Webpages with more general information

Start ] Contents ] Photos ] Environment ] Agriculture ] Management ] Farmers Life ] Conclusions ] Links ] Discussion ] 

Webpages with more detailed information.

Discussion Development

Thesis, CO2 adsorption/emissions
Kualitas Lahan
Land Qualities
Land Classes and Areas

Environmental Impacts

Impact, including CO2 emission
Problems, including CH4 emissions
Forest Fires
Landsat TM

Management inputs

Water Management System
Macro Design
Micro Design
Water Control
Model Areas
Information System




Swampland in Indonesia  is the most important remaining land resource for the development of new rice fields. However the development and maintenance costs for the infra-structure are high. The environmental impact of a new development could be considerable.

On this web page I explain that Indonesia can fulfill their need for increased rice production for the next 20 years in the existing reclaimed swamp areas. There is no need to reclaim new areas. This choice should have a priority over alternatives as gravity irrigated rice fields and making dams and reservoirs.

It should be understood that the web pages Areas and Yields only refer to the suitable swamplands for rice cultivation. Those lands cover about 36% of the gross area of the coastal swamplands in Indonesia. About 15% of the gross area is occupied by farmers. Relatively high intensities of reclaimed suitable rice lands are found in South Sumatra , Jambi, West Kalimantan  and South Kalimantan provinces. The largest suitable, but not yet developed areas are found in Papua.

The Webpages: Areas, Yields and Thesis give more information on the potentials of the rice in swamps.

Policy Decisions and Discussion

All natural forest lands are presently under a high pressure for development. That is not only caused by an increased population. The areas are also under attack because people, companies and government see opportunities for higher incomes. In relation to the peat lands of the swamps, I want to refer to my webpages Impact and Problems.

For the swamplands, that are suitable (See webpage Areas) for rice cultivation, the supplementary pressure will come from Indonesia's need for a higher farmer's income from rice at lower farm-gate prices. The pressure also comes from the competition on the world rice market by Thailand and Vietnam where the physical environment in the main rice growing areas are similar to the suitable swampland areas of Indonesia.

An increase of the farm-gate price combined with high import taxes on rice is considered not an option by most Economists in Indonesia. Also the need for low rice prices for a growing urban population is an important consideration. Discussions with Indonesian colleagues and reading the newspapers brings me to the following conclusions:

opsommingsteken Indonesia is already the largest rice importer in the world and will need more self-sufficiency at lower farming costs to avoid food supply problems during world-wide extreme dry years. 
opsommingsteken Swamp Schemes have an important potential for mechanized rice farming. Mechanized rice farming on larger fields is an essential development for Indonesia as the present farming costs on the terraced wetland rice fields of Java are too high to sustain many of these fields for the future.
opsommingsteken Many young farmers on Java are not interested in rice cultivation on these terraced fields. The size of the rice fields they own are also too small for a decent income. This is a major problem for Indonesia as rice is grown  at the moment mainly on Java island, one of the most densely populated rice growing areas in the world.

In China they suffer from the same problem in the irrigated areas as in Indonesia. From the 900 million peasants and their families presently found in China, only 100 million farmers and their families would be required in the future. They suffer now already severely and will continue to suffer for the next decades.  (Special Edition of Newsweek, Fall/Winter 2002: the Five Faces of China).

The objectives should be clear: To grow food crops ; larger land holdings will be required to be economic for the farmer. With small land holdings only high value horticultural crops will be possible. Those small land holdings will be only possible close to major markets. As a result Rice production on Java island will likely decrease in the future.

 Another reason for a likely decrease in rice production on Java island are the Urban and Domestic requirements for water. They are already now in strong competition with the high water requirements for rice. The far biggest gain in domestic water supply will be obtained by reducing the area of rice fields on Java island. In contrast : there is no competition for sweet water in the already developed Tidal Swamp Lowlands of Indonesia.

It means: the objective for possible inputs of the Government in relation to the improvement of Swamp Schemes should be concentrating on competitive rice production. Farmers own relatively large land holdings for rice production. The required technology for mechanization is available with the Governmental Research Institutes; what is needed is a sustainable implementation of this technology at farmers level, including the required inputs for Operation & Maintenance in cooperation with the responsible Governmental Agencies.

