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Oryza sativa

Rice Harvesting in Indonesia
Rice Harvesting in Indonesia

Returning to the series for UBC Celebrate Research Week, Lindsay introduces Dr. Rick Barichello:

Dr. Richard Barichello is a Professor in UBC's Faculty of Land and Food Systems and focuses on issues of agricultural economic policy, including policy reform in southeast Asian countries.

Dr. Barichello writes (excerpted from the article, "Agriculture in Indonesia: Lagging Performance and Difficult Choices"):

Poverty remains a major social issue in Indonesia, by any measure. Because most poverty is still located in rural areas, many agricultural policies embrace the rhetoric of poverty alleviation as one of their objectives. In the first two decades of the Suharto period, to the mid-1980s, agricultural policies that supported rice production contributed to pro-poor economic growth and reduced rural poverty. Poverty declined from 1990 to the Asian financial crisis of 1997/98, rose sharply with the crisis but declined again steadily from 1999 to 2008.

But over the past two decades, the contribution of these policies to economic growth has been reduced; government priorities shifted away from productivity-enhancing policies and flowed to rice price protection policies whose costs were growing. In addition, the leverage of agricultural price policies on rural poverty has been reduced. Raising the price of rice no longer reduces poverty because the poorest Indonesians are net rice consumers, wage rates now appear to be influenced most heavily by the non-farm labor market, and the benefits of price policies have been strongly tilted toward farmland owners. There have been efforts to soften the impact of higher rice and cooking oil prices for the poorest consumers through targeted consumer subsidies ("rice for the poor" targeted 19 million poor households in 2008), and expenditures on these programs increased in response to the 2008 price increases. The current price is roughly 10% above the world price for medium quality rice, but a 50% margin has been a good guide overall from 2000 to 2007. There is a longstanding political demand for protection of rice in Indonesia. That protection takes the form of preventing decreases in its price through the use of trade policy instruments, namely a tariff plus exclusive import rights granted to a well-known state enterprise, BULOG (the State Logistics Board).

Overall, rural poverty has been reduced since 1999 (figure from article), but this has been due to strong nonfarm economic growth and a dynamic rural labor market that features substantial off-farm employment and rural-urban migration. Among rice farmers, the supposed beneficiaries of higher rice prices, land owners are likely to capture most of the gains, while wage earners in rice farming (the landless) capture little if any. So, although the alleviation of poverty is still promoted as an important issue for agricultural policy, this is now largely political rhetoric. Much more could be done.

Daniel adds: Today's photographs are part of the image collection of the International Rice Research Institute (original image 1 | original image 2).


On the note that much more could be done, what would be an option? How could we help? Would it providing land and a co-op type opportunity be feasible? policy changes? What about starting an organization and voice for the landless rice cultivators?

Caroline, Rick is traveling abroad at the moment, but Lindsay has asked him to comment if he has a chance.

written with much passion

here we are 2010 with conferences and
who and the un and here in the states
we have organizations and save the everglades
the list seems endless at times as we try
and we do try to help solve age old concerns

we are even more connected then in the past
to the rest of the world yet at times we get
in our very own way bon jour i live florida

Elizabeth and Caroline - thank you for your prose and optimistic tone! You've made my day nicer, may we see nicer days for those less fortunate than we, please.

Caroline-I believe Dr. Barichello is traveling (and out of range) until the 26th but I think your reaction is a common one felt by many of us at the plight of people who have less individual power to make effective change in their countries. As it is, we are pretty much limited to lobbying their government from home to reform the current policies that hurt rice growers. There are lessons other countries can learn from their experience, however, and I've found this article that also came out of the Harvard Institute for International Development (the same think tank Barichello collaborates with) that you might like to look at. It concludes with suggestions for reform. Also, follow the link "rice for the poor" in the main article to learn more about hunger issues and how you can help.

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