Interview: Franky Oesman Widjaja

How can balance be maintained between agricultural productivity and sustainable farming?

FRANKY OESMAN WIDJAJA: Sustainability isn’t just about caring for the land; it is also about conducting business without compromising the future generation’s ability to meet its own needs. It is, therefore, a balancing act between the needs of the environment, the economy and the people. While palm oil failed to achieve a place on APEC’s list of environmentally friendly goods, it remains an important product for many countries, with the industry directly employing some 4.5m people in Indonesia.

Regarding sustainability, palm oil producers must ensure that no development occurs on high carbon stock forests, high conservation value areas and peat lands. In addition, free, prior and informed consent from indigenous and local communities must be received and producers must comply with all relevant laws and internationally accepted certification criteria.

The Partnership for Indonesia Sustainable Agriculture (PISA gro) initiative was launched at the Asian World Economic Forum in June 2011. This initiative began with 14 global and local companies, working with the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Trade, to improve sustainable production of key commodities for the enhancement of food security and the livelihoods of smallholders. After one year from the establishment of PISA gro, activities are under way in eight strategic agriculture commodities including cocoa, coffee, corn, dairy, palm oil, potatoes, rice and soybean.

How can the environmental impact of agriculture be reduced without stifling sector growth?

WIDJAJA: A multi-stakeholder engagement process is undoubtedly the strongest platform from which to find such solutions. In terms of minimising post-harvest and value-chain waste, the following policies can be implemented with considerable effect: zero waste strategy, soil fertility management and integrated pest management. The zero waste strategy is to reuse, recover and recycle so that production waste can be used as organic fertilisers and as a source of energy. Alongside this, regular control of soil fertility must be implemented in order to ensure that nutrient management practices maintain or improve soil fertility. Integrated pest management is a way to minimise the use of pesticides and mitigate the possible impact of pest control on the environment by deploying biological and natural controls wherever possible.

Finally, water management must also be utilised to minimise any risk of water pollution, either surface or ground. It is vital that the government actively help small and medium-sized businesses implement the above strategies through training and development schemes if it is serious about improving Indonesia’s yields across all agricultural enterprises in a way which does not further burden the natural environment.

What are the most effective tools to boost yields in key staples such as rice?

WIDJAJA: Research and development is an area where Indonesia must seek to be on the cutting edge by conducting joint research programmes with reputable research institutions. There must be a drive from all parties, particularly the government and large companies, to improve best practices across the sector, from palm oil breeding to increasing yields of staples, such as rice.

Indonesia is the world’s largest rice consumer, so boosting production should be a priority.

However, it is important to remember that we are also importing between 60% and 70% of all food, and this is simply not sustainable. Increasing productivity will enable producers to output more from less land, reducing the environmental impact of the agricultural industry. Higher yields will also help improve the livelihoods of smallholders and reduce the pressure for new land to be opened. Furthermore, logistics costs must be mitigated through the construction of key transport infrastructure. It is still cheaper to buy oranges grown in China than those from Kalimantan due to the extortionate transport costs. We must seek to change this.