Originally written by Elly Burhaini Faizal for the Jakarta Post.

The government needs to prohibit the conversion of rice fields into housing, industrial complexes or other non-agricultural activities as part of efforts to promote food security, experts have said.

Sumarno, an expert with the Agriculture Ministry, said on Thursday that Indonesia would face severe food shortages and food insecurity unless it took serious action on the continuing conversion of rice fields for non-agricultural activities.

According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), the amount of land comprising rice fields across the nation reaches only about 8 million hectares. Sumarno said that the figure will continue to decrease with excessive land conversions.

“It is just not sufficient to produce enough rice to feed around 240 million people in the nation,” Sumarno told a workshop on food security held by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Annual rice production in Indonesia stands ranged between 33 and 38 million tons between 2000 and 2010, up about 400 percent from the 1960s. Although Indonesia is a rice-producing country, it still has to import 1 to 2 million tons of rice every year due to high domestic consumption.

Sumarno said while other countries in the region, including Thailand and Vietnam, have succeeded in diversifying food consumption, Indonesia still depended too much on rice.

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