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Press Release 98/27 FAO/WFP





Rome, 9 April -- Indonesia will face a record food deficit as a result of reduced harvests, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) report. A recent FAO/WFP mission to the country estimated that approximately 7.5 million poor Indonesians in 15 provinces may experience acute food shortages during the upcoming dry season.

The food deficit coincides with the country's reduced ability to buy imported goods in the wake of the current financial crisis, FAO/WFP said. Steep food price increases and rapidly growing unemployment are adding large numbers of people to those already living below the poverty line, threatening the food security of millions in the world's fourth most populous country, according to the two UN agencies.

Large-scale international assistance will be needed to meet the shortfall in rice, the country's principal staple food. FAO/WFP urges donor countries to assist Indonesia in managing its drought- and financial-crisis related food problems.

An 11-member FAO/WFP mission, which visited Indonesia from March 9 to April 1, was the only international effort launched to assist the Indonesian government in assessing its food situation on a country-wide basis. It visited all 27 of the country's provinces and received support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

FAO/WFP estimated a 1998 harvest of some 47.5 million tons of paddy, a 3.6 percent decline over last year's already reduced production, and over six percent below the 1996 harvest. At the root of this shortfall is one of Indonesia's worst droughts of this century caused by the El Ni(o weather phenomenon. The effect on the 1998 crop has so far manifested itself in up to two months delay in crop planting, followed by irregular and below-normal rains in many parts of the country. It has not affected most of Java, the principal production area, however.

In addition to drought, rice production has also been affected by reduced use of fertilizers and high quality seeds, the costs of which have soared as a result of an about 70 percent devaluation of Indonesia's rupiah. On the other hand, maize production is forecast to increase by some 900,000 tons to 9.5 million tons, said FAO/WFP. Soybean production is also expected to increase by some 200,000 tons and sizeable increases are foreseen for roots and tubers as well. These increases are largely due to farmers shifting from paddy to secondary crops in response to delayed rains.

As a consequence of the paddy production shortfall, Indonesia faces a record import requirement of about 3.5 million tons of rice during the current marketing year 1998/99, which ends on 31 March 1999. This includes a small provision for price stabilization stocks. This figure must be treated with utmost caution, as it is based on the assumption of more or less normal weather conditions during the second crop season of 1998, which accounts for about one-third of annual production, said FAO/WFP. Renewed drought would further increase the rice supply gap.

The Indonesian government plans to import approximately 1.5 million tons between April and September 1998. This would leave an uncovered deficit of 2 million tons, for which international assistance will be required in the form of rice loans, grants, concessionary imports and targeted food aid.

FAO/WFP said the major challenge now is to ensure the food security of the country's 7.5 million poor people. Rice and overall food prices have increased by some 50 percent over the last 12 months and recorded a further steep rise in the past two months.

According to the two UN organizations, urgent attention is also required for the rehabilitation of drought-stricken areas as well as the solution of longer-term structural problems. For the most immediate term, FAO is preparing a programme of possible assistance to poor farmers in drought-stricken areas with essential inputs for the upcoming crop season. For the medium term, FAO can assist in undertaking an agricultural sector review to identify the structural bottlenecks which need to be addressed to avert food crises the future.

WFP is preparing targeted food assistance through food-for-work community development activities, nutritional support to pregnant women and nursing mothers and young children, and general relief of limited free food distribution.

A full report of the FAO/WFP mission will be released to the international community next week.


For more information, please contact:

Erwin Northoff
FAO Media Officer
Tel. +39-6 5705-3105


Francis Mwanza
WFP Information Officer, Rome
Tel. +39-6 6513-2623



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