Presidential candidates divided on Jokowi’s food estate policy

Only Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has stated in his campaign document that he will continue the program, for which Prabowo has responsibility within President Jokowi’s administration.

Aditya Hadi

Aditya Hadi

The Jakarta Post


Farmers use tractors to plow rice fields in Belanti village in the Central Kalimantan regency of Pujang Pisau, which the government has designed as a food estate, on Sept. 4. PHOTO: ANTARA/ THE JAKARTA POST

November 15, 2023

JAKARTA – Two of the three presidential candidates have distanced themselves from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s food estate program, saying the controversial agriculture project may not be the right solution to address the country’s pressing food security issues.

Former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranono stated his intention to discontinue the project on Nov. 2, describing the program as unnecessary. Meanwhile, former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan’s running mate Muhaimin Iskandar called the program a failure in September.

Only Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has stated in his campaign document that he will continue the program, for which Prabowo has responsibility within President Jokowi’s administration.

The program involves developing centralized, large-scale agriculture production with a focus on important commodities such as rice, corn, cassava, soybean and sugar cane.

Ganjar’s campaign document states he will seek to increase production on a regional basis by encouraging each region to focus on commodities that are more appropriate to the respective local geographic conditions.

According to Guswandi, who represents Ganjar’s campaign team, this policy could help eradicate poverty in the regions, as it would involve participation by local farmers. It would also cause fewer emissions, as it would reduce interprovincial transportation.

“The policy is inspired by Ganjar’s experience [as governor] of Central Java, it will be upscaled to the national level. However, it is not a ‘copy-and-paste’ policy as conditions in Central Java are different from other regions,” Guswandi told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Guswandi added that Indonesia should not limit its main food to rice, pointing that there are many carbohydrate-rich alternative products, such as sago, sorghum, corn, cassava and sweet potatoes. Some regions could also expand their fisheries, plantation, forestry and animal husbandry production, he said.

“Simply put, people in Maluku and Papua should continue to eat sago, and of course they need to produce it [by themselves]. Don’t intervene by pushing them to eat rice, or even wheat, that cannot grow in those regions,” he said.

Meanwhile, Anies has announced a similar program to Ganjar in food diversification, but he also plans to introduce other programs, such as improving transparency in food prices and implementing contracts that could provide favorable farm-gate prices to smallholders, as revealed in his campaign document.

Surya Tjandra and Angga Putra Fidrian from Anies campaign team did not immediately respond for comment when asked to elaborate on Anies’ policy.

Dadan Hindayana, who represents the Prabowo campaign team, said that local farmers would need at least three years to increase crop productivity, which he suggested, using existing conventional methods, would be challenging with population growth at a rate of around 3 million annually.

“The establishment of food estates in huge areas is inevitable. They would be integrated with regional conditions, combining modern production units with farmer participation,” Dadan told the Post on Thursday.

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Abra Talattov, who heads the Center of Food, Energy and Sustainable Development at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF), said that Prabowo’s approach to increasing food production seemed too centralized and recommended that he consider involving regional governments and universities.

He pointed out that Prabowo needed to ensure that the state budget is able to accommodate the program, given challenges in attracting the private sector.

“The problem is, there is not much private-sector interest in [the food estate] project due to huge upfront investment and a lack of fertile land,” he told the Post on Thursday.

Meanwhile, he said Ganjar’s program had more of a focus on food diversification and improving local production capabilities, which was the antithesis of Prabowo’s.

“However, the room for [production] growth is limited, as there is a constraint in available land,” Abra said.

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A researcher at the Center of Reform on Economic (CORE), Eliza Mardian, told the Post on Thursday that the idea of focusing on local production needed to be appraised.

However, she pointed out that having a program that would encourage each region to consume food that is most suitable for each area was also important, given that almost 90 percent of people in Indonesia consume rice as their staple food, causing a huge dependency on a single commodity.

Indef’s Abra said Anies’ program to establish contract farming might be beneficial for smallholders, as it could lower post-harvest risk for farmers, as they would have more certainty in planting crops that the country needed.

However, Eliza from CORE noted ongoing problems with contract farming, pointing out that often farmers still have difficulties in selling their harvests, as buyers only seek good quality products.

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