President Joko Widodo has appointed Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto to lead the implementation of the country food estate program - Photo by Cabinet Secretary Office.

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – President Joko Widodo has appointed defense minister, Prabowo Subianto, lead the food estate program in Central Kalimantan, as the world stands on the brink of a food crisis worse than any seen for at least 50 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recent report.

The head of states ordered the former contender during the president election in 2019 to oversee the projects on 148,000 hectares of land. It hope the food estate could produce up to 740,000 tons of rice in one time harvest or 1.48 million tons of rice per year.

Widodo and Subianto, the rival of Indonesian presidential races of both 2014 and 2019, takes food security and farmers’ welfare as their main vision on the economy sector during the campaign. Know when the president picks Subianto to lead the sector, both look to try to fulfill their promises.

The national defense not only on military equipment but also defense in the food sector, Widodo told reporters at the Presidential Palace on Monday (07/13). The comment comes after the President has announced Subianto as the leader in the sector days before.

“Because this is about our strategic food reserves, the leading sector will be under the authority of Defense Minister with support from Agriculture Minister and Public Works and Public Housing Minister. Of course, we also expect support from governors and regents of the regions,” Widodo said via a teleconference in Central Kalimantan on July 9.

Days ago, the president along with Subianto inspected the location of the food estate project in Kapuas Regency in Central Kalimantan. The government planned to develop 20,704-hectare new farmlands in the regency. The 5,840 hectares of which were already functioned as farmlands.

In total, there would be around 165,000 hectares of potential farmlands in Central Kalimantan to be turned into the national food estate. To date, some 85,500 hectares have been functioned as productive farmlands.

“We must manage it thoroughly. If the country faces a food shortage, it will be supplied from here. It can be rice, cassava, corn, or chili. All will be managed, and if we have excessive supply, we will export it to other countries,” the state head added.

Even before the emergence of COVID-19, Indonesia’ food security has long been a source of concern due to the country’s reliance on staple food imports to meet domestic demand for commodities such as sugar, rice, corn, and beef.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the wide-ranging health and economic impacts of COVID-19 have put pressure on the already fragile system and thrust the issue of food security back into Indonesia’ political discourse.

The COVID-19 crisis has aggravated Indonesia’ food security issues. In late April, a month after the country’s first outbreak, Widodo reported that key commodities, such as garlic, sugar, chili, and chicken eggs, were in short supply in more than 20 provinces, while rice, a staple food for Indonesians, was lacking in seven provinces.

In an effort to emphasize the seriousness of these deficits, Widodo cited observations made by the FAO, which claimed that the global disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could cause food shortages around the world. Making matters worse, the dry season looms on the horizon and may impact the overall output of the agricultural sector, which employs more than a quarter of the nation’s workforce.

His identification and call to action on the issues of supply, distribution, and price indicates that the threat of a looming food shortage in Indonesia is very real. Even the issue has been his second term main economic program with vice president Ma’ruf Amin.

The Indonesia office of the World Food Program has estimated that the country experienced a decline in rice production of 13.2 percent year-on-year to 16.1 million tons in the first half of 2020. Statistics Indonesia data shows that the country’ rice production had already fallen by 7.75 percent to 31.31 million tons in 2019, compared to 2018. In the same year, the land area used to cultivate rice fell by 6.15 percent year-on-year to 10.68 million hectares.

To ensure food availability in the country, the Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin previously revealed a plan to develop 164,598 ha of farmland, including scrubland, in Pulau Pisang Regency, Central Kalimantan. About half of the land already serves as farmland.

The development is expected to be completed in 2022 and is expected to raise rice and corn production, with an expected yield of 2 tons of rice per hectare. The ministry has also brought the rice-planting season forward this year, to May and June, so that the harvest season will be in August and September. It estimates a harvest of 12.5 million to 15 million tons of rice by December.

In Indonesia, the domestic food supply has long been supplemented by imports despite longstanding calls for self-sufficiency. It has been the main issue declared by the opposition pair Subianto-Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno during the presidential campaign race last year.

This reliance on the import of key staples is largely attributed to the country’s poor domestic production which has failed to keep up with the country’s increasing population, according to opposition pair.

Annual production in Indonesia has been in decline since 2016, with a drop of 7.75 percent in 2018-2019 alone. In 2019, Indonesia’ domestic rice production reached 31.31 million tons, which only just outstripped demand of 29.6 million tons, requiring surplus stocks to be imported from Vietnam, India, and Myanmar.

While food imports have long provided Indonesia with a security net to help meet and buffer domestic demand, the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted access to this important lifeline through disruptions to international supply chains and distribution networks. Moreover, several of Indonesia’s import supply markets, such as Vietnam and India, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic placed restrictions on exports or hesitated to sign export contracts due to global distribution disruptions.

Written by Lexy Nantu, Email: lexynantu@theinsiderstories.com