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Indonesia pledges accurate rice data to combat vast misreporting

Oct 29 2018

October 26, 2018 ( By Reuters )

 

JAKARTA, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Indonesia’s statistics agency is introducing technology such as satellite imagery combined with app-based, on-the-ground checks to more accurately estimate rice production after huge discrepancies in official data.

Previously, agriculture officials have admitted to routinely inflating rice harvest data to present a rosy picture to the government or win subsidies, often leading to last-minute imports once shortages became apparent. (reut.rs/2RakYLz)

The supply of the staple food is politically sensitive and surging prices in the past have triggered civil unrest, while importing rice tends to be criticised by farmers and the opposition given self-sufficiency targets.

Under its new methodology, the statistics agency (BPS) this week estimated 2018 unhusked (unprocessed) rice production at 56.5 million tonnes, far below the agriculture ministry’s 83 million tonne estimate in September.

The BPS stopped publishing rice data in 2016 and has been working to improve its reliability. The head of the agency conceded that in recent decades many people had felt its data was “inaccurate”.

“Now we can have future projections that are more accurate, so policy planning can be more focused and on target,” BPS Chief Suhariyanto, who uses one name, told reporters.

Processed rice output this year is estimated at 32.4 million tonnes by the BPS, against an estimate of 48.3 million tonnes put forward previously by the agriculture ministry.

Suhariyanto said more accurate forecasting meant government officials would not have to “waste energy” disputing rice data. In May, Indonesia ordered an additional 500,000 tonnes of rice imports after state food procurement agency Bulog reported shrinking stocks. Bulog has imported 1.8 million tonnes of rice this year from countries like Vietnam, Thailand and India.

Despite lower than expected output, the government is yet to decide whether Indonesia will issue additional import quotas, said Chief Economic Minister Darmin Nasution.

Nasution said a forecast surplus this year of 2.85 million tonnes of rice, based on estimated demand per capita last year and the current population, is much lower than in the past when the figure would reach 20 million tonnes.

The latest method will employ satellite imagery and ground verification to measure areas under cultivation. Officers will do on-the-ground monitoring each month, said Suhariyanto, adding that this would increase transparency.

Officers will visit more than 200,000 locations across Indonesia and input data into an Android-based app to assess the rice growth phase.

BPS’s latest calculations showed Indonesia’s rice cultivation area has fallen to 7.1 million hectares (17.5 million acres) this year, compared with 7.8 million hectares in a 2013 survey.

Similar methods are due to be applied to assess Indonesia’s corn production next year, said Suhariyanto. Syukur Iwantoro, secretary general at Indonesia’s Agriculture Ministry, did not say why his ministry’s data was so different but welcomed the “improvement” in data.

“This has been proposed since the previous administration, but only this government dared to change the methodology,” he told reporters.

Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; additional reporting by Maikel Jefriando; writing by Fransiska Nangoy; editing by Ed Davies and Richard Pullin