IDEP Foundation

How Would We Eat, When Farmers Are Between A Rock and A Hard Place?

Food Estate or Food Scarcity

Compared to the last three years, this year’s drought is getting drier and even drier. The El-Nino event is predicted to continue until October 2023, while some sources suggest it may last until December. Agriculture production and food supply are certainly affected. Importing is also not a viable solution. Food-producing countries are implicating that they are holding their supplies for their own reserves.

RAPBN (the state budget) for 2024 in the agriculture sector has increased. This information might bring a breath of fresh air to the sector. The government has allocated a budget for economic transformation strategies in food security, amounting to IDR 108.8 trillion. This budget is prioritized for improving the availability, access, and price stabilization of food, as well as the development of food estate areas and strengthening the national food reserves.

Yet, the development of food estates itself needs to be attended to. This program would begin with large-scale deforestation, as seen in Central Kalimantan, specifically in Gunung Mas Regency, where nearly 700 hectares of forest have already been destroyed. The implementation of this project is fraught with conflicts of interest.

Large-scale monoculture agriculture tends to harm the ecosystem. Furthermore, if these large projects fail, the losses are substantial. The government cleverly portrays deforestation as food security, while small farmers are pushed further away from their sources of livelihood.


It’s important to remember that in the Paris Agreement, Indonesia committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through Law No. 16 of 2016. In this law, Indonesia targeted a reduction of 29% by 2030 and 41% with international support. It seems that Indonesia might breach this commitment before other nations.

Food Imports

The price of rice has even exceeded the Highest Retail Price (HET) set in March. However, in 2020, it was reported that Indonesia still imported 15 million tons of staple foods worth US$8.37 billion, equivalent to IDR 118.9 trillion. Clearly, we still rely on imports to feed Indonesia’s 278 million population.

CNBC data shows that 26 food commodities were imported between January and August 2021. Some of them include:

  1. Rice, with an import value of US$124.8 million.
  2. Soybeans, with an import value of US$1.2 billion.
  3. Wheat and meslin, with an import value of US$2.2 billion.
  4. Salt, with an import value of US$61.5 million.
  5. Vegetable cooking oil, with an import value of US$62.6 million.
  6. Fresh fish, with an import value of US$5.4 million.

Farmer Regeneration

Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) indicates that in August 2020, there was an increase in the agricultural workforce, with an additional 2,774,080 people. 

Apparently, the interest of the public in agriculture has increased. More people are tending their garden, growing vegetables at home, or in their rented places. Purchasing fertilizers, pesticides, and organic seeds has become common. As for the latter, you can check it out at @kiosidep. After buying the gardening essentials, people turn to YouTube or Instagram to watch gardening tutorials. The content varies, and the steps don’t always follow the same pattern, but the key is to make it engaging. Access to this particular information is becoming easier.

Unfortunately, despite the increasing interest in agriculture, farmers as the main profession are being left behind. Some of them choose to become construction laborers because they find it provides a more stable income. They don’t need to constantly check their fields. Furthermore, when it’s time for harvest, there’s still the negotiation of selling prices. Many of these commodities also have uncertain prices, sometimes plummeting, such as chili, tomatoes, and shallots.

Agricultural Land Evictions

Over the last four years (2018-2022), Indonesian rice farmers have successfully saved the country from a food crisis, while some other countries experienced food crises. Indonesian farmers have overcome four potential food crisis traps that other countries were worried about: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate fluctuations, global security contraction, and the continuously growing population (

This data has almost made us complacent. However, to this day, agricultural land evictions continue. The threat is not only strong but also solid, especially since the implementation of Government Regulation (PP) No. 26 of 2021 regarding the Implementation of Agricultural Affairs, which is a derivative regulation of Law No. 11 of 2020 concerning Job Creation (the Job Creation Law).

Conversion of Agricultural Land

The conversion of agricultural land reaches 100,000 hectares per year. This was the headline on earlier this year. Paddy fields are being converted for infrastructure development. In fact, this could be a solution for economic development. It means that it can be an opportunity for investment and generate new income for the government.

