In this fertile nation, why do we still need to import fruits and vegetables? The government should protect fruit producers by limiting entry points.
Indonesia has long been known for its fertile soil. A poet once described it as "very prosperous and very fertile." Ismail Marzuki wrote a song containing the lines, "...my motherland secure and prosperous, fertile coconut islands...", and the band Koes Plus, which was formed after independence, sang the lyrics, "...people say our motherland is heaven, sticks and stones become plants..."
Is our soil still fertile? Yet, it turns out that this fertile soil cannot produce enough fruit and vegetables to meet the needs of the people: they need to be imported. What happens may be that our fruit and vegetables cannot compete with imports. Look around in markets and modern stores. Apples are not from Malang, but from the United States and New Zealand. Oranges are not from Kalimantan, which used to be famous for its oranges, and neither are they Bali oranges. In truth, they come from China, and the orange farms of north Bali have disappeared. Papayas, bananas and durian are imported from Thailand.
In Tanjung Priok, Jakarta, between 1,000 and 1,500 containers of fruits enter the country every day. Data show the sharp rise in imports of fruit and vegetables. In 2008, imports were worth only US$881.6 million, but by 2011 this figure had reached US$1.7 billion. According to a Central Bureau of Statistics publication, from January to April this year, imported fruits totaled US$298.2 million, equivalent to 292,000 tons of fruit.
The government has tried to stem this flood of imports. The Trade Minister issued Regulation No. 30/2012 on Provisions for the Import of Horticultural Products. In addition to consumer protection and labeling, the regulation covers entry points. The port of Tanjung Priok can no longer be used as an entry point for the importation of fruit and vegetables. Importers must unload their cargoes at the ports of Belawan Medan, Tanjung Perak, Surabaya and Makassar. If they insist on unloading at Jakarta, they must use the Soekarno-Hatta airport in Cengkareng.
This regulation forces importers to bear higher transportation costs because although they unload at Tanjung Perak, for example, they cannot distribute imports there. Tanjung Perak is merely a transit point, and East Java Governor Soekarwo has established a team of experts to monitor movements of horticultural products at the port. In this way, imported fruit and vegetables theoretically will be more expensive, and the hope is that customers will buy local fruits and vegetables instead.
Unfortunately this regulation, which should have come into force on June 15, was changed following protests. Given the unpreparedness of the importers, the regulation will only be applied from September 28 onwards. This delay is regrettable because it will push importers to increase shipments. Domestic market is predicted to be flooded with fruits and vegetables just when demand peaks in the run-up to the Lebaran holidays.
This ministerial regulation, although it has yet to be implemented, is only one way to protect farmers. Other methods must be tried. Agriculture Minister Suswono could for example try to persuade farmers to stop using pesticides and switch to organic fertilizer. If there was a campaign claiming health advantages from local fruit and vegetables due to the use of organic fertilizer, says Suswono, consumers would be attracted. But it is not certain, Pak Minister, whether our consumers base their choices on attractive packaging, low prices or the perceived superiority of foreign products.
No. 44/12, June 26, 2012