For solving the problems on Java island

opsommingsteken the first objective should be the assessment of the future water requirements for domestic and industrial  needs and how these water needs should be divided over the island.
opsommingsteken Next  policies are required how to increase farmer's income, related to the market needs for food crops  and high value horticultural crops. Indonesian's new President SBY already suggested that also more Off-Farm income opportunities should be created for the small farmer on Java island.
opsommingsteken New irrigation technology is required: That is also interrelated  with the available water remaining for agriculture after deduction of water requirements for urban uses. For instance: need for highly efficient systems with on-demand supply. 
opsommingsteken It may also require policies to increase size of land holdings per farmer in the more suitable rice growing areas.

FAQ 1: Why use swamp areas for rice cultivation instead of developing gravity irrigated rice land outside the swamps?

The largest areas with gravity irrigated wetland rice fields are found on Java island and in South Sulawesi and North Sumatra provinces. The potential to increase the size of the gravity irrigated areas seems limited.

It is a popular believe that there are outside Java many irrigation projects in "need for upgrading". However it is my conviction, that the majority of these projects do not have  significant potential, at competitive costs, to increase rice production for gravity irrigated rice land.

Many irrigation projects in Sumatra and Kalimantan suffer from excessive soil problems. Also many of them are limited by the physio-geography of the landscape,  and the hydrology and topography of the adjoining rivers and basins is not suitable for irrigation or only very limited. Another point of consideration are the maintenance costs and the costs for investments to increase the production of rice. That might be presently much more economic in the Swamp Schemes  than in the gravity irrigated areas outside Java. See also FAQ 3.

For many Areas with Gravity Irrigation in Indonesia: limited potential for mechanization!

FAQ 2: Why are most swamp land Schemes still so little developed when they have such a good potential for rice production?

Swamp Problems. There are difficult soil problems and environmental problems  in the swamps lands. In the recent past these problems were not well understood. The knowledge problem for new technologies is in my opinion a major limitation for progress at a larger scale.

Several Problems occur in the Swamp land Schemes (related to rice production), like:

  • In many places the water management infrastructure is not adequate. Many canals are dead-ended, distances between tertiary/quaternary canals are too wide. Tertiary canals are too long. All these limitations cause that regular flushing of the water is impossible or very difficult. See Web pages Macro Design and Micro Design
  • These limitations mean that an improvement of the water management infrastructure is a prime necessity for increasing the production.
  • Beside the water management infrastructure problem often a serious problem is the lack of labour  related to the relatively large land-holdings.
  • Because of the lack of labour only low yielding local varieties are planted which have no potential for increased production
  • Related to this problem, there is little investments. This is especially required for mechanization to improve crop performance by better land preparation and using High Yielding Varieties.
  • For mechanization an On-Farm Water Management system is essential, combined with a tertiary unit water control. In many cases this is absent.
  • In some cases continued flooding and lack of water control limits potentials to local , low yielding varieties
  • Different types of problems; the most important:
    • Lack of good credit facilities,
    • Inadequate infrastructure
    • Insufficient cooperation between Public Works and Agriculture to organize an integrated approach for water control, both on Operation & Maintenance. Lack of involvement of farmers groups to maximize effect of Operation&Maintenance. Also there is a lack of coordination between central, provincial and regency Public Works planning.
    • Bad quality rice by lack of good post-harvest management facilities. Husked rice is too long too wet.
    • Pests and diseases
    • The proper farming system infrastructure to enable two crops per year

A successful implementation of the required technology is an integrated effort, most important presently at farmers level. Without the combined implementation of the required water management; c.q. at main system and at field level; without mechanization and use of improved rice varieties, there is no sustainable effort to increase rice production in the Tidal Swamps of Indonesia. It is only the combined effort which makes the input economically viable for the farmer. In fact Tidal Swamp development is a high technology investment, which requires high yields to become sustainable, also to make the investments for water control feasible.