How was it actually implemented?

There is a tendency that the increasing land prices from year to year encourage farmers to sell their land. After selling, the loss of livelihood as a farmer means a decrease in income and purchasing power, even for food. This is a recurring problem, as those food could have been consumed directly by the farmers.

Climate Crisis

Mego Pinandito, Deputy for Development Policy at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), revealed that El Nino can pose a very high drought threat in the period from June to October, especially in the central rice production areas. This phenomenon also affects the supply of clean water and irrigation services for agriculture.

Climate change impacts the intensity and distribution of rainfall. This means it also results in changes in the timing and planting patterns for farmers. Moreover, if their areas experience flooding or, on the contrary, drought. After the harvest, farmers also have to face market price instability. If there’s crop failure or a decrease, supply and demand may become unbalanced. According to, this could create an economic loss of up to IDR 500 trillion from 2020 to 2024 if the government doesn’t implement policy interventions. As a result, farmers’ income is at risk of decreasing by 9-25%.

Environmentally Hazardous Farming Practices

After decades, modern farming practices, which were brought by the Green Revolution, are still being carried out and have brought progress to agricultural development. However, it has had negative effects on the environment. Continual use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides damages soil structure and depletes soil microorganisms. This upsets the balance of nutrients in the soil, leading to various plant diseases.

Yet then again, are there any alternative solutions? Here’s the IDEP version:

Product marketing, including packaging, branding and sales to beneficiaries

1. Increasing capacity and market access should be a priority. Therefore, we conduct various training sessions with the community, ranging from sustainable permaculture-based farming training, independent seed breeding training, post-harvest management training. These are interconnected and self-sufficiency needs to be pursued until the end. That’s why we also provide training and assistance in marketing products, including packaging, branding, advertising, and selling. Beyond training, we also participate in various post-harvest product marketing events.

Nengah Sutamaya along with the Subak Rejasa group in the process of calculating harvest yield estimates

2. Environmentally Friendly and Climate-Smart Farming programs are the foundation. We have collaborated with farmers in several regions in Indonesia. In Bali Province, we implemented a healthy and environmentally friendly farming system in the Subak Catur Angga rice fields in Tabanan. Additionally, there’s integrated farming that combines backyard gardens and productive livestock for children’s school fees and healthcare across three provinces—in Bali, North Sulawesi (Talaud Islands), and East Nusa Tenggara (East Flores). In East Nusa Tenggara, we also assist farmers in local food production through dryland farming methods. In East and Central Java, we provide guidance to tobacco farmers to increase family income through backyard gardening and post-harvest product processing.

Ex-East Timor Transmigrant Farmers in Sumber Klampok Village in implementing climate justice

3. Land is becoming scarce nowadays. On the other hand, there are still land conflict issues. We assist former East Timorese transmigrant farmers in Sumber Klampok Village in applying Climate Justice through a Food Forest concept that utilizes lands in dispute. Issues of land area and barren land are often encountered, hence understanding the community and local resources is our solution. Therefore, we run the Family Backyard Garden Program (KPK) in 19 provinces in Indonesia. Alongside this, through collaboration with the community in Kemenuh Village, we utilize empty land/customary land in 7 hamlets (banjar) to create a community garden during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education about water conservation for children at SDN 1 Sukawati

4. Climate and water crises in various regions are challenges for us in finding solutions. Therefore, Climate Adaptation and Mitigation programs are continuously carried out through various activities. In Bali, we started with water conservation and protection through the Bali Water Protection program in 9 cities/districts and continued with assistance for Forest Farmer Groups (KTH) in buffer zones to increase family income through backyard gardening, post-harvest product processing, eco-tourism management, and agroforestry system implementation in social forestry practices in Yehembang Kauh Village, Jembrana. In East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), we also provide assistance to residents for implementing dryland farming methods in East Sumba.

Article: Nicolaus Sulistyo

Illustration: Hamzah

Photo: IDEP Foundation