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Indonesia prepares 500,000 hectares for rice production in response to El Nino

The Indonesian government is taking proactive steps to combat the anticipated long drought caused by the El Nino climate phenomenon by preparing 500,000 hectares of agricultural land for rice production.

The announcement, made by Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo on Wednesday, followed a statement from the Presidential Secretariat’s Press, Media and Information Bureau (BPMI). A number of regions, including North and South Sumatra, three areas in Java, South Sulawesi, South Kalimantan, NTB, Banten and Lampung, have shown their readiness to contribute to this vital initiative.

The minister expressed confidence that by utilizing the targeted 500,000 hectares, the country would be able to manage the impact of El Nino. “I am sure that if we can succeed with the 500,000 hectares, we can control the impact of El Nino well,” he stated. Local government collaboration has been cited as a crucial step in preparing for El Nino.

President Joko Widodo, echoing the minister’s concern, instructed his staff on the same day to guarantee the availability of rice. This follows a high-level meeting about rice availability and its affordability in the country.

Indonesia is no stranger to ambitious agricultural projects. An ongoing food estate project commenced in 2020, intending to cover 770,000 hectares, an area over ten times the size of Singapore, is aimed at reducing dependence on food imports. This reflects the Mega Rice Project of the mid-1990s, which attempted to convert one million hectares into paddy fields but faltered due to inappropriate peatland.

Mr Syahrul has reportedly mapped the worst effects of El Nino on Indonesia’s rice stock for August and September. He anticipates a deficit in rice production of 300,000 to 1,200,000 tonnes. Yet, with the additional 500,000 hectares, he remains optimistic about managing the effects on national food stocks.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, the price and stock of rice are stable, and the government is expected to have 2.7 million tonnes of rice stock until September 2023.

Rice is viewed as a key food reserve due to its 100% participation rate across the country. “From Sabang (Aceh) to Serui (Papua), [everyone] depends on rice,” explained Mr Khudori, a food observer from the Indonesian Political Economy Association (AEPI).

The boosted production in the newly prepared land is projected to yield around 3 million tonnes of dry grain products, equivalent to roughly 1.5 million tonnes of rice. In preparation for potential food shortages, Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan has revealed that over 8 trillion rupiah (US$526.8 million) has been allocated to control prices.

Other countries in Southeast Asia are also grappling with El Nino. In Malaysia, farmers are implementing strategies to mitigate heat-related damage. The region is bracing for a higher risk of transboundary haze, and in the Philippines, water conservation measures are being implemented.

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