INDONESIA- President Joko Widodo has mobilized the military to support farmers in planting rice during a severe drought that has greatly affected rice production in Indonesia.

The drought, attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon, has led to a decline in rice production, raising concerns about escalating prices, heightened imports, and potential threats to food security in Southeast Asia’s most populous nation.

President Jokowi, commonly known as Widodo, urged military supervisory officers, known as Babinsa, to assist farmers in capitalizing on recent rainfall and begin planting rice. During a visit to the Pekalongan regency in central Java, he emphasized the urgency of planting to compensate for the delays caused by El Niño.

It has been delayed due to El Niño, but we are eager to immediately plant, plant, plant,” President Jokowi stated during the visit, standing beside newly planted rice fields.

Global rice supplies have tightened this year due to El Niño, which has led to hotter and drier weather in Southeast Asia. Major rice-producing and consuming countries experienced a decrease in output, which led to a surge in prices.

In Asia’s major export centers, rice prices have surged by up to 45%, hitting their highest levels in 15 years following India’s imposition of export restrictions.

The drought has led to delays in rice planting for Indonesia’s 2024 harvest, following a decrease in output this year from 31.53 million tons to 30.9 million metric tons. To address this issue, military personnel, especially Babinsa officers, are being deployed to help farmers with rice planting.

Sugiono, a Babinsa officer, mentioned that he underwent a month-long training program on rice planting to provide valuable assistance to farmers.

Earlier this month, Indonesia’s agriculture minister and the armed forces chief signed a cooperation agreement outlining the involvement of military personnel in farming activities and the utilization of idle military land for planting. The farm ministry will provide seedlings and machinery for the initiative.

Some farmers have land but are short of manpower as the farmers are getting older while the younger generations prefer to work in factories, so the armed forces can help with tools and personnel,” explained military spokesperson Julius Widjojono.

Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman emphasized the significant historical success of engaging the armed forces in agricultural initiatives, which has contributed to Indonesia’s food self-sufficiency. The renewed cooperation aims to decrease the country’s dependence on rice imports.

Indonesia, a major rice importer, has already committed to importing 3.5 million tons of rice this year through the state procurement company Bulog.

To address the shortage, Bulog recently initiated the purchase of up to 534,000 tons of rice through an international tender, with the shipment expected to arrive by the end of January.

Despite a 53.61% decline in the rice-planted area between September and November compared to the previous year, Indonesia remains optimistic about achieving a rice output of 32 million tons in 2024. The main harvest in March and April is projected to contribute 10.07 million tons, representing a 14% increase from the current year.

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