Interview: Franciscus Welirang

How can Indonesia make further progress in meeting its food security goals?

FRANCISCUS WELIRANG: Indonesia’s ultimate ambition is to become the breadbasket of Asia. However, it has unfortunately not made sufficient progress in the short term in meeting its own national food security targets. Put simply, the basic system is not there yet as outlined in the government’s Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development. To successfully jumpstart the sector, Indonesia must focus on overhauling its infrastructure and implementing policies on food security in line with investors’ expectations. It is vital to find the appropriate balance between the interests of investors, farmers and smallholders.

Most of Indonesia’s farmers live in Java, which also contains 60% of the country’s population. Therefore, it is particularly important for the island to improve its handling of post-harvesting and storage, and to concentrate on higher value-added products. At the same time, there needs to be an expansion into other regions such as Sulawesi, which is more suited to the mass production of rice and poultry.

What kind of contribution can the private sector make towards Indonesia’s food security goals?

WELIRANG: In today’s world it is no longer feasible to rely on the government or smallholders alone to boost food security. As a result, increased participation by private actors in the agricultural sector is absolutely vital. Indonesia must work to facilitate and incentivise private equity investment by creating a more congenial legislative framework.

For example, a major challenge currently faced by private investors is the lack of clarity regarding landownership. Due to the Indonesian government’s policy of decentralising its authority to regional and local tiers, around 650 mayors now exert direct influence over land procurement and development across the country. Therefore, negotiations must take place between all concerned parties before these new investments can go ahead smoothly.

What are the aims of the Partnership for Indonesia’s Sustainable Agriculture (PISA gro) with regard to the operations of small farmers?

WELIRANG: The PISA gro initiative works with existing small farms to bring them up to the highest quality standards. Its main priorities are to encourage farmers to increase their productivity and improve the overall quality of their production. Currently, up to 40% of palm plantations in Indonesia are in the hands of smallholders, but their output is only one-third of what large corporations are able to produce.

Indonesia’s priority must be to increase the productivity of small farmers. For this reason, emphasis should be placed on the education and training of small farmers, especially when it comes to innovative and sustainable farming methods. This issue has been overlooked for too long in Indonesia and requires urgent attention from all stakeholders.

To what extent has the lucrative palm oil business crowded out investment in more staple foods that are integral to food security?

WELIRANG: Edible oils are considered a vital component of our effort to achieve food security. Moreover, Indonesia has the right environment in which to grow these crops. While it is of course true that Indonesia makes a sizeable contribution to global food security through the palm oil business, it is also active in producing other crops, namely rice and corn. Therefore, the government needs to come up with the right financial scheme, incentivising farmers to function as private entrepreneurs and finance seasonal crops. Having said that, the international community has accepted that food security must be available to all. This is not an issue that can be confined to any single country or region alone, but must be dealt with by humankind as a whole.