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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

The development of community irrigation systems started more than two thousand years ago. Modern irrigation systems were introduced in the middle of the nineteenth century. Small irrigation systems developed by the communities in Java covered a total of 1.1 million ha in 1880. This asset was very significant at that time since the total population of Java was only 19.5 million. The development of irrigation systems grew at a rate of 1.21 percent per year in the period 1880-1915, covering 1.62 million ha in 1915. The Dutch colonial government developed the first large irrigation system, 34 000 ha, in Sidorajo delta in East Java by using the Brantas river water flows.

A full-technological irrigation and drainage system was first developed during the 1880s in Demak, Central Java, on 33 800 ha. This system was developed to address the famine caused by drought and floods in the area. The Burgerlijke Openbare Werken, which later became the Department of Public Works, was developed in 1885, among other tasks, it was to develop irrigation systems. The Departement van Landbouw, which later became the Department of Agriculture,)was developed in 1905 in Bogor, West Java.

The development of irrigation systems became one of the priorities of the newly created Republic of Indonesia after the Second World War. The first multi-sector project was proposed in 1948 to develop Jatiluhur dam at Citarum river in West Java to allocate water for irrigation, hydropower, and domestic use. In 1969, Indonesia launched its first five-year development programme (Repelita I). Since then, there have been other rice intensification programmes, their main objective is to achieve self-sufficiency in rice. This includes supply of irrigation water, use of high-yield varieties, fertilizers, and pesticides, and is supported by agricultural extension programmes. The irrigation development programme includes rehabilitation of existing irrigation works, expansion of service areas in existing schemes, construction of new irrigation systems, upgrading of the existing irrigation systems, implementation of efficient operation and management programmes, strengthening of water user associations (WUAs), and many other initiatives.

In the first 25 years of development, spanning five Repelitas (1969-1993) termed ‘Pembangunan Jangka Panjang I’ (PJP I) or first phase of long-term development, water resources policies were directed to supporting the development of different sectors with the primary emphasis being on agriculture. About 1.44 million ha were provided with new irrigation systems and 3.36 million ha of existing irrigation systems were either rehabilitated or upgraded through special maintenance.

The second 25-year development period (1994-2019), termed PJP II, started in April 1993 with Repelita VI. The emphasis was on sustainable development and management of water resources. Water resources have been elevated to a full sector level and policies are directed to promoting a more effective and efficient management of water resources in an integrated manner. Greater emphasis is placed on sustaining self-sufficiency in rice and on the operation and maintenance of water resources infrastructure. In addition, the Government is implementing a crash programme in Repelita VI to improve one million ha of village irrigation systems and to develop a 600 000 ha rice estate by swamp reclamation in central Kalimantan.

The irrigation potential of the country is an estimated 10.9 million ha. In 1996, the total area equipped for full control irrigation was 4.43 million ha. In addition, there were 0.70 million ha of ‘simple’ irrigation and 1.96 million ha of village managed schemes. It should be noted, however, that large discrepancies are observed between sources of information, leading to significant uncertainties about the areas under irrigation. It was reported that, in 1995, 638 reservoirs, 10 770 weirs, 1 017 barrages, 1 192 pumping stations and 6 792 intakes were used to supply water to 4 600 000 ha. In 1995, irrigation from groundwater reportedly covered 44 209 ha, of which 36 784 ha were served by 834 deep tubewells, 4 204 ha by 363 intermediate tubewells and 14 807 ha by 471 shallow tubewells. In 2005 it was estimated that 99 percent of the total equipped area was irrigated by surface water and 1 percent by groundwater (Figure 3).

Total water managed area covered 9 855 616 ha in 2005 (Table 7). Full control irrigation areas covered 6 722 299 ha (68 percent), comprising technical, semi-technical, and simple irrigation, while non-equipped cultivated wetlands covered 3 133 317 ha (32 percent), of which 2 088 622 ha were village managed and 1 044 695 cultivated by the state. Of the total equipped area for irrigation 100 percent is irrigated using surface irrigation techniques.

