November 14, 2013 / 7:36 AM / 6 years ago

INTERVIEW-Indonesia agriculture ministry argues case for GMO foods

* Indonesia wants to boost food staples output; corn demand soaring

* Junior agriculture minister sees progress on GMO crops within a year

* Rubber re-planting scheme started with initial $8.6 mln investment

By Michael Taylor and Viriya Paramita

JAKARTA, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Indonesia must adopt genetically modified crops if the world’s fourth-most-populous nation wants to achieve self-sufficiency in food staples like corn, a senior agriculture official said.

Corn imports into Southeast Asia’s largest economy are rising rapidly as improved wealth levels drive poultry demand, and are forecast to nearly double this year to 2.8 million tonnes.

Indonesia set a goal after food prices surged five years ago to be able to feed itself in soy, beef, corn, rice and white sugar by 2014, but the policy is being softened amid signs the targets are a long way off.

“In Indonesia, we are still not allowed to implement it (GMO),” Deputy Agriculture Minister Rusman Heriawan told Reuters late on Wednesday. “Using the GMO will increase our production more. That’s the only one solution we have.”

At present, Indonesia allows the import of many GMO foods, like soybeans and corn, but politicians have shied away from backing the introduction of GM seeds for staple foods.

Opposition to the agriculture ministry’s GMO push is coming from the country’s Bio Security Commission for Genetically Engineered Products, said Heriawan.

Indonesian government departments and agencies often fail to work together because of a lack of communication or differing agendas, which can slow the progress of new initiatives and regulations.

However, Heriawan said he was hopeful that GMO technology would be used in Indonesia within a year, despite consumer concerns.

“We have tried different ways to increase our production and finally we came up with this idea ... that the remaining strategy for agriculture development is by using GMO,” he said.

Both Syngenta AG, the world’s largest maker of crop chemicals, and Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, have been promoting GMO in Indonesia this year.

GM technology using genes to modify crops in order to yield more output has previously faced resistance in the country in case of health or biodiversity risks.

In 2001, Indonesia planned to cultivate 20,000 hectares (49,400 acres) of GM cotton in South Sulawesi sponsored by Monsanto, but the programme was stopped after strong protests from non-governmental organisations.

Heriawan said the Indonesian government has also taken advantage of soft demand for rubber to spearhead a drive to re-plant rubber plantations this year, with an initial outlay of 100 billion rupiah ($8.6 million).

“We started the re-planting program this year, mostly in Sumatra and in parts of Kalimantan,” he said, adding that the scheme was expected to last four years.

Rubber output in Indonesia, the world’s second-largest producer, is seen at 3.2 million tonnes this year, up from 3 million tonnes a year earlier, according to industry and government forecasts.

$1 = 11605.0000 Indonesian rupiahs Additional reporting by Yayat Supriatna; Editing by Richard Pullin

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