How Indonesia is laying the fertile grounds for sustainable agriculture

By Jaz Low

Dr. Ir. Fadjry Djufry, M.Si Director General of the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development shares how the organisation is championing sustainable agriculture and improving the country’s agricultural productivity. 

“Without access to modern farming’ livelihoods hinge precariously on a changing environment that they’re struggling to understand,” the US Agency for International Development said. In particular, the agriculture landscape in Indonesia is ruled by many small family farms, who view their labour as a spiritual and existential duty.

Getting them to break away from traditional methods is not easy, but leading this shift is the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD). The agency plays a pivotal role in delivering the tech that makes farming more sustainable, improves food security, and increases agricultural productivity.

Dr. Ir. Fadjry Djufry, M.Si Director General of the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development highlights why there is a need for sustainable farming and mentions case studies of agritech innovations.

Sustainable farming innovations

Indonesia is one of the world's largest producers and exporters of agricultural products, supplying important commodities such as palm oil, cocoa, and rice to the rest of the world.

But the future of the sector is uncertain.

Rapid industrialisation has converted agricultural land for development use, while the excessive application of chemical fertilisers and pesticides contaminates soil, water, and turf. Deforestation and waste pollution further degrade farming areas, with climate change being yet another nail in the coffin.

As these effects compound, there is a need for farmers to take a leap towards sustainable agriculture.

An example of a project they are working on is the Integrated Planting Management of Rice. This is an effort to increase rice productivity by processing land, water, plants, and pests in a sustainable manner.

One of the initiatives under this project adopts an intermittent water-saving irrigation system. Alternately watering and draining rice fields allows the soil surface to be completely dry prior to the next application of water. This forces crops to undergo early stages of water stress, which encourages them to grow deeper roots.

This increases plant resistance to extreme weather conditions caused by climate change and “benefits crops that survive solely on rainfed land,” Dr Djury highlights.

Reorienting policies for sustainable farming

Additionally, “IAARD’s research reveals that sustainable agriculture policies are geared toward short-term goals and do not sufficiently address the problem of environmental degradation,” he notes.

For instance, land clearing can leave soil vulnerable to erosion, and extreme weather conditions like strong winds and hard rains exacerbate this phenomenon.

To tackle this, the government currently recommends farmers to use fertilisers that can improve the physical properties of soil and maintain its resistance to erosion. But the advice is akin to slapping a bandaid on a bullet wound, as “they should be targeting the root causes of this environmental issue instead,” Dr Djury explains.

A more fitting policy would be to ensure that every household has a proper drainage system so that water erosion does not wear away the earth's surface.

Alternatively, the government could suggest covering bare soil with mulch or straw to reduce the impact of raindrops striking the ground and to cover it from the wind.

Improving food security

Aside from sustainable farming, IAARD seeks to improve Indonesia’s food security. The country struggles with food security due to its fast-growing population and citizens moving from rural areas to urban ones, which entail a shrinking pool of farmers.

“The archipelago also faces geographic challenges, as islands may be difficult to reach and access to these remote places often involve extra costs which can lead to an increase in food prices,” Dr Djury elaborates.

IAARD helps to strengthen food security by investing in new varieties of rice. They are interested in strains that are capable of high yields, resistant to pests and diseases, as well as stress-tolerant to climate change.

“One example of this is the Ciherang rice variety, which is able to adapt to climate conditions and has a relatively short harvest duration,” Dr Djury shares.

Increasing agricultural productivity

Last but not least, the IAARD concentrates its efforts on increasing agricultural productivity by helping farmers adopt sophisticated technology and move away from farming by hand using basic equipment. Long-term productivity growth can help to raise incomes, increase food supply, and reduce food prices.

The organisation advocates for the use of agricultural machinery such as tractors, which play a significant role in the plowing, planting, and fertilising of crops. Tractors can also be used for hauling materials and personal transportation, which makes the work of farmers less laborious and their lives more convenient.

Another innovation is the mechanical rice transplanter, which automatically moves rice seedlings onto paddy fields and ensures uniform spacing. This method is not only fast but also makes sure that the seedlings mature evenly and quickly.
IAARD encourages farmers to employ combine harvesters too. This is a versatile machine that combines four separate harvesting operations into a single process.

“Several studies have stated that agricultural machinery leads to labour savings that increase the efficiency of rice farming by up to 20 per cent,” Dr Djury highlights. Technology was also able to reduce crop loss by 10 to 12 per cent and increase farming profits by up to 50 per cent, he adds.

The agriculture industry is quintessential to Indonesia’s economic prosperity and food security. A variety of challenges threaten the future of the sector, but IAARD is committed to rising against them by investing in agriculture technology.