Indonesia, a country where rice is more than just a food staple, is grappling with sustained high prices of medium and premium rice. These high prices are attributed to an increase in the price of harvested dry paddy (GKP) and a decrease in overall production. The National Food Agency anticipates a delay in the harvest season that will result in reduced production lasting until the end of the year.
The Government's Response
In response to the potential increase in rice prices, the Indonesian government has implemented various measures. These include market operations with Stabilization of Food Supply and Price (SPHP) rice, food aid distribution, and the promotion of cheap food movements. Despite these efforts, the price of rice remains high. It hasn't seen a significant decrease, but these interventions have at least prevented an abrupt surge.
The Impact on Farmers
Indonesian farmers, such as Akma Rangga from West Java, are feeling the heat of the situation. Rangga's fields have barely received any rain since April, relying on irrigation channels that are nearly dried out. The dry weather is the result of Indonesia experiencing its driest spell in four years, impacting harvests and causing the price of rice to increase by as much as a fifth. This price surge is affecting not just Indonesia but other key growing regions across Asia, leading to countries like India limiting their rice shipments to control inflation and ensure food security for their residents.
The Political and Economic Implications
Rice is a staple for most of Indonesia's 270 million people, and its price movements are politically sensitive, especially as the country approaches elections due in February. The rising prices also threaten the government's recent success in controlling inflation. If the situation does not improve, rice prices could hit a multi-year high of 15,000 rupiah (98 U.S. cents) a kilogram, according to Zulkifly Rasyid, chairman of a cooperative of rice wholesalers in Indonesia's largest market of Cipinang.
With the El Nino weather pattern expected to peak around October and fueling concerns that rice prices could reach their highest in years, the government's efforts to stabilize the situation remain critical. The National Food Agency estimates El Nino could shrink rice output between 5% and 7% this year, but the shortfall should be covered by an existing import quota. However, until the situation improves, the country's lower-income groups who typically buy rice from traditional markets are shouldering a greater impact from the increase in rice prices compared to the upper-middle class who purchase rice from modern markets.