Food sovereignty, real deal or pipe dream?

Edhy Prabowo
The author is the Vice General Chairman of Gerindra Party and Chairman of the Food Commission (Commission IV) of DPR RI.

IO – Indonesia is a rich country, one with abundant natural resources. All types of food crops are available in great volumes across this country. Indonesia is like a paradise on Earth that contains many blessings. Ironically, the wealth available in Indonesia’s soil is not enjoyed by its people. Poverty and hunger remain a common tale. Food crises stay in the news. There is something wrong with food governance di Indonesia.

As a rich country, Indonesia has been given the mandate by law to extend food sovereignty (Law Number 18 of 2012) to all. “Food sovereignty” means that Indonesia is able to increase food production capacity by providing agricultural production facilities, so that we can produce various safe, qualified, and nutritious foodstuffs. “Food sovereignty” means having sufficient food, especially staple foods at fair and affordable prices, so that it is easy for the public to obtain food. This adds value and increases the competitiveness of commodities. Furthermore, the purpose of food sovereignty is to increase the people’s knowledge and awareness of quality and safe food; increase the welfare of farmers, fishermen, fish breeders, and food entrepreneurs; and protect and develop the wealth of national food resources.

The Government may claim that it has been working hard to bring food independence to fruition, according to what is promised. However, the fact is that food sovereignty is still far from being realized, until now. The Government is still unable to optimize our nation’s potential. For example, the development of dairy cow farming. This industry has strategic prospects for HR development. Ironically, 70% of the material for dairy industry production is imported. The Government must continue its effort to increase dairy cow production and productivity, partially originating from people’s dairy cow farms.

Food Policy Paradoxes
From 2014 until now, several Government policies continue to conflict with one another. In fact, some policies also violate the mandate of agriculture-related laws. Conflicting food policies involve not only ministries, but also echelons within the same ministry. Until the end of the 2014-2019 Government period, there are still many policy mandates that have not been executed.

The Government expedited food imports, particularly rice imports. This contradicts the Ministry of Agriculture’s statement that domestic rice production has been rising. The Ministry of Agriculture stated that rice production was expected to continuously increase: production in January 2018 was 2,668,764 tons, in February 5,388,600 tons, in March 7,441,842 tons, and in April 5,283,498 tons. Based on this explanation, Commission IV of DPR RI firmly refused to import rice. This rejection was expressed in the Minutes of Conclusion of the Hearing held on 14 January 2018 between Commission IV of DPR RI and Echelon I of the Ministry of Agriculture, President Director of Perum BULOG, President Director of PT Pupuk Indonesia Holding Company, President Director PT Sang Hyang Seri, President Director PT Pertani, and President Director PT Berdikari.

However, the Ministry of Agriculture data on potential rice production was ignored by other ministries, who insisted on continuing with rice imports. Not just rice, they also insisted on importing corn, while the Ministry of Agriculture was simultaneously exporting corn! This means that the imports made were not coordinated with, nor performed with the recommendation of, the relevant ministries!

This is naturally in conflict with existing laws, because Law Number 18 of 2012 concerning Food Articles, 36 Paragraph 1 states that “Food imports can only be performed when domestic food production is insufficient, and/or the foodstuff cannot be produced domestically.” Furthermore, Paragraph 2 of the same Article states that “Staple food imports can only be performed when domestic food production and national food reserves are insufficient,” while Paragraph 3 states that “The sufficiency of domestic staple food production and the Government’s food reserves shall be determined by the minister or Government agency that performs Government duties related to food.”

Rice imports hitherto expedited by the Government not only conflict with Food Law, but also hurt farmers. In fact, the Government has blatantly violated the Farmers’ Protection and Empowerment Law by doing so. Law No. 19 of 2013 concerning Farmers’ Protection and Empowerment Law states in Article 15 that “The Government is obliged to prioritize domestic agricultural production in the effort to satisfy national food needs” Article 30 of the Law explicitly states that “Everyone is prohibited from importing Agricultural Commodities when available domestic Agricultural Commodities are sufficient to cover consumption needs and/or Governmental food reserves.”

