Most Indonesians may be employed in the agricultural sector, but dwindling investment in the field and lack of government attention has led to a food crisis and widespread malnutrition, experts said on Tuesday.
Katinka M. Weinberger, director of the UN Center for Alleviation of Poverty through Sustainable Agriculture, said the problem was investment funding was moving out of agriculture.
Yet with only a bit more funding, more could be done to educate farmers about the latest developments in agricultural technology, she said.
“There are a lot of new technologies in agriculture, but the problem is how to communicate this to the people who need them,” she said.
Around 70 percent of Indonesians are employed in or dependent on the agricultural sector. The vast majority are smallholders with an average of 0.3 hectares of land.
Hasil Sembiring, director of the Indonesian Center for Food Crops Research and Development, said the small plot sizes prevented farmers from cultivating crops other than rice, in turn leading to poor nutrition habits.
“With land this small, what else are they going to farm?” he said. In Vietnam and Thailand, smallholding average four hectares.
“Besides the limited land size, we also need to address infrastructure problems, such as the fact that 52 percent of irrigation channels in Indonesia are not working,” he said.
Hasil said the average Indonesian’s consumption of 139 kilograms of rice a year needed to be reduced. Weinberger blamed this heavy dependence on rice for the prevalence of poor nutrition throughout the country.
Making it worse, she went on, was the widespread poverty that prevented many families from buying other staple foods or eating a more balanced diet.
She predicted that Indonesia would have to double its current agricultural output by 2025 to meet the nutritional needs of the fast-growing population.
“But it’s not just a question of higher yield,” she said. “Indonesia must also produce better-quality food crop.”
Hasil warned that the country’s economic performance could be undermined if the core problems in the agricultural sector were not seriously addressed.
“Let’s be realistic: We often call ourselves a rich country, but when it comes to agriculture we are truly poor,” he said.
He urged the government to instate land reforms to allow more farmland to be dedicated to growing food crops.
“If we don’t do this immediately, Indonesian farmers will continue to be the poorest in Asia,” he said.