Extreme weather forces Indonesia to import rice

Indonesia will be forced to import rice in bulk and reduce exports of other commodities after extreme weather harmed agriculture over the past few months, officials said Friday.

Crop yields - especially rice - were harmed when the La Nina phenomenon significantly reduced the dry season period between April and September, said Indonesian Farmers Association secretary general Benny Pasaribu.

"La Nina played a big role in decreasing agricultural output. It has caused flooding across Indonesia that also reduced production of some crops," he said.

"If this condition persists, then crop output could sink further," he added.

La Nina is a weather pattern that leads to stronger monsoons, greater rainfall and hurricanes in the Pacific basin.

"Growth in rice production has reached only two percent this year compared to 6.7 percent in 2009," said state logistics agency head Sutarto Alimoeso.

"In order to maintain the stockpile of rice, the agency will import rice from Thailand and Vietnam," he added.

Indonesia, the world's third largest rice producer, is expected to import up to 300,000 metric tonnes of rice in the country's first bulk purchase since 2007.

Indonesian Cocoa Association chairman Zulhefi Sikumbang said La Nina had also caused many cocoa plants to be infected by fungus and eventually rot.

"Compared to last year, the production of cocoa has fallen more than 10 percent. The farmers in Sulawesi and Sumatra islands are affected the most by this," he said.

In 2009, cocoa production reached 550,000 tonnes, while this year it is predicted to total 500,000 tonnes despite a target of 600,000 tonnes.

The intense rainfall has also disrupted chilli crops, rubber-tapping activity and production of minerals such as tin and coal.

But Indonesia's palm oil industry, the world's largest, has mostly been unaffected.

The local climatology agency has predicted that the extreme weather across the archipelago will continue until March next year.

A similar weather pattern occurred in 1998, but this year's rainfall was more intense, according to the agency.

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