Diana Mariska, Jakarta – Food supply in Indonesia could be put at risk during the coronavirus pandemic as fewer farmworkers might be available to work the country's rice fields while the government might also find it hard to import other staple food as exporting countries withhold supplies for domestic use, a local economic think tank has warned.
Dhenny Yuartha Junifta, a researcher at the Institute of Economic and Financial Development (Indef), said the pandemic will disrupt several aspects of the agriculture industry and eventually lead to decreased productivity.
One major impact is a fall in the number of farmworkers during the pandemic. This, combined with strict social restriction, will likely lead to lower harvests this year.
"Several studies have predicted up to a 4 percent reduction in agricultural labor during this pandemic," Dhenny said in a teleconference on Wednesday.
"March to April is the first [rice] harvest season of the year. There will be major disruptions due to the [social] restrictions," Denny said.
Other impacts of the pandemic include declining investment and disruptions in produce distribution.
Dhenny said a prolonged pandemic will also force other countries to limit exports of their agricultural products as they understandably prioritize domestic demand.
Vietnam and Thailand, two of the biggest rice exporters in the world, have already restricted export of the commodity – the premier staple food in Indonesia, and Russia has also taken a similar step with its wheat production.
Dhenny said the government should move fast to simplify food import procedures since slow distribution can also exacerbate food supply problems.
For example, complicated bureaucracy for meat imports often means meat products can take up to a month to reach Indonesia from abroad.
"We'll have a big problem when we're running out of supplies but the bureaucracy has not moved on with the times," Dhenny said.
The government should also set progress targets for its Covid-19 mitigation efforts and match them with its food production targets.
"The success or otherwise of our Covid-19 mitigation efforts will have implications on food supplies in the next few months. The government should set month-by-month [Covid-19 mitigation] targets to avoid a prolonged pandemic, which will put even more pressure on our food supply," Dhenny said.
Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto said last month Indonesia has enough food supplies to last until August, but Dhenny said it was not clear if the government had taken into consideration that the pandemic might last longer than expected.
Dhenny's other recommendation is for the government to look into food supply problems in each province and then prepare a strategy to ensure food sufficiency for everyone even when large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) are in place.
This will avoid severely reduced food supplies in dependent provinces when neighbors with a good food security index impose the PSBB.