Source: TEMPO
Date: October 15, 2021.

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The new Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representative to Indonesia, Rajendra Aryal, presented his credentials to the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi on September 13. At th online meeting, he reaffirmed the FAO's commitment to a stronger tie with Indonesia to transform the agri-food system in the country.

The meeting also highlighted the agri-food system transformation that will rely on agriculture digitalization, such as e-agriculture and innovation.

"We need to look at how technological innovation and digitalization, such as e-agriculture, can help the farmers and consumers to tackle food insecurity, malnutrition, and depletion of natural resources," Aryal said.

The FAO is working with the Ministry of Agriculture on e-agriculture strategy, including support to the agriculture war room (AWR) to monitor the update of agricultural data in Indonesia, such as rice fields, fertilizer supply, and harvest areas.

The FAO has worked together with Indonesia for a long time. Indonesia joins the FAO in 1948 and its representation office in Indonesia was established in 1978. Since then, the FAO has worked in Indonesia with many programs to support the Indonesian government including in crop productions, livestock, fisheries, and forestry.

To Tempo, Rajendra Aryal explained the works of the FAO at his office in Jakarta, a couple of weeks ago.

What are the current focuses of FAO's works in Indonesia, compared to the old programs as the FAO Representation Office in Jakarta was established in 1978?

In the past, FAO supported Indonesia to build a lot of things because the country was just coming out of colonial times and still building the agriculture system in the country. But now, Indonesia has progressed so much in the agriculture sector. Indonesia is one of the major agricultural producers in the world. We are now working on the gaps, on what Indonesia needs, and the agri-food system transformation is something needed by Indonesia at the moment.

What do you think about food security and the sustainable food system in Indonesia?

Indonesia is a vast country geographically. If you look at the progress of agriculture here, I think agriculture is the only sector that even see significant growth during the pandemic, while several other sectors lagged behind. Throughout the years, agriculture production increases. I believe Indonesia has the capacity to export some of its rice, even during the pandemic, which is a very positive indicator.

What about the equality in food security or food access as you said that Indonesia is a vast country?

Given the geographic distribution and logistics challenges, how we make food accessible in an equitable way in such a huge and diverse country remains a big challenge. In order to develop a sustainable and resilient food system, I think there are several elements that need to be looked at.

What are those?

As per the pathways developed for the Food Systems Summit, Indonesia has divided itself into 6 zones, and the sub-national consultations developing these pathways have come up with priorities based on the needs and gaps. I believe that will help Indonesia to find where the needs and gaps are, and how to connect the dots. You need to see which geographical area has what potential, what the frame conditions are, how the climate conditions are, and how the participation of the private sector and the youth is. I think what we need to look at now is how we frame all these things together and implement the activities along the pathways that Indonesia has defined that no one is left behind. That would be a way forward in transforming the agri-food system in the country.

Then, what needs to be done?

This is where we need policy orientation. As I was mentioning about the 6 areas, Sulawesi or Kalimantan have transportation challenges. Unless we orient the investment into that, we will not achieve this equitable food chain. We cannot ensure a sustainable and resilient food system in the country. I would say that we need to somehow look at the needs, the gaps, influence the policy, look at the investment opportunities, strengthen the social safety net, enhance inclusion, and bring the private sector.

Another challenge for agriculture development is the land. We see less and less agricultural land and forests because of infrastructure development, including housing and industry development. What do you think about that?

This urban migration will be a big challenge. I think this is where we need to have policy changes, how do we make agriculture more attractive? What is the value added? What do young people want now? They want cash at the end of the day, quick cash. They are not patient to wait, to get the harvest for three months and get paid.

How to make agriculture more attractive to youth?

Talk about e-agriculture. We need to bring some new innovative technology. I will give you an example of Turkey. What we did there was we introduced sophisticated greenhouses, a good technology from Greece and Germany, and that became very attractive for the people to get trained, which was a bit non-traditional. In order to attract the youth, I'd say we need to be proactive, we need to be innovative. I also worked in a middle-income country like Serbia.

How is the situation in Serbia?

Serbia has the same problem, young people are not working in the agriculture field and now everybody is so social media savvy. You see all these good developers across the world, including Jakarta, if you see how it is now, it looks so modern. So, I think this is where we need to introduce innovative technology and digital initiatives. We promote this whole IT,e-agriculture, and we link them to the agriculture value chain and the market value chain. We can help them to get the added value for their product and get cash.

What about FAO's works on that issue in Indonesia?

It is based on the needs of the country. Sometimes we have proactive projects, either at the regional or headquarters level. If I come up with something interesting, I jump on it. I say, "can we include Indonesia also?" That's one way of doing it. This digital village initiative, for example. There is another initiative that we are working on is urban food security. We have included Indonesia. The (Indonesia) government also approaches us saying, "these are the needs and gaps, can you help us?" So we work both ways. Indonesia is an upper-middle-income country. Our approach will be more on how we can support Indonesia technically, bringing good practices and lessons from other parts of the world.

There is always a debate on import policies for food as many people sometimes see it will suffer domestic farmers. What do you think about that?

We really need to work on increasing domestic production. In order to make a country self-sustainable, we have to increase production. It doesn't necessarily mean that producing one crop, let's say rice, makes one country self-sufficient. What we are talking about is the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), which is access to healthy and nutritious food in an equitable manner for all people. So, one or a few crops where a country is self-sufficient don't necessarily provide nutritious food.

So we have to look at two dimensions. First, we definitely need to promote all varieties of food that are possible in the country to make the country food self-sufficient, and even capable of export.But at the same time, there could also be a need for import. So import doesn't necessarily mean substitute to the domestic production.

What is your vision of food security in Indonesia?

Our Director-General talked about the Agro-ecosystem, '4 Fs': food, fuel, fiber, and feed. I think these are the four important things. At the same time, in FAO, we also talk about '4 Betters': better production, better nutrition, better environment, and better life. And these 4 Betters are closely linked to the Indonesian medium-term plan. It is also linked very closely with SDGs. So, I would be focusing more on how we can work together with Indonesia to achieve these 4 Betters.