Another major limitation of the Swamp Schemes is the lack of a good road infra-structure with connections to the hinterland. This also limits the development for mechanization. I think it is not accidental that well accessible Telang Scheme in South Sumatra has the highest intensity of tractors of all swamp schemes.

Further there is a high need for Tertiary Development in the swamp schemes. This includes On-farm Water Management, Mechanization, Post-harvest management. Recently there was a lot of emphasis put on O&M and Upgrading in the main system, but even more important, according me, is the proper water management at Tertiary field level and the technological knowledge how to do that by the farmer, including the mechanization. This website explains many of these problems and provides recommendations for improvement. It is based on the experience in the Model Areas of ISDP and the LWMTL project (Dutch financed) in South Sumatra province.

A recent World Bank paper claims that farmers in Swamps of the Indonesia have a preference for tree-crops, instead of rice cultivation. That applies first of all to areas more suited to tree crops than for rice  (The example from the World Bank, that is given, applies to Riau). Tree-crops depend heavily depend on the drainage potential, which limits  extensive tree crop areas to the Tidal Lands with a Tidal Range of at least 3.5-m. (Jambi/Riau, but there is a very limited potential for large tidal ranges in Kalimantan, that means that many tree crops in Kalimantan suffer from bad drainage in the Tidal Lowlands). Further water control for rice cultivation with a large tidal range of more than 3.5 meter is difficult. That problem favours again tree crops instead of rice. In other areas near the coast often coconut plantations are found. For these areas farmers mostly own at least 5 ha of coconut, while they can handle manually only 1 ha of rice properly with land preparation or two hectares with a direct planting system without plowing. But farmers with no more than 2 ha of land will most likely prefer rice for their income, when they have the choice. I believe also that mechanized rice cropping for the larger farm-holdings can compete with the local tree crop plantations and incomes per hectare are higher for a double crop rice.

FAQ 3: Why are swamps suitable for mechanization in comparison with many gravity irrigated areas.

The main advantage is the size of the rice fields, which is 1 Ha and farmers own in most cases 2 Ha in the Tidal Swamp Schemes. There is a tendency that they own even larger fields in the swamps with some farmers already owning up to 8-12 ha. In most irrigated areas on Java the farmers own not more than 0.5 Ha and often their fields are even smaller. In many gravity irrigated rice fields outside Java the conditions are not much better. In that case mechanization favors very much the swamps for rice cultivation with the present low farm-gate rice prices. Farmers on Java will look if they not better can use their land for vegetables and other high value land uses. Of course rice fields of the coastal plains of Java can well be mechanized also. The problem is only that the advantage of mechanization for the farmer is only marginally, because he owns such a small farm-holding.

In all these cases it is the optimization of the income of the farmer that will determine the trends. For rice cultivation that means that only the larger farm-holdings will survive in the coming 20 years.

The other advantage is the land-shape of the swamp fields which favor larger equipment and machinery. The additional favor of mechanization in swamps originates from the experience that mechanization considerably increases the yields in swamps and diminish the acidity problems and other chemical problems. See Webpage Thesis for an explanation and to see the result as succeeded by a single, clever farmer after several years of trials without outside help!

Example Vietnam. A major improvement in the development potential of acid sulphate soils (the main problem in the suitable swamp areas) occurred in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam in the Plain of Reeds and other areas of the Mekong Delta in the last 10 years. New technology introduction, combined with mechanization and pumping was most probably the key to that success. Although the problems in Indonesia are different than in the Plain of Reeds of Vietnam there also many similarities.  

FAQ 4: What should be recommended to start improvement of rice production in Tidal Lowlands.

A Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) would provide information concerning the applied farming systems in the areas. It should include a participatory Transect Walk together with the local farmers.

However beside this RRA an assessment is needed of the present water management infra-structure. This assessment should include a land quality survey (see webpages Land Qualities or Kualitas Lahan), but needs also information about the present design of the infrastructure (See webpage Macro Design for the recommended lay-out)

FAQ 5: Peat Lands, should they not be protected at all costs?

Protection of the peat lands was a priority policy within the Nation Wide Study of Coastal swamp lands, financed by the World Bank and in line with the government policies at that time (1984).

