

Soleh also stressed the importance of irrigation systems in the rice producing region and added that the ministry had tried to help farmers in setting up the system in anticipation of a long drought.

"With a proper system in place and rainfall we can expect a major harvest between January and March," he said.

He hoped such a program would be able to increase the production of unhusked rice to about 52 million tons, exceeding the initial target of 49 million tons.

"In order to achieve self-suffiency in rice production, the government will also launch a program to reduce the average rice consumption to 120 kg per capita per year, from the current figure of 130 kg per capita per year," Soleh added.

The program will introduce and attempt to popularize other carbohydrate sources as part of a staple diet, to reduce Indonesian's dependency on rice.

"We can't just depend on rice as our carbohydrate source. Our population is growing every year, but the available land suitable for rice farming is limited," he said.

By reducing the consumption of rice, the annual unhusked rice production of 50 million metric tons, which is equal to around 30 million tons of rice, would be sufficient to feed the 210 million Indonesian people.

According to the ministry, the country's annual rice demand was estimated to be 32 million tons, including 27 million tons for consumption, three million tons for industrial use and two million tons as a reserve for the State Logistics Agency (Bulog).

"We are still short of 1.5 million tons to fulfill all the requirements, as the harvest at the end of the year is estimated to reach 500,000 tons," Soleh said.

With an estimated two million tons of rice required per month, the current rice stocks in Bulog of between 2.5 to three million tons, combined with those in the market of between five to 7.5 million tons, would satisfy the needs for the next five to six months, he added. (02)