The Jakarta Post
Saturday, July 26, 2008

Prolonged drought causes rice crops to fail

Panca Nugraha and Suherdjoko, The Jakarta Post,
Central Lombok, Semarang

A prolonged drought has destroyed thousands of hectares of rice
plants in six districts in Central Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara,
which the local administration has attributed to farmers'
failure to follow advice.

"Crops have failed this planting season. I'm just gathering the
remnants which we can still salvage to eat," Jumadil, 29, a
farmer in Batulai village in Central Lombok, told The Jakarta
Post on Friday.

He said the rice crops had not matured enough to harvest.

Jumadil's 23-hectare rice farm yielded 1.2 tons of unhusked rice
during the first planting season in April, but he incurred heavy
losses in the second season because of the drought.

According to Jumadil, rainfall was quite high during the harvest
season in April, prompting farmers to replant. But in the middle
of June, only a month into the planting season, the rain stopped
and water from the Satek Ilir irrigation channel dried up.

The drought is expected to continue until early November.

"The rain stopped right after I fertilized my crops. I had to
cut the plants to prevent them from being taken by rodents," he
said.

The drought has also created water shortages, with residents in
remote villages having to travel long distances to reach water
sources.

Head of the Central Lombok Agricultural and Husbandry Office
Lalu Sarafuddin on Friday confirmed the harvest failure in the
second planting season this year.

However, he said it occurred because of farmers' failure to heed
the local government, which had advised them to grow other crops
in the second planting season.

"We urged village leaders and agricultural advisers long before
the second planting season to ask farmers to plant side crops
instead of rice because of limited water and rainfall. But they
were determined to grow rice," he said.

Around 1,300 hectares of rice crops in six districts,
encompassing 10 villages in Praya district, three in West Praya,
three in Southwest Praya, 10 in Pujut, two in Janapria and eight
in Jonggat district, have suffered harvest failure.

"Drought is an annual occurrence here, so every time the second
planting season approaches, we call on farmers to grow crops
such as corn and soybean. But as they are generally traditional
farmers, they are determined to grow rice again at the slightest
indication of rain," Sarafuddin said.

The local administration is currently looking into ways to
tackle the drought issue. One plan to help farmers, especially
those in areas prone to harvest failure, is to provide free
seedlings for the next planting season next year.

"We can't really do anything else because under the law on the
cultivation system, the government cannot intervene or force
farmers to plant rice or side crops. All we can do is appeal to
them, but they didn't listen to us," he added.

The drought has also damaged more than 13,000 hectares of paddy
in West and Central Java, causing a drop in national rice
production this year.

Local governments have deployed trucks to supply clean water to
people in urban areas while those living in remote areas are
using water from drying rivers for cooking and washing.

In Central Java, farmers have been hit with major harvest
failures, as the drought has already severely affected 2,961
paddy fields in a number of regencies, said Nuswantoro Setyadi
Pradono, head of the Central Java agriculture office.

Cilacap, Boyolalu, Banyumas and Rembang regencies are the worst
affected by the drought.

"All in all the total extent of paddy fields affected by the
drought has reached 14,527 hectares, but the harvest failures
are as mentioned earlier. Farmers are getting nothing,"
Nuswantoro said.

There are more rice fields affected by drought this year
compared with the corresponding period last year. This year, the
drought has affected 7,642 hectares, 1,497 hectares of which are
facing harvest failure.