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Indonesia Seeks to Build Food Security

Indonesia is home to nearly 240 million people, making it Southeast Asia's most populous country. But fertile farmland is limited in this island nation and shortages of major commodities such as rice and sugar are common.

The main hall of Jakarta's convention center teems with rice, noodles and meatballs. Bananas and mangos in every variety stand on display. The exhibition's tagline "Feed the World," acknowledges Indonesia's responsibility to help countries struggling with food production.

But Franciscus Welirang, chairman of the Committee on Food Security at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says the government also realizes it must first help the people of Indonesia.

"Food is for everybody," said Welirang. "The basic idea is how to feed our nation first, but we are not alone in this world, and we also should participate based on our best competitive product."

The Chamber of Commerce, which organized the two-day expo, targets six commodities for export - tea, coffee, cacao, tuna, prawns and palm oil. It is also working to expand production of beef and chicken.

But rice and sugar are the country's main crops.

"We want our people to diversify, but still rice is very important," he said. "We are sufficient on it We hope we can withstand our continuity on that, and if possible, that we have an excess of rice, then we can export rice."

The Chamber of Commerce wants to see increased food production through infrastructure development, improved agricultural policies and financial support for small farmers. Welirang says that requires micro-loans and specialized agricultural lenders.

"There must be an agricultural bank, because to finance agriculture is totally different than with industrial, the risk is different; that's number one," he said.

The government has implemented a fertilizer subsidy to reduce farm costs and it provides seeds to improve harvests. On larger farms, the government partners with big businesses on land cultivation.

A free trade agreement for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations means Indonesian could increase farm exports. But when it comes to food, regional tastes can be fickle. So, Welirang says, maybe it is better to say: "Feed Indonesia, then feed the world."