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Food estates central to Indonesia’s security plans

Tom Abke

Food security is an issue of national security for Indonesia, particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and its related supply chain disruptions, reported Indonesia’s Ministry of Defence, known as Kemhan.

The ministry is spearheading collaborative efforts to develop food estates — or large farms — throughout the country, beginning in the province of Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Deputy Minister of Defence Sakti Wahyu Trenggono led a delegation of senior personnel from various government ministries and agencies to the province July 1, 2020, to inspect the land designated for the first food estates, according to a Kemhan news release.

The ministry is working on the initiative with other ministries, including Public Works and Housing, Agriculture, Forestry and Environment, and State-Owned Enterprises.

Traveling by Air Force helicopter, the delegation visited two food estates in Central Kalimantan. At the first stop in the Pulang Pisau Regency, pictured, they inspected rice fields that were almost ready for harvest. In the East Barito district, they toured areas being developed for growing corn and cassava, a nutritious root vegetable. Rice, corn and cassava are central to Indonesia’s food security, the Defence Ministry reported.

The inspection followed a June 23, 2020, meeting chaired by Wahyu that discussed joint ministry action to manage land in Central Kalimantan, known for its abundance of inedible peat moss.

“Learning from the history of war, if we have weapons without the power of food reserves, it will be chaotic,” Wahyu said, according to the news release. “We must have food reserves and have permanent land for food crops to be developed.”

Kemhan emphasized the economic damage and food security problems caused by COVID-19 in Indonesia, noting that supply chain disruptions have strained imports.

Jakarta briefly considered banning all food and beverage imports from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in February 2020 over fears of disease transmission, but officials limited the ban to livestock imports, Reuters reported. Overall, nonfuel imports from the PRC to Indonesia dropped nearly 50% in the first three months of 2020 and remain low by comparison with 2019, according to Jakarta-based MUC Consulting.

Wahyu said the food initiative began at the direction of President Joko Widodo, who wants to develop the Kalimantan region and bolster the country’s food security — Indonesia’s hunger level was ranked as “serious” by the 2019 Global Hunger Index.

Students and community members will work on the project, which will be coordinated by Central Kalimantan’s provincial government.

The region will also be home in the coming years to Indonesia’s new capital city, which is planned for East Kalimantan province, about 200 kilometers from the proposed food estates.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.

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