Fri, 05 Mar 1999

Rice import plan will be shelved, Bulog promises

JAKARTA (JP): The State Logistics Agency (Bulog) said on Thursday it would reschedule deliveries of rice to be imported this year to ease pressures on the price of locally produced rice.

Industry and Trade Minister Rahardi Ramelan, who is also Bulog's chairman, said the agency would adjust the scheduling and destinations of the import deliveries to protect the local market.

"In certain areas, rice delivery would be delayed until the closing of the harvesting season in April, and we would also unload some of the rice at areas that do not harvest this year," Rahardi told reporters after addressing a seminar here on the recently enacted antimonopoly law.

The rescheduling of the planned rice imports was needed to protect rice farmers from a drastic fall in the price of rice in the local market, he said.

He reiterated that Bulog would continue to import rice to honor the import contracts secured last year, despite pressures from agriculturists and industry observers to halt the imports.

Critics called for a stop of the imports because the imported rice had dragged down the rice price in the domestic market.

Rahardi argued, however, that the imports would not affect the local market because some of the imported rice was kept as Bulog's stocks.

"Bulog imports rice as a buffer stock. It doesn't immediately distribute the rice except when it has to stabilize the market," he said.

Bulog has a total import commitment of 4.6 million tons of rice for the 1998/199 fiscal year ending in March, of which 3.9 million tons have been delivered.

The government has forecast an increase in domestic rice production to 32.86 million tons of milled rice this year from 29 million tons last year.

It expected to import about 2 million metric tons of rice this year.

The Indonesian Farmers Association, led by the former minister of transmigration and resettlement of forest squatters, Siswono Yudohusodo, has said that Indonesia did not need to import rice because the average annual yield of about 32 million tons of milled rice was sufficient to supply the 26.5 million tons demand.

Siswono said the problems in the rice supply are mainly in management of distribution.

"The agriculture minister even sees that we have plenty of supply, but Bulog still has problems with distribution management," he was quoted as saying by the Kompas daily.

By importing the rice, the government would not boost farmers' productivity, and would slow efforts to diversify the food staple, forcing the nation to remain dependent on imports, he said.

During former president Soeharto's 32-year rule, the government's policy on rice was centered on providing the staple at a low price through Bulog's imports and domestic rice procurement.(das)