The challenge to achieve garlic self-sufficiency

Anthony Budiawan
Managing Director of the Political Economy and Policy Studies (PEPS)

IO – Indonesia is in fact the world’s biggest importer of garlic, compris­ing 17.6% of the world’s import market in 2016. That signified a foreign currency outflow of USD 674 million, or about IDR 9.5 tril­lion using the current exchange rate.

This bitter fact does not both­er many people, who accept it be­cause Indonesia is said to be un­able to compete with foreign garlic producers – particularly China. Some even go as far as to say that garlic is simply a crop that cannot be grown in our homeland. This is laughable, as the fact is that until 1994 Indonesia was always able to satisfy its national garlic needs by relying on domestic producers only. That’s right: using garlic planted and produced in Indonesia. In other words, Indonesia already managed independent garlic production sev­eral decades ago.

The fact that Indonesian gar­lic is currently unable to compete with foreign produce is a problem that requires a solution. We must not simply give up, as competi­tiveness can be re-established in many ways. For example, consider how Toyota succeeded in breaking the hegemony of the Western au­tomotive industry in the 1980s. The primary problem concerning the low competitiveness of Indone­sian garlic is related to extremely low and steadily worsening pro­ductivity downtrend. This means that production costs for garlic in Indonesia are high and continue to rise, as productivity weakens. It re­quires IDR 20,000.00 or even more to grow and harvest one kilogram of garlic in Indonesia, while the Chi­nese only need about IDR 7,500.00 to for a similar yield.

Low productivity is neither the fault of the farmers or unsuitable climate and soils. Indonesia has a vast amount of land and quite a large part of it is in fact suitable for garlic farming, as we saw in 1994, when we did achieve independent production. The main issue in gar­lic productivity in Indonesia is that our seedlings are simply insuffi­cient and of low quality.

Garlic is cultivated vegetative­ly: seeds planted are mature garlic bulbs. A naturally low ability for sexual reproduction means it is hard to grow garlic from seeds – or generative cultivation. Vegetative cultivation of garlic has a basic fa­tal weakness: it is very vulnerable to viral infection. Even worse, due to direct replanting of bulbs, any viral infection will be inherited by the resulting plants.

Such viruses include LYSV (Leek Yellow Stripe Virus) and OYDV (On­ion Yellow Dwarf Virus) and even complications called Garlic Viral Complex (GVC). Such complica­tions would result in the maximum growth of garlic bulbs to shrink up to 50%, or even 70%. The growing garlic bulbs will shrink terribly, re­sulting in much lower productivity. By comparison, the average weight of Indonesia’s garlic bulbs is 15-25 grams each, while China’s bulbs weigh an average of 45-50 grams.

Is it a difference of variety that results in such a great difference? Or is it because Indonesian garlic has been so infested with viruses that it shrinks so badly? After all, garlic in Indonesia has been culti­vated vegetatively for generations, and there has been no seed purifi­cation for generations.

Therefore, Indonesia must purify its garlic seeds, in order to sterilize the cycle and get rid of viruses if it wants to make its production com­petitive in global markets. This will cause the bulbs to grow bigger and heavier, both increasing productiv­ity and lowering production costs. Without seed purification, it will be utterly impossible to achieve the target for garlic independent pro­duction by 2021. Low productivity is the result of inherited viral in­fection; therefore, ridding infection through purification will upgrade production quality and productiv­ity greatly. This will generate more sales and reduce production costs, and finally improve the welfare and prosperity of our farmers.