Food Crops

Indonesia Table of Contents


Rice was the staple food in the Indonesian diet, accounting for more than half of the calories in the average diet, and the source of livelihood for about 20 million households, or about 100 million people, in the late 1980s. Rice cultivation covered a total of around 10 million hectares throughout the archipelago, primarily on sawah. The supply and control of water is crucial to the productivity of rice land, especially when planted with high-yield seed varieties. In 1987 irrigated sawah covered 58 percent of the total cultivated area, rainfed sawah accounted for 20 percent, and ladang, or dryland cultivation, together with swamp or tidal cultivation covered the remaining 22 percent of rice cropland.

The government was intensely involved in the rice economy, both to stabilize prices for urban consumers and to expand domestic output to achieve national self-sufficiency in rice production. Various governmental policies included the dissemination of highyield seed varieties through government-sponsored extension programs, direct investment in irrigation facilities, and control of the domestic price of rice through the National Logistical Supply Organization (Bulog), the government rice-trading monopoly. In the 1970s, Indonesia was a major rice importer, but by 1985 self-sufficiency had been achieved after six years of annual growth rates in excess of 7 percent per year. From 1968 to 1989, annual rice production had increased from 12 million to 29 million tons, and yields had increased from 2.14 tons of padi (wet rice growing) per hectare to 4.23 tons per hectare.

The most significant factor in this impressive increase in output and productivity was the spread of high-yield rice varieties. By the mid-1980s, 85 percent of rice farmers used highyield variety seeds, compared with 50 percent in 1975. High-yield varieties were promoted together with subsidized fertilizer, pesticides, and credit through the "mass guidance" or Bimas rice intensification program. This extension program also offered technical assistance to farmers unfamiliar with the new cultivation techniques. The new technology was not without its own problems, however. Several major infestations of the brown planthopper, whose natural predators were eliminated by the heavy use of subsidized pesticides, led to a new strategy in 1988 to apply the techniques of integrated pest management, relying on a variety of methods aside from pesticide to control insects and rodents. To help reduce pesticide use, in 1989 the subsidy on pesticides was eliminated.

Government investments in irrigation had also made a significant contribution to increased rice production. From FY 1969 to FY 1989, 2.5 million hectares of existing irrigated land were rehabilitated, and irrigation was expanded to cover about 1.2 million hectares.

Because the government objective of price stability for urban consumers could potentially undermine efforts to increase production by reducing the profitability of the rice crop, Bulog's operations evolved to take into consideration producer incentives as well as consumer costs. Domestic rice prices were permitted to rise gradually during the 1970s, although they were generally held below world rice prices. However, domestic prices were kept above world prices in several periods during the 1980s. Bulog influenced the domestic rice price by operating a buffer stock on the order of 2 million tons during the 1980s. When domestic prices fell, Bulog purchased rice through village cooperatives, and when prices rose above the price ceiling, Bulog released buffer supplies. The margin between the producer floor price and urban ceiling price was sufficient to permit private traders to operate profitably, and Bulog's distribution of rice was limited to under 15 percent of total rice consumed domestically in a given year.

Corn and other Food Crops

Although rice was by far the most important food crop, corn was the major source of calories for about 18 million people, especially in Jawa Timur and Jawa Tengah provinces. About 75 percent of corn production was consumed as a staple food source. Corn cultivation was concentrated on Java and Madura under a variety of conditions, but most frequently on tegalan, or rain-fed land without the system of dikes characteristic of floodable sawah. Other food crops included cassava, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and soybeans.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress