PRESERVING AND IMPROVING RICE CULTIVATION IN INDONESIA
Indonesia is a major rice-growing country I visited it when I was in IRRI in 1983. Suharto was the President then, He was a strong leader.
Practically most of Indonesia’s area under rice was covered by one variety called IR36. It was a very successful variety, grown on about 8 to 10 million hectares of land. Unfortunately, in that year the crops fell prey to a major infestation of brown plant hopper. It was a new strain of the pest. On the advice of pesticidefirms keen on selling their products, the Minister of Agriculture had organised aerial spraying of strong pesticides. It had had no effect at all. Suharto asked for my help and I went to Indonesia with the IRRI entomologist. We found that the pesticides were being sprayed at the very early rise of the rice plant, killing the natural enemies of the brown plant hopper. It was true that the new strain of brown plant hopper had taken over, but the answer was not more aerial spraying of pesticide. I pointed this out to Suharto and he immediately understood the problem. Overnight, he banned the use of about 60 pesticides with long residual toxicity and at the same time he said that integrated pest management (IPM) should be the way of controlling pests. That was a very important decision. Rice farmers in Indonesia are mostly not individual farmers but members of cooperatives, people working together. That is a great advantage because in that way the efficacy of IPM could be ensured through the area approach.
The other very good interaction I had with the President of Indonesia was regarding growing rice in some of the very large number of islands that are part of Indonesia. The idea was to clear the forests and grow rice. I was asked whether it was advisable to grow rice in high salinity areas in those islands. After surveying a few of the islands, I said rice can be grown but at the expense of destroying the biodiversity in the lush forests. My advice was that the trees should not be cut down and that rice production can be doubled in the main land, particularly in Sumatra. In what I called operational research,we showed in a few villages how rice production can be doubled. I got some money from Australia for this. Suharto was convinced that productivity could be increased without expanding the land and he straight away ordered that none of the islands should be touched for growing rice.