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Indonesia's Net Zero Target and Sustainable Agriculture: Are We on the Right Track?

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

First published at The Jakarta Post (19/12/2022)

Indonesia may be determined to meet its ambitious emission reduction targets but without supportive agricultural policies, these targets will remain elusive and the agriculture sector will remain among the highest emission contributors. A policy overhaul is thus required to produce long-term strategies that support sustainability and the environment’s carrying capacity for human needs.

The government released its first National Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce carbon emissions in 2016 and an updated version in September 2022. The latest NDC sets greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets in the agriculture sector at 10 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) in an unconditional mitigation scenario and 12 Mt CO2 eq in a conditional scenario, aiming to reduce emissions by respectively 0.3 percent and 0.4 percent compared to business as usual.

While agriculture must produce sufficient food to meet the nation’s needs and to ensure nutritional security, the efforts to do so should not degrade the environment and contribute to exacerbating climate change.

The government’s net zero strategy has at least four focus points: improving crop productivity and intensity, integrating farming and agroforestry, optimizing unproductive land and reducing food loss and waste. But with the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors contributing 1.29 Mt CO2 eq, Indonesia faces a tough challenge in achieving its net zero targets.

The government’s current agricultural policies also do not seem to support its net-zero targets. For instance, state-sponsored food estate programs in Central Kalimantan and Papua are being developed in forest and peatland areas, worsening the climate crisis and causing losses of 427.2 tonnes of carbon per hectare of converted peatland.

Considering the unintended consequences of fertilizer subsidy, or unfair advantages for certain commodities and fertilizer overuse, the money could have been instead reallocated to more sustainable farming programs.

Its net zero target should push Indonesia to practice sustainable agriculture on a wide scale, enabling the agriculture sector to become more resilient while also improving farmers’ welfare in the long run.

Implementing the drive to reach the country’s net zero target could also stimulate the development of farming supplies and equipment that facilitate decarbonization in agriculture. A capital shift from high-emission agricultural assets to low-emission assets is also necessary.

Agricultural businesses might also develop and commercialize technologies such as gene editing for disease resistance or better carbon sequestration, as well as vaccinations and feed additives to prevent enteric fermentation.

Transitioning will also open opportunities for transfer of knowledge on sustainable farming practices, as well as international cooperation and investment in farming and food technologies. Access to information, technology, training and well-designed safety nets is needed to foster greater resilience in rural areas, where most of Indonesia’s farmers live.

Equal access to watersheds for agricultural irrigation, accompanied by proper water management through landscape approach, will enable farmers to maximize land productivity.

A recent study by the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies showed that private sector involvement in agriculture through technology transfers could indirectly incentivize farmers through better productivity and selling prices.

The government needs to review its laws, regulations and policies in the agriculture and other related sectors such as trade, industry and land to weed out those that hinder the achievement of its net zero targets, such as its policies on food estate development.

The food estate program, which has proven ineffective in addressing food security issues, deforested 1.3 million hectares in the Area of Interest (AOI) in Papua, threatening the environment, biodiversity and ecosystem and leading to the loss of local livelihoods.

The program also contributed 616 Mt CO2 eq in GHG emissions, equivalent to Australia's annual emissions or nearly a third of Indonesia's overall emissions.

Environment and Forestry Minister Regulation No. 24/2020 on the provision of forest areas for food estate development also has the potential to drive further deforestation in Indonesia, especially in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua.

Furthermore, the government continues to subsidize fertilizers, with subsidies amounting to Rp 25.27 trillion (US$1.68 billion) in 2021, which contribute to increased carbon emissions from the agriculture sector. Chemical fertilizers, their manufacturing, transportation and subsequent direct and indirect soil emissions were responsible for around 171.1 Mt CO2 eq of emissions in 2018. Unless the subsidy system is changed, farmers will not have the option to implement sustainable farming practices.

Indonesia’s net zero commitments require thorough understanding of the main challenges for agriculture and food issues to prevent the development of programs, such as the food estate program, which hinder achieving the country’s NDC targets.

It also requires policy harmonization and well-coordinated interministerial cooperation to ensure that national policies, laws and regulations support the achievement of this goal.


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