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Indonesia aims for food self-sufficiency
There are concerns that Indonesia's trade-protectionist polices could leave the nation short of food, as Helen Brown reports.

Indonesia has embarked on a strategic program to ramp up food production and become self-sufficient in basic commodities like rice and sugar.

As Indonesians eat more fruit and vegetables the government's looking at how to meet demand. But it also sets controls on fresh food coming into the country. New rules that are challenged as protectionist.

Indonesia correspondent Helen Brown reports.

HELEN BROWN, REPORTER: It's morning and the daily harvest is well under way. About an hour's drive outside the capital city of Jakarta, workers move through the plots of rich soil picking cucumbers ready to sell. In another plot a land owner picks her crop of guava fruit, a special variety that brings a better price.

RIMAH, SMALL FARM OWNER (translation): I make more money now but the expense is higher. We didn't use fertiliser or insect spray in the old days, now we do use fertiliser and spray.

HELEN BROWN: The plots are small, on average around a quarter of a hectare. But the farmers who work them are determined to create a new kind of agriculture. They've shifted to varieties that have increased their incomes five-fold and want to learn how to manage pests and disease and increase production.

ANWAR MUSADAD, BOGOR FARM LEADER (translation): Farmers will develop to be a modern farmer so the quality can improve and we can compete with the outside.

HELEN BROWN: These farmers might be progressive but their industry says they need shielding from the impact of other countries selling into the market. Fruit and vegetable imports have risen by more than 50 per cent since 2009.

KAREN TAMBAYONG, INDONESIA NATIONAL HORTICULTURAL COUNCIL: After 2011, this is very significant, it's grows to $US1.7 billion and it is a trap for us.

HELEN BROWN: More than 40 million people work in agriculture in Indonesia. And the majority are considered peasants.

SUSWONO, INDONESIAN AGRICULTURAL MINISTER: For the present time protection to the poor farmers becomes our priority and we keep improving the innovation and technology. We hope that with the limited lands the farmers can still get profit.

HELEN BROWN: since early last year, Indonesian authorities have been drawing up a raft of rules and regulations for fresh food imports. Importers have to apply for recommendations and licences and ensure food is inspected at a foreign port before it leaves.

There are restrictions on what kind of fruits and vegetables can enter through different ports for food safety. But the industry will tell you it's also about managing a market.

KAREN TAMBAYONG: They're trying to get the balance to - for the domestic market, they try to get the balance so it's more try to manage it. Which is before horticulture wasn't even in the picture yet, and now they realise how big the market of horticulture.

(Letter from the US is shown)

HELEN BROWN: But Indonesia's approach is creating tension. Some trading partners have raised concerns. The United States has gone a step further and says the complex web of import requirements "has become a serious impediment to US agricultural exports entering Indonesia, reducing Indonesian consumers' access to high quality US products."

The US is taking its concerns to the World Trade Organisation. So far, Indonesia is standing firm and believes an agreement can be reached.

SUSWONO: We want our small farmers to be protected and plead with developed countries: please understand that our countries condition, that most farmers are poor. Please don't intervene by sending products which will create more poverty in Indonesia.

HELEN BROWN: The nation's infrastructure also makes it hard for farmers to compete. A lack of decent roads, ports and rail-lines makes moving fresh food a costly and slow business.

(Footage of farmers loading bags onto trucks)

Well as you can see it's a pretty simple distribution system. The farmers have brought their product here, they have washed it and pack it into packs and now they're loading it into a small truck where it will be taken to the local wholesale market. And they say that by doing it this way they get a better price.

The irony is that it's some of Indonesia's poorest people who are producing the food the nation needs

The question remains, whether they're getting the right kind of support to do just that.
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