Food issues in Indonesia cover more than just imports; they also deal with food diversification. The Government seems to lack a comprehensive grand strategy for diversifying food. Existing policies contradict and weaken each other. Some cases include rice production policies vs. root vegetable production policies, food consumption diversification policies vs. rice import policies, and local food development policies vs. wheat flour import policies. This is a paradoxical view of the current condition at the Government.

Another fact that shows that the Government is not serious about managing food issues is the lack of Food Institutions even now, while Law Number 18 of 2012 concerning Food, Article 126 mandates the establishment of a Government Agency that handles food, positioned directly under and responsible directly to the President. The executing regulations for this Law must be enacted at the latest three years since the enactment of this law, i.e. in November 2015. However, even now this food institution remains unrealized. The President and his Governmental staff are sluggish in the effort to establish a food agency, while this agency’s duties and functions are necessary to maintain food sustainability in the Homeland.

The Government still has not provided a quarantine island that is meant to protect the health of livestock animals even now, while this plan has been recommended in Law Number 41 of 2014 concerning Livestock Farming and Health and must be realized at the latest two years since its enactment. Ministry of Agriculture has been prepared to execute the plan for quarantine island for a long time. However, the Government Regulation that regulates the requirements, criteria, and procedures for transforming an island into a quarantine island remain incomplete. As the establishment of a quarantine island requires the involvement of multiple agencies, i.e. the Coordinating Ministry of the Economy, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Transportation, and the Ministry of Marine and Fishery Affairs, this delay is understandable but damaging.

There is something absolutely ridiculous from this series of food issues: the continuation of salt imports, while Indonesia has the longest coastline in the world and is an archipelago. The dream of achieving salt independence is getting further and further from reach. It is funny how Government Regulation Number 9 of 2018 concerning Procedures for Controlling Imports of Fish Commodities and Salt Commodities conflict with Law Number 7 of 2016 concerning the Protection and Empowerment of Fishermen, Fish Breeders, and Salt Farmers.

Article 37 Paragraph (3) of Law No. 7 of 2016 explicitly states that “Imports of Fishery Commodities and Salt Commodities by the relevant minister must first be approved and recommended by the Minister.” This regulation puts the Ministry of Marine and Fishery Affairs as the technical ministry with the authority to grant recommendations concerning salt imports. However, Government Regulation on Salt Imports Article 3 Paragraph (2) concerning Control Mechanism states that the Ministry of Industry is the one authorized to grant recommendation. Imagine how a Government Regulation, which the Government should execute based on Law, conflicts and even violates the Law.

If the Government has the political will from to develop the people’s salt business into a high-quality industry, salt imports would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, the Government does not seem to care much about salt farmers.

These are the food issues that currently occur in the Government. There are still many unrealized promises, there are still many mandates of the constitution that is still not executed, or if executed, still with weak Government coordination. In the end, it is the people who are victimized again.

The Government has been given nearly five years to accomplish such changes. The DPR has continuously provided support in order to get the Government to realize its many promises. However, instead of resolving the issues, the reality becomes even farther from reality. One of the primary obstacles in the realization of food sovereignty is the lack of budget support. How can we create food sovereignty if food budget is cut down and decreased year after year? Just imagine, in 2015 the Ministry of Agriculture’s budget was Rp 32 trillion. However, as the years pass by, the budget does not increase, but continues to decrease: Rp 27 trillion in 2016, Rp 24 trillion in 2017, Rp 23 trillion in 2018, and Rp 21 trillion in 2019.

In order to realize food sovereignty, the State must be present and committed. Furthermore, the State must continue to create new strategies and breakthroughs. In view of existing facts, it seems that we can only expect new strategies and breakthroughs with the coming of a new Government – a Government that is ready to realize justice and prosperity in the country.