Indonesian government revisits Food Estate Project amid criticisms – focuses on integration and sustainability

The Indonesian government has announced its intention to designate the Merauke Food Estate in South Papua (Papua Selatan Province) as a Special Economic Zone (Kawasan Ekonomi Khusus (KEK)) to bolster food production and address potential food crises. Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Airlangga Hartarto, revealed this decision after a meeting with President Joko Widodo on 10 October 2023.

While specific production targets for the KEK were not disclosed, Airlangga mentioned a potential of 2 million hectares, starting with an initial allocation of 200 thousand hectares. The project’s budget will be directed towards a public-private partnership (PPP) scheme.

Acting Minister of Agriculture, Arief Prasetyo Adi, emphasised the need for integrated food and energy production within the food estate to harness Indonesia’s abundant productive land and infrastructure. He expressed confidence in the country’s potential to become an extraordinary producer and emphasized the importance of a comprehensive approach from farming and logistics to post-harvest processing and market distribution.

The announcement comes after criticisms regarding the stalled progress and alleged misuse of the food estate project, which was accused of contributing to deforestation without delivering substantial results. The PDIP (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle/ Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan). Secretary General, Hasto Kristiyanto, called for the Financial Transaction Reporting and Analysis Center (Pusat Pelaporan dan Analisis Transaksi Keuangan (PPATK)) to investigate these allegations, highlighting the environmental concerns associated with the project.

President Joko Widodo defended the food estate initiative, acknowledging that its implementation had encountered challenges. He stressed that building a successful food estate is not a straightforward process and cited the unpredictability of initial crop outcomes. However, he remained committed to the project’s goals and pledged to evaluate and improve its execution, emphasizing that failure is a part of the learning process.

The decision to establish the Merauke Food Estate KEK aligns with Indonesia’s broader strategy to mitigate global food crises by increasing domestic food production. This move reflects the government’s dedication to addressing food security concerns not only for Indonesia but also for the international community.

In conclusion, the Indonesian government’s decision to designate the Merauke Food Estate as a Special Economic Zone represents a significant step toward addressing food security challenges. Despite past criticisms and hurdles, the government remains committed to advancing the project, recognising the need for integrated approaches to food and energy production to maximise its potential and contribute to global food security efforts.