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La Nina Creates Concerns About Indonesia's Harvest

  • Solenn Honorine

An aerial survey mission by Greenpeace over Sumatra island shows how La Nina played a big role in decreasing agricultural output and caused flooding across Indonesia that also reduced production of some crops, Tangerang, west of Jakarta, 16 Oct. 2010

An aerial survey mission by Greenpeace over Sumatra island shows how La Nina played a big role in decreasing agricultural output and caused flooding across Indonesia that also reduced production of some crops, Tangerang, west of Jakarta, 16 Oct. 2010

The rainy season officially started in Indonesia a few weeks ago, but many here would say that this year, it never really ended. Summer has been unusually wet, and since September heavy downpours take a toll on crops. With so much rain damaging harvests, Indonesia faces new concerns about food security.

Damaged crops

Cino Wawan sits in front of crates overflowing with cabbages. He grabs the vegetables one by one, and rips off damp, dead leaves.

Cino says that he has to peel off two layers of rotten leaves for the cabbages to look appealing enough to be sold. When the weather is not as bad as it has been in the past few months, he only gets rid of one dirty layer.

Soaring prices

It is not only more work, it also means that he cannot get a good price for the vegetables.

This is bad news for the 325 farmers who sell their crops through the Mitra Tani Parahyangan cooperative here.

Another young man arrives on a motorbike, a large bag precariously resting on his lap.

This is Epis, who, like many farmers on the fertile island of Java, makes a living on a small, 1.5 hectare, plot of land. He grows a little bit of rice, some tomatoes and the banana flowers he came to sell.

He says that if it rains too much his income will take a beating. Some of his crop will rot; tomatoes will take too long to ripen; and young banana trees might even drown.

Effects of La Nina

The problem is the weather pattern known as La Nina. It is the reverse of the El Nino, which typically brings drought to Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia and Australia.

La Nina brings cooler-than-usual sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, which usually triggers heavy rains in Southeast Asia.

Excessive downpours in normally dry areas

Its effects vary throughout the Indonesian archipelago, and even though some normally dry areas may benefit from more rains, the climatology agency warns that Java island, the country's rice basket, will see excessive downpours this year.

Officials expect the heavy rains to reduce the rice, palm oil, coffee cocoa, and rubber harvests. And the bad weather could slow down extraction of commodities such as tin and coal.

The Indonesian government already is preparing for a bad harvest. Even though the country in recent years has exported rice, the state logistics agency imported rice this month for the first time in three years.

Benni Sormin is the assistant representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Jakarta. He says buying rice was prudent since La Nina is expected to last for four to six more months. Benni said, "I think that is why the government took what is, to me, a wise decision because if you have any chance to buy cheaper rice, why don't you do it?"

Ujang Majudin, the president of the Mitra Tani Parahyangan cooperative, crosses the large barn where three people load corn into large green crates. There is no cold room to store the crop, and with such damp weather, fruits and vegetables can rot in a couple of days.

Experts warn of disruption

Agriculture experts say that because this year will be wetter, farmers might not have enough sunshine to dry grain. And too many storms can disrupt work in the fields, and damage roads, making it hard to get crops to market.

Ujang Majudin is worried. He says that he expects the cooperative to produce about half the normal amount of rice, fruit and vegetables. And even though prices have started to rise due to diminishing supply, he predicts a tough time ahead for the workers and their families.

Ujang says that he fears the whole country faces hard times.

Already the bad weather has exacted a toll: flashfloods killed over 100 people in Papua recently, and floods sent families scrambling for shelter in the capital Jakarta. High waves render navigation dangerous throughout the archipelago, and dengue fever is spreading because all the water means mosquitoes thrive.

The Indonesian disaster management agency has already warned of possible disasters, such as landslides, linked to the heavy rains and has been put on alert.

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