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El Nino phenomenon sparks concerns of drought and food crisis in Indonesia

As El Nino’s climate effect tightens its grip, Indonesia faces an escalating crisis. Reduced rainfall endangers communities, primarily hitting rainfed rice farmers.

The Indonesian meteorological agency, BMKG, forecasts El Nino’s persistence until year-end, peaking between August and October 2023.



INDONESIA: Indonesia is facing growing concerns as the El Nino climate phenomenon wreaks havoc across the country. The threat of drought and a looming food crisis has become increasingly evident within communities.

El Nino is a climate phenomenon characterized by reduced rainfall due to the warming of sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

The Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) had earlier predicted that El Nino would persist until the end of the year, with its peak occurring between August and October 2023.

Ardhasena Sopaheluwakan, the Acting Deputy for Climatology at BMKG, projected that the El Nino cycle’s peak would manifest from August to October 2023.

During this period, several regions, particularly those with lower rainfall compared to others, will be severely affected by drought. These regions are primarily located in the southern part of Indonesia along the equator.

Sopaheluwakan warned about the heightened risk in central and southern Sumatra, southern Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, Lampung, Banten, and West Java.

“The central to southern parts of Sumatra need to be cautious, along with the southern Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, Lampung, Banten, and West Java,” he said during the Focus Group Discussion (FGD) on Anticipating the Dry Season and Drought Disaster in 2023 at the Ministry of Public Works and Housing (PUPR), South Jakarta, Monday (7 Aug).

The drought is expected to cause agricultural crop failures, especially in West Java, and increase the risk of forest and land fires. Most parts of Indonesia are also likely to experience significantly reduced rainfall.

Areas with higher elevations, however, might not be as affected.

BMKG urges Ministry of Agriculture into action

To address this crisis, BMKG has urged the Ministry of Agriculture to take swift action.

One recommendation is the efficient management of rainwater, similar to practices carried out in South Sulawesi. For instance, in areas heavily reliant on rice cultivation like West Java, managing rainwater and harvesting it, as done in Central Sulawesi, could alleviate the situation.

BMKG Director Dwikorita Karnawati emphasized the importance of educating farmers about climate and weather changes.

The agency has already conducted Climate Field Schools (SLI; Sekolah Lapangan Iklim) to enhance farmers’ understanding of these issues. The aim is to enable them to utilize weather forecasts effectively to safeguard their agricultural activities.

Dwikorita noted that the current positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), where sea surface temperatures in the western Indian Ocean rise, contributing to higher rainfall in that area, is further compounding Indonesia’s dry conditions.

This phenomenon usually accompanies El Nino, exacerbating the country’s rainfall shortage.

The El Nino-induced drought has already started impacting farmers, especially those who rely on rainfed rice paddies.

Farmers struggle amidst drought impact

Mohammad Qomarunnajmi, the Head of the Agroecology Assessment and Application Center at the Indonesian Farmers Union (SPI), reported difficulties in planting rice since July.

Rainfed paddy fields are particularly vulnerable due to their dependence on rainfall for water. Although technically irrigated fields can still be planted, many farmers have shifted to lower water-consuming crops like vegetables.

Meanwhile, farmers currently in the harvesting period have reported a production decline of up to 5%.

Qomarunnajmi identified regions like Indramayu in West Java, Banyuasin in South Sumatra, Pandeglang in Banten, Pati and Klaten in Central Java, and Tuban in East Java as the worst-hit by the El Nino-induced drought.

He mentioned that the drought in these areas has also prevented local governments from implementing the recommended 1,000-hectare expansion advised by the government to mitigate the effects of El Nino.

According to Qomar, the 1,000-hectare expansion program is already too late to be effective now.

“Because the acceleration of planting should have been done for the previous season, to avoid water shortages during harvest time. Unfortunately, in some places, water constraints have already begun, making planting impossible,” said Qomar.

Therefore, Qomar hopes that the government can make efforts to improve irrigation infrastructure, especially in rainfed agricultural lands. The government is also expected to provide artesian wells.

Not only that, he also hopes the government can establish a farm insurance program. This is crucial so that farmers can have the resources to replant, given the crop failures due to the impact of drought.

The Directorate of Plant Protection at the Ministry of Agriculture, represented by Gandi Purnama, projected potential harvest failures in the coming months.

Despite the presence of El Nino, some areas are still experiencing rainfall. This led to a peculiar situation where both drought and flooding occurred, threatening approximately 2,269 hectares of rice paddies in total.

In response, there are action plans that have been and will be implemented. “Firstly, the ‘Chase Planting Movement‘ (gerakan kejar tanam) of 1,000 hectares per district and a national movement to address El Nino with 500 hectares in every province, employing strategies to enhance plant indices, expand cultivation areas, and increase productivity,” Gandi stated.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing has been actively preparing to address the water scarcity issue.

While there are 223 reservoirs with a total volume of 6.7 billion cubic meters, Jarot Widyoko, the Acting Director-General of Water Resources, emphasized the need for careful water management due to the drying of these reservoirs over time.

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