Farmers Complain about Fertilizer: What’s the Government Doing?

In recent months, scarce and expensive fertilizers have been the main complaint of farmers in Indonesia, including in the North Tapanuli District. I found this complaint about fertilizers in several discussions about Law No.19 of 2013 on Farmer Protection and Empowerment. One part of the discussion was an inventory of farmers’ problems. Op. Jojo Tambunan from Kelompok Tani (KT) Dosroha, Siabalabal III Village, mentioned expensive non-subsidized fertilizers and scarce subsidized fertilizers as the first order of problems faced by farmers today. He admitted that the production of his rice and pineapple has decreased because he does not receive adequate fertilizer. What exactly is going on with fertilizers in the country? How will the government solve it?

Let’s look for a moment at the story of the arrival of chemical fertilizers in Indonesia. The Green Revolution was one of the breakthroughs of the New Order regime in the early 70s. The Green Revolution introduced the Bimas (Community Guidance) movement, namely the optimal use of chemical fertilizers as one of the important pillars of its success. Initially, farmers did not necessarily believe in it.  However, through intensive counseling and evidence of increased agricultural production, farmers across the archipelago flocked to the use of chemical fertilizers. The Green Revolution in Indonesia did show achievements from 1984-1989 in the form of rice self-sufficiency. But in the 1990s farmers began to be confused by pest attacks, declining soil fertility, and increasing dependence on chemical fertilizers that were not environmentally friendly.

This article does not want to discuss the Green Revolution in depth. There are many sources that we can access to know the history and impact of this breakthrough. KSPPM’s pocket book titled “Farming in Harmony with Nature” analyzes the impact of the Green Revolution. One of the negative impacts of the Green Revolution that are still felt today is the dependence of Indonesian farmers on chemical fertilizers, even using them as primary fertilizers. Many factors make farmers prefer chemical fertilizers over homemade organic fertilizers. The use is practical, the results are seen quickly, and the government provides a lot of subsidies so that the price is more affordable for farmers. All of these factors have made chemical fertilizers a staple for farmers for generations.

During a hearing between the North Tapanuli Farmers Union (ST) and the Regent of North Tapanuli at the official housing on Saturday (3/4/22), the Regent of North Tapanuli explained that the scarcity of subsidized chemical fertilizers was caused by a reduction in supply and a decrease in the budget so that the fertilizer quota approved by the center for North Tapanuli was only 27,000 tons. One of the causes was the Russia-Ukraine war, which affected the supply of fertilizer raw materials. As much as 80% of fertilizer raw materials are imported from abroad, one of which is from Russia. The Subsidy Budget Realization Chart below shows that the subsidy budgeted in the 2022 Draft State Budget is IDR 206.96 trillion.

The scarcity and high price of fertilizers were also discussed at the G7 Summit in Germany in June 2022. President Joko Widodo requested the reintegration of Russian fertilizers into the global supply chain by utilizing intensive and proactive communication to the public so that fertilizers from Russia are not subject to sanctions. The request was responded to by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, who gave assurances to the President of Indonesia that the need for fertilizers from Russia would be met.

The types of Russian fertilizers are NPK 16-16-16, Pak Tani NPK 16-16-16, Russian KCL 125, and NPK Phonska 15-15-15. The four types above are fertilizers that are often used by farmers in Indonesia, including in North Tapanuli. Ina Kiky Tambunan from KT Paroma said, “The scarcity of Phonska and NPK has caused farmers to reduce their use for rice and pineapple, resulting in a 30% drop in production. This does not include the losses caused by yellow leaf and ripe girl diseases in pineapple plants for which no cure has been found to date.”

Subsidized fertilizers are regulated in Minister of Industry and Trade Decree No.70/MPP/Kep/2/2003 dated 11 February 2003 on the Procurement and Distribution of Subsidized Fertilizers for the Agricultural Sector. According to the table of the person in charge of the procurement and distribution of subsidized fertilizers, the distribution to North Tapanuli District is carried out by two companies, namely PT Petrokimia Gresik and PT Pupuk Iskandar Muda, which provide Urea, SP-36, NPK, and ZA fertilizers.

The Indonesian Minister of Agriculture, Syahrul Yasin Limpo, responded to the increasing need for fertilizers in Indonesia by running a program to accelerate the use of organic fertilizers by deploying UPPO (Organic Fertilizer Processing Unit) and Organic Fertilizer Assistance. The hope is that farmers will be fertilizer independent by optimizing the use of manure. With more efficient farming costs, agricultural production will increase in quantity and quality. However, the government does not seem to wholeheartedly encourage farmers to be independent. According to the Minister of Agriculture, the goal of this program is to balance the use of organic and inorganic fertilizers, not for farmers to fully use homemade organic fertilizers.** (Reny Hutagalung).

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