No matter how bad the image of the New Order’s regime is in today’s Indonesian society, there is at least one good lesson from the Soeharto government.
With a primary focus on the development of the agricultural sector, the New Order regime brought Indonesia to self-sufficiency in rice in 1984. The achievement by the state was recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), through the award that was received by Soeharto in July 1986.
Under Soeharto’s leadership, from 1970 until 1996, Indonesian agricultural productivity growth reached an average of 2.4 percent per year. But starting in 1996, Indonesian agricultural productivity grew an average of just under 1 percent.
It is ironic that the grand achievement could not be sustained by the leaders who followed Soeharto. This is especially true of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the current president, who earned a Doctorate of Science in Agricultural Economics from the Bogor Agriculture University (IPB) in 2004.
If we talk about food self-sufficiency, we also should discuss the growth rate of food production. As the below table of five major food commodities shows, it is clear that Indonesian national food production has remained stagnant because the increase is not proportional to the rate of population growth, which is approximately 1.5 percent per year.
But instead of increasing the rate of food self-sufficiency, the SBY government imposed a liberalized import policy. The country is not only importing the five strategic commodities such as the food listed in the table above, but Indonesia’s imports of milk, vegetables and fruits have been incredibly high.
Vice Chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Trade, Distribution and Logistics, Natsir Mansyur, said that 65 percent of food commodities consumed in Indonesia are met by imports.
Indonesia still depends entirely on imported wheat even though wheat planting trials conducted by a team of Andalas University in West Sumatra in collaboration with the Slovak government since 2011 have proven that Indonesia in fact has the potential to be a producer of wheat.
Actually, the import policy by the government is not entirely wrong. Moreover, essentially it is meant to save the national economy, by controlling food prices so that the people’s purchasing power remains high and also to minimize the inflation. However, rising food prices are still the largest contributor to inflation in Indonesia.
Perhaps our government may assume, the liberal import policy will remove the food shortage, thereby making food prices stable and check inflation at low levels. Well, if that’s what the government has in mind, then it’s time for them to immediately change the national food policy.
But as the cases of garlic and soybean shortages have often shown, the import policy has not always stabilized prices. It instead created food cartels that exploit the weaknesses and the mismanagement of our government. Just look at the beef import corruption case that ensnared former president of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq.
Thanks to this case, in the month of February 2013 the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) found a mafia cartel practicing in Indonesia that made beef prices soar in the market. Vice Chairman of Commission IV-DPR, Firman Subagyo, said the country suffered losses up to Rp 400 billion (US$36,36 million) due to the scarcity of soybeans that happened in 2012. So what’s the point of the government continuing to implement its liberal import policy?
The government also can not close its eyes to the fact that huge food imports also contributed to the rising current account deficit, one of the main reasons behind the weakening rupiah.
Once again, there’s nothing wrong with importing food. But it is pathetic if we fulfill the bulk of our national supply from food production from other countries when we are actually capable of producing them ourselves. Liberal import policy cannot be used as a quick solution to the national food issue because it increases our dependence as a nation. It also threatens our agricultural productivity.
That’s why the Ministry of Agriculture should immediately address the obstacles that have become barriers to the success of food self-sufficiency. Minister of Agriculture Suswono must admit that there are some problems such as slow distribution of seeds, farmer’s difficulty to get subsidized fertilizer, and the lack of inter-ministerial coordination for farm support.
Well, if the ministry cannot resolve these problems, then how can we expect to curb the annual conversion of 100,000 acres of farmland into other usage? How will the ministry be able to find the latest innovations and technologies to increase our agricultural production? And the ultimate question how we will be able to significantly reduce our dependence on imported food commodities.