In reality these peat lands are opened up presently at a very fast rate. The main reason is the remaining wood value of the forests, their easy access to the sea, (export), the relatively easy acquisition of land rights and the undoubted potential of the area for oil palm plantations.

However many of these peat lands are not sustainable for treecrop plantations by subsidence below sea level in course of time (20-30years), with as a result they will become waste lands; totally useless. What is required most urgently is a clear management policy, with new technologies, to sustain land use of peat lands. It is my believe that  the forestry option is the only way for sustainable use of peat lands. But only Forestry with controlled drainage is an option in my view. This requires new research to support my believe. See also my remarks on webpage Impact that explains that an economic, sustainable forestry system is essential to save the remaining protected forests.

FAQ 6: What about the potentials of Swamp River Flooding Areas (Rawa Lebak)

Drainage in these areas is costly and difficult and mostly only one crop is grown on the receding floods at the end of the rainy season. Modern Gravity irrigation systems (Irigasi Teknis) is mostly not possible because of the lack of slope, only pump irrigation can be applied.  However for a second crop there is hardly no additional rainfall anymore. This makes pump irrigation more expensive for the Rawa Lebak than in the Tidal Lowlands where the second crop can be planted much earlier, before the dry season starts.

The experience is also in many places that the non-acid, poorly drained soil of the Rawa Lebak is less fertile on the long run than the soils of the Tidal Lowlands. The main reason is the better soil structure of the topsoil, in most cases, for the Tidal Lowlands. Only when the Rawa Lebak soils have an acid origin they will keep their good soil structure after development.

The conclusion can be made that Rawa Lebak areas have a limited potential for further development. There is pressure to look to these areas for development because the present development stagnates here. Certainly some areas have more potential than others in the Rawa Lebak, but the main problem remains lack of water control potentials. The best solutions are related to adapted agricultural techniques to conquer the floods by planting already as early as possible on the receding floods. Probably related also to dike construction in some cases.

Outside Java: Most River Basin Flows hardly not influenced by Gravity Irrigation

The Musi River Basin, the downstream river flow and its Irrigation projects in South Sumatra province.

The catchment area of The Musi River Basin upstream of Palembang is 53,500 km2 and the average river discharge at Palembang is 2800 m3/sec. The water uses of all gravity irrigated areas (potential and existing) in South Sumatra province is only a fraction  of that flow near Palembang. The present total area of so-called "technical irrigation" covers only 46,000 ha in South Sumatra with an assumed potential to increase to 74,000 ha. ( highly questionable in my experience!). These irrigated areas are located in the upper catchment reaches of the Musi river (near Lubuklinggau) and in the upstream Komering river. This means that the river flows near Palembang hardly will be influenced by gravity irrigation in the catchment areas.  Land uses such as forestry (mainly pulpwood plantations), some upland cropping, oilpalm plantations and most of all huge, mainly idle secondary forests and bush land and probably some mining tail waters. (coal etc.) will mainly influence the Flow quantities and quality.

The Flow quantities and qualities in the Coastal Swamp areas of the Musi Basin are mainly influenced by the interaction of the tidal movements and the flow of the Musi river near Palembang. See also Webpage Impact.

The total area of rice fields, with at least one crop yield per year, in the Coastal Swamp Areas of South Sumatra province, cover at least 200,000 ha mainly situated in the Government sponsored Coastal Swamp Schemes. (acording Dinas Pertanian Sumsel) The area of Government sponsored Swamp Schemes cover in total 359,250 ha in this province. Outside the Coastal Swamp areas there are rice fields in the so-called Lebak areas (swamp rice fields in the flooding stretch of the river) which cover about 140,000 ha in South Sumatra. Lebak areas are planted with rice only once a year at the end of the flood season. They are considered as having little potential for two crops per year without extreme high investments. The main potential for a rice production increase in South Sumatra province at reasonable costs will be at the moment in the Government sponsored Schemes of the Coastal Swamp areas in my opinion.

According Webhits you are visitor No to this web site since 1 January 2003.

See also Table of Contents.