The establishment of large-scale agriculture under the Indonesian government’s “food estate” programme is harming local farmers in Sumatra, a study has found.

The programme was announced in 2020 by President Joko Widodo to boost domestic food production and reduce reliance on crop imports. But in North Sumatra province, one of the regions where the programme’s massive farms are being established, food security for at least one village has gotten worse, researchers say.

Farmers in the village of Ria-Ria, were asked by the government to grow crops such as potatoes, garlic and shallots as part of the programme. As a consequence, their harvests of rice, their staple food crop, decreased by up to 70 per cent, according to the joint study by NGOs including Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN) Indonesia and the People’s Initiative Development and Study Group (KSPPM).

“The [rice] harvest is usually enough for one year, but since last year [when we were asked to] focus on the food estate programme, the harvest greatly declined,” said one farmer, identified only by her initials of I.S.

The farmers attributed this decline to the timing of the start of the food estate programme, in August 2021, which coincided with their rice-growing season. That meant they had to split their time and labor between tending to their rice crops and the food estate crops.

“The time to work on the paddy field, especially during the maintenance period such as weeding and clearing bushes, is reduced,” said another farmer, O.P. “As a result, [weeds] in the rice paddies grow thick and the amount of rats is uncontrollable. The harvest declined drastically, up to 70 per cent.”

Read the full article about Indonesian farmers by Hans Nicholas Jong at Eco-Business.