Indonesia’s Bright Future for Agriculture (at the Expense of the Orangutans)

FT.com’s beyondbrics is optimistic about the future of agriculture in Indonesia:

Agriculture already accounts for at least 15 per cent of Indonesia’s GDP, employs nearly 43 per cent of the country’s available labour force and generates annual trade flows of $44.5bn

In the article, a Rabobank report also elaborated on Indonesia’s key agricultural products, where palm oil is evidently Indonesia’s greatest revenue maker (along with rubber, cocoa and coffee subsequently).

Recently, however, the palm oil industry have been getting a lot of spotlight due to alleged orangutan killings, in the name of protecting palm oil plantations of PT Khaleda Agroprima Malindo, a subsidiary of Malaysia-based Metro Kajang Holdings Bhd in East Kalimantan’s Kutai Kartanegara regency.

Problem is, the orangutans killing spree is not just a recent occurrence, but it has been there ever since. Paper from K.T. Tan, et. al:

Moreover, there are also reports that confused orangutans wandering in their former habitats that have been turn into oil palm plantations are often killed for meat and to protect newly planted crops. With their habitat destroyed, hungry orangutans will turn their attention to the young palm trees, where they can cause considerable damage and thus creating conflict between human and orangutans.

Indonesia’s palm oil contributes to 48% of the world share and there is no sign that the government is willing to give it up. It is indeed an uphill battle for conservationists and the likes to fight for the interests of orangutans, considering the dominance of agriculture in Indonesia.

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10 thoughts on “Indonesia’s Bright Future for Agriculture (at the Expense of the Orangutans)”

  1. You’d think that for an activity that employs 43% of the labor force, you’d actually get more bang for your petani than only 15% of GDP. Despite its size, Indonesia does not actually have an excess of arable, well-watered agricultural land.

  2. Thanks for making two quick points there, Mauricio. Despite the optimistic view about agriculture, indeed, not much is directed to the welfare of our petani. Not much data is there, because most of them are still in the informal agricultural labor. Hence, making our priority for agriculture would then only benefit the big corporations. Not to forget that there are few value-added activities for our agriculture industry.

    Next, water would also be an issue. I think there are several reports on the impact of climate change in agriculture in Indonesia, but one step that they would need to do is to actually stop cutting down rain forests for clearing of agricultural land.

  3. What I was getting at with the “bang for your petani” is the inefficient use of resources. What I meant is that 43% of the labor force is a lot of people, but in the end you have relatively little to show for it, only 15% of GDP. It speaks loudly about the efficiency of Indonesian farming.

  4. One last comment before I go to bed and catch my red-eye flight to Aceh in a few hours. Where I live the price of agricultural land is booming. In my own ‘hood, a plot of 100m2 goes for $16,000. Not cheap, particularly when you get little in the way of after sales support (i.e. law enforcement, infrastructure and administration of justice). In other parts, a 100m2 of rice field land can set you back a good $30,000. Why is the price of land so high? It’s not due to the boom of agriculture, but rather to the crisis of agriculture. It’s related to the fact that the price of land is no longer tied to the revenue that one can derive farming rice on it. The price of land is now tied to the price of real estate development and housing, made worse by the fact that few among the young generations want to farm for a living.

  5. Search the same stat for the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. I believe Indonesia has the biggest difference between the percentage of the labor force engaged in agriculture and the percentage of GDP from agriculture. If I am wrong, I’ll buy you a dinner at Sushi Tei next time we’re both in Jakarta.

  6. Something that strikes the outsider about Indonesia is the relative absence of seafood from the diet. This is particularly striking given the country’s geography. After all, Tanah Air is more air than tanah. Today, the most heavily forested industrialized, advanced country is Japan, but it was not always so. In fact, Japan underwent rapid deforestation in the 17th and 18th centuries. Nevertheless, Japan was self-aware, and shifted its diet towards the sea, and away from the land. Today, seafood consumption is among the highest per capita in Japan. For Indonesia, this is even more crucial, given the fact that i.) its landmass is more water than land, ii.) its relative shortfall in good agricultural land, and its population. There are no silver bullets, but Indonesia must increasingly look to the ocean (and to the protection of its fisheries) as a way of relieving pressures on the land.

  7. The Jakarta Post reported yesterday that Indonesia, along with Nigeria, have the highest rates of deforestation, driven largely by the clearing of land to make way for palm oil plantations. The story also reports that China (and the U.S.) have the lowest rates of deforestation. Indeed, (industrial) agriculture (for the export market with profits accruing to a kleptocratic elite) seems to have a bright future in Indonesia.

  8. 4,000 acres of prime forest are to be cleared to make way for a palm oil plantation in Aceh’s Leuser reserve. You better hurry up, finish that degree and get back to Indonesia, Fika. If you wait too long, there may not be any forest left to save in Indonesia.

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