Saturday, January 29, 2005 Jakarta - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyonosaid he has ordered state-owned enterprises to work to improve thelivelihood of farmers and fishermen who constitute a majority of thecountry's 230 million population.
Speaking before thousands of farmers in Harjomulyo Village, Ogan KomeringUlu Timur, West Sumatra, on Friday, the President said the government didnot want farmers to become poorer and become caught in a poverty trapbecause they were exploited by big investors, including state-ownedenterprises.
"We don't want rich businessmen to get richer while farmers and fishermenget poorer. We don't want this to happen," he said as quoted by Antara.
The President, however, did not provide details as to how the governmentplanned to reform or encourage state-owned enterprises to help, but onlysaid: "We want to fix up our marketing policies so that all agricultureproducts marketed at home and overseas can be sold at higher prices."
Susilo accompanied by first lady Ani Yudhoyono, Minister of AgricultureAnton Apriyantono, Cabinet secretary Sudi Silalahi and South SumatraGovernor Syachrial Oesman, stressed the government had to improve thesocial welfare of farmers and fishermen because they made up a majority ofthe population.
Over the past four decades, farmers and fishermen have endured economichardship because of soaring prices for fertilizer and farm equipment andthe falling price of unhusked rice.
Many farmers in Sumatra have changed from growing rice to fruit andvegetables and ornamental plants, which get higher prices on localmarkets. Others have converted their land into palm oil and rubberplantations.
Susilo told the meeting he had recently held talks with his Malaysiancounterpart, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, to discuss how to improvecrude palm oil production and maintain price stability. Malaysia andIndonesia are the two largest crude palm oil producers in the world.
Industry players needed to increase their cooperation with investors andpay attention to managing the environmental aspects of the crop, Susilosaid.
The Ministry of Agriculture, regional administrations and farmers shouldwork to ensure the efficiency of land use, since a bigger part of Sumatrahad been converted into palm oil plantations, he said.
"Secondly, the cooperation between investors and farmers should benefitboth sides and thirdly, all sides involved in the industry should notdamage the environment," he said.
Many investors or farmers have burned off protected tropical forests toclear land for palm oil plantations, threatening the habitat of protectedspecies and biodiversity on the island and "exporting" a thick haze toneighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
The President made no comment about the mounting demand of smallland-holders for land reform in Sumatra. The majority of horticulturalland in the province is owned by private or state plantation companies.