Food and Fuel Self-Sufficiency Policies Debated in Indonesian Presidential Race

27 February 2019

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INDONESIA –  Background

Indonesia is about to receive its first payment as part of a US$1 billion forest preservation agreement, which it signed with Norway in 2010. When the deal was signed, most Indonesian emissions were the result of widespread deforestation. In 2017, Indonesia prevented the emission of 4.8 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by reducing its deforestation rate. Indonesia managed to reduce the rate of deforestation by 60 per cent in 2017, compared to a year earlier, but there is no guarantee that the downward trend will continue.  That will certainly be true if future food, agriculture and energy policies encourage accelerated land clearing, at the expense of greenhouse gas abatement programmes.


Indonesia is the world’s third- to sixth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, depending on the year in which its emissions are measured, and most of those emissions are caused by land use changes, peat fires and deforestation. It also has the world’s third-largest expanse of tropical rainforest, after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As that forest is a large store of carbon dioxide, any widespread deforestation, in the absence of abatement programmes, will increase Indonesian greenhouse gas emissions.

Food security and agriculture both featured in the second presidential debate, held in Jakarta on
17 February. Both candidates, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, have at different times expressed a desire for Indonesia to become self-sufficient in food production. Prabowo, the opposition candidate, remarked: ‘We have to stand on our own, we must be self-sufficient in food, energy and water’. He also questioned the president on his commitment to food self-sufficiency stating: ‘I want [to] ask Mr Widodo, as president, on various occasions you said you would not import food commodities … It turned out that in the last four years you did a lot of importing … we have the data. Honestly, from what we’ve heard it really hit the farmers’.

Prabowo has called for a halt to food imports to protect Indonesian farmers. If that policy is adopted, however, it is likely to result in higher food prices for Indonesian consumers. Early in his presidency, Jokowi reduced or delayed the importation of raw sugar, beef, corn and rice, in the hope of increasing domestic production. That policy failed to significantly increase domestic production, however, leading to supply shortages and rising food prices. After learning from that policy failure, Jokowi plans to allow the importation of food commodities to continue, to maintain stable food prices.

The opposition candidate has also suggested that two million hectares of new land should be set aside for farmers to grow rice, corn, sugar cane and soybeans. Much of that new land would have to come from the clearing of forest.

Both candidates found common ground in promoting palm oil-based biodiesel. Currently Indonesian diesel contains a 20 per cent blend of biodiesel, but Jokowi is ultimately aiming to increase that to 100 per cent, to reduce Indonesian fuel imports. Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil and it has tried to strike a balance between palm oil production and environmental concerns. Increased domestic demand for palm oil, however, could increase deforestation rates and drive up carbon dioxide emissions. Other countries, including members of the European Union and Norway, have begun phasing out palm oil-based fuel, after finding that it is likely to compete with food production (potentially increasing food prices) and creates more emissions than it saves.

While intensified agriculture does draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it is often released back into the atmosphere when crops are harvested. Adopting farming practices that help to increase the retention of soil carbon will be necessary if Indonesia is to limit the increase in greenhouse gas emissions that will result from increased land clearing.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.
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