Dzulfiqar Fathur Rahman, Jakarta – The State Logistics Agency (Bulog), the government institution tasked with securing national staple food stocks, is facing trouble importing rice, sugar and buffalo meat, as producing countries have restricted exports in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bulog, therefore, was planning to procure as much rice as possible from local farmers to ensure supplies during the outbreak as Vietnam, from which the agency occasionally imports hundreds of thousand tons of rice, had limited exports, said the agency's head, Budi "Buwas" Waseso.
Vietnam, the world's third-largest rice exporter, has capped rice export volumes at 800,000 tons for the April-May period to ensure enough supplies for domestic use. India, another top rice exporter, has restricted its rice exports for the same reason.
"With the COVID-19 outbreak, we expect that we must have maximum stocks," Buwas said during an online hearing with House of Representatives Commission IV in Jakarta on Thursday. "We used to import from Thailand and Vietnam; now they have put restrictions on their exports. Thus, we have to maximize our domestic procurement."
The country's current rice stocks are estimated to exceed consumption until the end of May by 8.3 million tons, according to data from the Agriculture Ministry.
Bulog, in addition, plans to procure 950,000 tons of rice from local farmers for this year's stocks.
With Ramadan approaching and no end in sight to the COVID-19 outbreak, Bulog is anticipating a surge in demand for other staple ingredients, such as sugar. But disrupted logistics are hampering the agency's efforts to ensure enough supplies.
Sugar has been in short supply since the January, as reflected in rising prices. The average price of sugar in Jakarta rose by 20.62 percent to Rp 15,583 (96 US cents) per kilogram from February to March, according to data released on April 1 by Statistics Indonesia (BPS).
To ensure enough supplies, the Trade Ministry gave Bulog a permit on Wednesday to import 50,000 tons of sugar. However, the producing countries, such as Australia, India and Thailand, were in lockdown.
"The current situation is difficult because sugar producing countries are under lockdown and container ships are not operating as usual," said Buwas, who has served as the agency's head since 2018.
In January, Bulog also requested a permit from the ministry to import buffalo meat from India, but by the time the ministry granted the permit, India, a top exporter of buffalo meat, had put the country in a state of lockdown.
As of Thursday, Bulog has 113 tons of buffalo meat, according to data from the agency.
"It was difficult because the permit came late," said Buwas. "We initially planned to import the meat from Malaysia, which also bought from India earlier, but failed because they were also under a lockdown already."
"I am reminding the government to facilitate Bulog in obtaining the import permits, both for sugar and other commodities in short supply that the public needs," Suhardi Duka, a Democratic Party politician from West Sumatera, said during the same online hearing on Thursday.