Fields under water management are classed under five types: technical, semi-technical, and simple irrigation, and village-managed wetlands and cultivated swamps (Table 8). Usually the first three types belong to the public works system.

Technical irrigation is an irrigation system in which distribution of water can be fully controlled from the source to the field. It is characterized by permanent canals, control structures, and measuring devices. This irrigation system consists of primary, secondary, and tertiary canals, which are fully controlled by the government. In 2005 they served 4 781 860 ha while in 1996 they served 3 328 016 ha.

Semi-technical irrigation systems are characterized by permanent canals and few control or measuring devices. The government usually controls the primary canals, which are equipped with measuring devices, while the distribution systems next to those canals are not equipped with measuring devices. This system served 1 257 987 ha in 2005 and 1 099 906 ha in 1996.

Simple irrigation systems are characterized by only a few permanent control or distribution structures and may be managed by farmers. The government may provide a part of the system, for example building the required dam. Simple irrigations systems were serving 683 242 ha in 2005 and 697 194 ha in 1996.

Village-managed wetland cultivation is a basic wetland water control system, developed and managed spontaneously by farmers. This system served 2 088 622 ha in 2005 and 1 961 496 ha in 1996.

Cultivated swampland is wetland where its watering mechanisms depend on river water, which is affected by seawater tides. Indonesia has an estimated 39 million ha of coastal and inland swamps. The extent of arable swampland has not been assessed in detail but is estimated to be 7.5 million ha. In 2005, the tidal and non-tidal swamp area mainly used for rice was about 1 044 695 ha and in 1996 1 182 760 ha in 1996.

In 2006, the average cost of developing a public scheme was US$1 630/ha, while the average operation and maintenance cost of a public irrigation system was US$390/ha per year.

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, the economy and society

One of the main objectives of irrigation development in Indonesia is to achieve food self-sufficiency, particularly rice; since 1969 rice cultivation has been expanding. By promoting this kind of rice production, combined with land development, irrigation rehabilitation and crop intensification programmes, the country achieved rice self-sufficiency in 1984. However, because of the rapid rate of fertile agricultural land conversion to non-agricultural use (at an average rate of 50 000 ha/year), a prolonged period of drought and flood, precipitous environmental degradation, reduced subsidies for agricultural inputs and extension activities, rice self-sufficiency became unstable.

Since 1994, Indonesia has been importing rice to meet demand or to maintain a national buffer stock, which is managed by the Bureau of Logistic (BULOG) for market operation, if there is a rice scarcity, especially during the dry season. However, as a result of continuous efforts to increase food production, Indonesia could achieve almost 100 percent of its rice requirements. The import level is significantly lower (about 2 percent of total national rice production) compared to the past records.

Water resources and related infrastructure development have contributed to agricultural, local and national development through their contribution to increasing farmers’ average income and consequent alleviating poverty.

In 2005, the total harvested area of paddy was 11.84 million ha (90.7 percent irrigated and 9.3 percent rainfed) which produced 54.15 tonnes of paddy.

In 2005 the total harvested irrigated cropped area was 13.39 million ha (Table 7 and Figure 4). The major crops cultivated under full control irrigation are paddy, which account for 10.73 million ha, followed by maize, groundnuts and soybeans, which account for 1.3 million ha, 0.32 million ha and 0.28 million ha respectively.

Most irrigated areas are planted with rice twice a year and are left fallow or planted with secondary crops (such as maize or other) in the third season. Typical cropping patterns are rice-rice-fallow or rice-rice-secondary crop. In other areas, particularly those close to irrigation channels, rice can be planted up to three times. In general, rice is always available in the field, but in a smaller area in the third season.

Status and evolution of drainage systems

In 1990 the total drained area was an estimated 3 350 000 ha.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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