Farmers see no benefits from rice price hikes

Sumber The Jakarta Post,  Mon, 04/28/2008

Siti Supiati, a farmer in Cisait Muncang village, Banten, did not believe the government has raised the price of unhusked rice to Rp 2,200 (45 U.S. cents) from Rp 2,000 and that of rice to Rp 4,300 from Rp 4,000, because she sold her harvest last month far under these prices.

“During the last harvest season in March, unhusked rice was priced by traders at only Rp 1,700 per kilogram and rice cost only Rp 3,900 per kilo,” said Siti, who harvested almost four tons of unhusked rice from her 0.8 hectares of farmland.

Siti pocketed Rp 6.8 million from the harvest, Rp 4 million of which will be spent to pay laborers who helped work her land and to buy fertilizers.

“I net only Rp 2.8 million from four months of work to farm the land. That is not enough to cover my family’s living costs and my two children’s school fees for the next four months.”

The 54-year-old has 10 children. Five of the kids married shortly after graduating from junior or senior high school and now work at nearby factories.

“Now I still have two children in junior and senior high school, while the remaining three, two girls, help me work my farm … following my husband’s death in 2006 …,” she told The Jakarta Post at her simple house.

Despite soaring rice prices, local farmers remain pessimistic because they each own less than a hectare of farmland, and farmland in the province continues shrinking due to the rapid conversion into industrial sites and housing areas.

Darmin, who owns 0.7 hectares of farmland in Drunten Kidul village, Indramayu, West Java, said for the past 20 years the government has shown no commitment to improving the lives of farmers.

“The 10 percent increase in rice prices will not have a significant impact on farmers’ lives, not only because the harvest season is over but mainly because the rice price increase still does not keep up with the skyrocketing prices of other basic commodities. Farmers may make more if they have two to three hectares of land,” he said, adding he netted just Rp 2.55 million from the last harvest.

Darmin, the father of a 10-year-old son, said he and many other farmers had taken side jobs as ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers to help meet their families’ basic needs.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has urged people to farm dormant land to ensure the country’s food security in the face of soaring world rice prices, which have reached $1,300 a ton.

Indramayu, Krawang, Subang and Cirebon make up the rice belt in West Java, producing almost two million tons of rice twice a year from around 160,000 total hectares of farmland.

Chairman of the North Sumatra chapter of the All-Indonesian Farmers Association, S.M. Hutagaol, has called on the government to raise rice prices to at least Rp 4,600 per kilogram, with a guarantee that the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) would purchase the rice directly from farmers.

Such a guarantee is necessary, he said, to prevent speculators from smuggling the rice to neighboring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“Without such a guarantee from the government and Bulog, traders and speculators will continue taking financial advantage of the price hikes,” he said in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, on Sunday.

Udin, a rice trader in Cirebon, said he had profited from the rice price hike because he still purchased rice from farmers at the old price. He said he bought rice for up to Rp 4,700 per kilo and sold it for a maximum of Rp 5,000.

Head of the local agriculture office in Indramayu, Apas Fahmi, called on the government to instruct local Bulog branches to purchase rice directly from farmers to foil speculators.

“The rice price hike is not proportionate with the soaring prices of other basic commodities,” he said. (Team)

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