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Indonesian govt battles pressure over rice imports
JAKARTA (Reuters) - It's one of the more popular images of Indonesia: acre after acre of lush paddy fields with farmers bent serenely over their crops.

But rice farmers in Southeast Asia's largest economy are far from happy. A government decision to import the main staple through state agency, Bulog, has triggered a spate of protests in the countryside by farmers who fear imports could depress prices.

"The idea of Bulog was to stabilize rice prices. But if you buy from abroad, you lower prices, which isn't good for farmers," said H.S. Dillon, an economist and executive director of a Jakarta-based think-tank, Partnership for Governance Reform.

"There's nothing pro-poor about this move."

Bulog was established in the 1960s to strengthen Indonesia's food supplies and distribution, but over the years grew into a massive monopoly with huge powers during the Suharto era.

Its powers were reduced after a pact with the International Monetary Fund following the Asian crisis in the late 1990s. Today, Bulog's main function is to stabilize prices of commodities such as sugar and rice, but its powers to buy stocks are limited.

But now the government finds itself trapped between political pressure from farmers' groups opposed to foreign grain and its desire to stabilize rising rice prices and liberalize markets by allowing imports.

The furor made its way to parliament where opposition lawmakers demanded a probe into a plan to import 110,000 tons from Vietnam in January, saying government stocks were sufficient and imports would hurt farmers.

As angry protesters lit bonfires of mock rice sacks outside the presidential palace in Jakarta in January, authorities said there was no option but to import as stocks were down and prices high.

"I don't think the imported rice will put pressure on farmers' prices as it will enter Bulog's warehouses and will only be used for the rice for poor program or to stabilize prices," said Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono.

"Bulog won't have to import any more as we will enter the harvest season so it will absorb rice from the domestic market."
MGR Archive 19.2.2006
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Russia Rapan $ 700
USA Jupiter Rice $630
USA Calrose #1 $830
USA Calrose #1 Paddy $480
EU Prices Baldo €660
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