Efforts by Indonesia to avoid food shortages by increasing its rice production have received an important boost with the signing of a new agreement to help the nation's millions of poor rice farmers with new technologies.
Senior officials and scientists of the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD), and other agencies of the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture, signed the three-year agreement with the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on March 23 in Jakarta.
The world's largest Muslim nation, Indonesia has been struggling for several years to increase its rice production. Shortages could trigger price rises, possibly sparking protests and unrest.
"It will be very challenging to lift Indonesian rice production to the levels requested by the government," IRRI's deputy director general for research, Ren Wang, said in Jakarta. The Indonesian government has indicated it wants to see an additional 2 million tons of rice produced in 2007 and 5 percent growth in national rice production each year after that.
"With world rice production growing at less than 2 percent annually, it's increasingly difficult for countries such as Indonesia to boost production beyond 2 to 3 percent," Dr. Wang explained.
But with international rice prices at a ten-year high – after doubling in the past two years – and world rice reserves slumping to a 30-year low, there is enormous pressure on rice-importing countries such as Indonesia to try to achieve self-sufficiency. Dr. Wang said that such gains had been achieved before, noting that Indonesia achieved self-sufficiency in rice in 1984.
Between 1955 and 1965, Indonesia had the lowest rate of growth in rice yields (0.2 percent per year) and rice production (1.2 percent) of any major rice producer in Asia. However, between 1965 and 1985, it had the highest rates of growth (4.1 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively), with a dramatic spurt of 7.2 percent annual growth of output between 1977 and 1984.
Rice production in Indonesia grew by nearly two and a half times between 1968 and 1989, from less than 12 to over 29 million metric tons. Most of this expansion occurred during the second of these two decades, when average rice yields increased from 2.8 to 4.2 tons per hectare.
The area planted to rice expanded by only about 1 million hectares during each decade, so most of the output gain was attributed to intensive increases in productivity rather than to extensive expansion of rice land. "These gains show very clearly what can be achieved with the right rice policies in place to encourage the growth of rice output," Dr. Wang said.
"Because of the importance of Indonesia as the world's fifth largest nation and its vital strategic role in Asia, it's crucial that its rice sector continue to develop and move ahead," he emphasized. "We all need to work together to channel the latest technologies to Indonesian rice farmers to help them reach the goals set by the government – if we fail, the price could be very high indeed."
The new agreement between Indonesia and IRRI focuses on three key areas: support for the Indonesian government's Rice Production Increase Program, collaborative research, and human resource development.
Support efforts will include the development of improved rice varieties with high yield potential, grain quality, and resistance to pests; the development of a national strategy and framework for hybrid rice; and the development of improved rice varieties that can tolerate submergence, drought, and low-temperature damage in high-elevation areas.
Collaborative research will include the strengthening of research capacity for the development and safe use of transgenic rice in Indonesia, improving grain quality and the nutritional value of rice using functional genomics and molecular breeding, and special emphasis on drought, disease resistance, and poor soils.
Capacity building will focus on postgraduate degree training, on-the-job or intern training, scientist exchange, short courses, and in-country training.
Duncan Macintosh | EurekAlert!
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