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Indonesia likely to import rice this year despite surplus

Publication Date : 24-07-2012


Indonesia remains likely to import rice this year despite the state rice procurement agency stating that the country is expected to have a 5.5-million-ton surplus of the staple by the end of the year, a top official has said.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Rusman Heriawan said yesterday that the government could still import rice this year in order to maintain the rice buffer stocks, even though Indonesia's rice production was forecast to rise 4.3 per cent this year due to good weather.

"President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has expected a rice surplus of 10 million tonnes at a minimum in order to ensure that we still have a decent buffer stock to last approximately three-and-half months, or one harvest season, should we face an emergency situation," he told The Jakarta Post over the phone.

Earlier, Indonesia's rice procurement agency Bulog has estimated the country's rice production to reach a total of 38 million tonnes of rice in 2012, up by 4.3 per cent from last year's output.

With an assumption that total rice consumption this year will reach approximately 32.5 million tonnes, the government is expecting to have a 5.5-million-ton surplus at the end of the year.

The deputy minister said, however, the surplus was still "unsettling" for a country with a total of 240 million people, where rice consumption is estimated at approximately 2.7 million tonnes a month.

"Therefore, if the government has decided to import rice, it is because we have to strengthen our rice buffer stocks," said Heriawan, adding the government was likely to import rice from fellow Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

The executive was responding to a statement made by Ma'mur Hasanuddin, a Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) lawmaker on the House of Representatives' Commission IV overseeing agriculture, plantation and forestry.

The legislator has criticised Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa, who said on July 19 the government could still import a total of 1 million tonnes of rice should Bulog, which usually maintains rice stocks of 1.5 million to 2 million tonnes, fail to meet the country's buffer stocks.

"Instead of planning to import rice, the government should empower local rice producers to ensure our self-sufficiency," he said in a statement made available over the weekend.

Contacted separately, Bulog chief Sutarto Alimoeso said that despite the agency's optimism over the country's rice production this year, the government could still issue a rice import policy in order to guarantee sufficiency of the country’s rice stocks in the first quarter of 2013.

He told the Post yesterday that rice production during the January-March period is usually less than other months amid the unpredictable weather, adding that climate phenomena, such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation, may cause longer periods of extreme weather. "The government cannot take any risk in terms of ensuring our country's buffer stocks," he said over the phone.

Meanwhile, agricultural expert Khudori said separately he was concerned over the statement from top officials, adding that until now, there was no indication the country's rice production would hit a shortage. "Rajasa's statement has indicated the government will issue a rice import by the end of this year. In the past three years, the government usually issues the import licenses around October or November. Just wait and see, I am sure that they will do it again this year," he said.

Indonesia is the world's third-largest rice consumer, with an annual intake of 139 kilograms per capita. Despite being self-sufficient in 2008 and 2009, the country started to import rice in 2010 after stockpiles fell and harvests failed. In 2011, Indonesia imported 1.9 million tonnes of rice from Thailand, Vietnam and India, to ensure it had plentiful stocks and to avoid stoking food inflation.


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