Post-quake Bantul to rebuild agriculture, then handicrafts

Post-quake Bantul to rebuild agriculture, then handicrafts

Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post, Bantul

Bantul was flattened in just 57 seconds in this year’s May 27 earthquake which claimed the lives of more than 5,600 people, displaced thousands of others and destroyed no less than 200,000 homes.

But the 5.9 magnitude earthquake left a path of destruction that also shattered the local economy.

Before the life-changing quake, 19 percent of Bantul’s 820,000-strong population, lived below the poverty line. That figure has more than likely doubled following the massive May tragedy.

Many people lost their livelihood and farmers were unable to cultivate crops due to broken irrigation.

Before May 27, around 42 percent of Bantul’s population depended on the agricultural sector for their living.

And the local handicraft industry, on which 14 percent of residents relied on to survive, has come to a grinding halt because of damage done to homes and production equipment.

“We will (first) focus our attention on the 400,000 residents of Bantul who live from the agricultural sector to alleviate growing poverty after the quake,” Bantul Regent Idham Samawi told The Jakarta Post.

The local administration has initiated a program which provides farmers with seedlings and post-harvest supervision to help them recover from the disaster and recommence cultivating the land.

Idham said it would be possible for his office to provide seedlings including rice and side crops for farmers because a one-hectare plot of rice only required 18 kg of seedlings.

One hectare of corn however needed at least 40 kg of seedlings and a plot used to farm onions needed one ton of seedlings. The total area of onion farms in Bantul was 2,000 ha.

“We have prepared around 200 tons of onion seedlings now,” Idham said.

“And we will provide more seedlings if required.”

The Bantul regency administration has assured proper prices for crops and said it would buy farmers’ products if an national oversupply meant they were undercut during harvest time.

During the grand harvest several months ago, the administration rejected the price of unhusked rice regulated by the central government at Rp 2,000 (approximately 22 U.S. cents) per kg. It later reset the price at Rp 2,300 per kg which farmers considered more appropriate.

To stabilize rice prices, the administration has allocated Rp 3.5 billion from its 2007 annual budget.

And it has provided an additional Rp 4 billion from the non-building earthquake reconstruction funds this year.

Idham said his administration would provide a total of Rp 7.5 billion for farmers this year.

With three more years in term, Idham said as long as he was still in power, he would focus on the agriculture sector because so many of his constituents relied on it.

The administration is at the moment drafting a local ordinance on farmers’ empowerment.

“So far, we can implement a program according to the regency decree,” he said.

“And we will have an ordinance in the near future to prevent farmers from being manipulated by fluctuating crop prices.”

The administration will also revive the handicraft industry.

“We will facilitate license issuance procedures and provide business licenses for free to accelerate economic activities.”

The administration said it would phase out tax collection from the handicraft industry until further notice.

Idham said it would work together with the Yogyakarta provincial administration to organize domestic and international exhibitions to help promote local handicrafts.

“We will continue to provide these services to people, such as exempting land taxes and service fees this year, but only for those who (are in need).”

These policies implemented by the administration have been deemed positive for the local economy.

The export value of handicrafts from Bantul in 2006 was $24 million — a $2 million increase on the year before.

“It’s just amazing, although most of the craftspeople have lost their houses, they are still creatively producing handicrafts despite (having to work from) tents,” Idham said.

Around 12 percent of Bantul residents make a living from trading at traditional markets, while the rest work as civil servants, military members and private sector employees.

http://www.thejakartapost.com/detailnational.asp?fileid=20070618.G03&irec=2

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