Mon, 26 May 2003

Lampung farmers need protection

Oyos Saroso H.N., The Jakarta Post, Bandarlampung, Lampung

With no protection from the government, farmers in Lampung are having a difficult time surviving a time of economic hardship.

Over the last few years, thousands of farmers have cut down their coffee plants to grow rice because of falling coffee prices both at home and abroad.

The farmers now have to deal with the falling price of unhusked rice during the current harvest.

The local office of the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) has set the price of unhusked rice at Rp 1,200 (14 US cents) per kilogram, but in reality the price has dropped to between Rp 700 and Rp 900 per kilogram.

Both Bulog's local office and the local agricultural office have declined to take responsibility for the falling prices, instead blaming the farmers for failing to hold their harvested rice to avoid flooding the market.

Tugiran, 45, a resident of Gunungsugih village in Central Lampung, said he was losing money on his paddy, which he cut down his coffee plants to grow.

"I invested Rp 2.5 million per hectare but I'm only making Rp 3 million per hectare. We are suffering losses because a profit of Rp 500,000 per hectare is not worth the energy and the three months my family and I spent growing the paddy," he said.

He said he sold his unhusked rice at between Rp 700 and Rp 800 per kilogram.

Sunarto, a resident of Seputihrman village in Central Lampung, criticized the local administration for not protecting farmers in the regency.

Production costs have risen to Rp 2.5 million per hectare from Rp 1.5 million because of the rising cost of anti-pest chemicals and fertilizers.

Farmers in East Lampung and Tulang Bawang are having a more difficult time than those in other regencies, because many paddy fields in the regencies were damaged by flooding in January and February and the farmers took out bank loans to purchase chemicals and fertilizers for their fields.

"Many farmers failed to harvest their crops which were damaged by floods during the rainy season," said Romlani, a resident of Tumijajar village in Tulang Bawanng regency.

Ramli, a farmer in Trimurjo village in Central Lampung, said all of the farmers in the regency were upset because they did not see any concrete action on the part of the local authorities to control the falling price of rice.

According to investigations by The Jakarta Post, the fall in the price of unhusked rice has to do with both overproduction and middlemen who have formed a syndicate to monopolize the price of the commodity.

Part of Bulog's responsibility is to protect prices and monitor middlemen it has appointed to purchase rice directly from farmers.

However, the chief of the Food Resiliency Agency's local office, Joko Umarsaid, called on farmers to hold back some of their harvests to avoid flooding the market, which would force prices down even further.

"Farmers should hold back between 20 percent and 50 percent of their harvest to avoid any further falls in the price of paddy during the next harvest season," he said, adding that the local administration had disbursed Rp 5.7 billion to village cooperatives to help stabilize rice prices.

The chief of the local Bulog office, Saldi Supardji, said Bulog had purchased 76,000 tons of unhusked rice from farmers, and its ultimate target was to purchase 125,000 tons, or 5 percent, of the province's total rice production.

He added that he had appointed a team to look into the falling prices.

Asrian Hendicaya, an economist at Lampung University, called on Bulog to play a larger role in stabilizing rice prices in the local market.

"Bulog should be able to play a double role as a supplier during the harvest season and as a distributor during the off season, in an effort to maintain the balance between demand and supply during all seasons," he said.