Indonesia: El Nino's Impact


Professor James Fox

Indonesia is still in the grips of an El Niño event, possibly the worst such episode in more than one hundred years. This El Niño began in February 1997 and reached an initial peak in July-August. It coincided with large-scale forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra and with a combination of drought and frost in Irian Jaya. Disruption to the NE monsoon affected crops in the northern half of Maluku and North Sulawesi. After declining significantly, the current El Niño gathered strength again and in December, began to develop toward a second peak. This renewed development coincided with the west monsoonal rainy season which begins in November and continues through to March. This second phase produced a pattern of reduced and disrupted rain over a wide area from Sumatra to eastern Indonesia. It has also led to further large-scale forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra. Some qualified observers think that, given the continuing strength of the current El Niño, these fires will be greater than the fires last year or those in 1982-83. The El Niño remained strong throughout April. As a result, Indonesia has reported a decline in all of its food crops (rice, corn, soybeans, peanuts and mung beans) for 1997. It is still too early to assess the full impact of the current El Niño on the 1998 crops. A great deal depends on how long present conditions continue. It is possible that the first season rice crop will show a decline of as much as 2 million tons. The greatest impact of the current El Niño has been on single-crop corn farmers in eastern Indonesia who are dependent on rains in December and January. The worst affected islands are those in the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) and in the southern part of the province of Maluku. Parts of the coast of East Timor have also been affected. The coastal regions of many large islands have lost more than 50% of their corn crop. At higher elevations, there has been rain enough in patches for a corn crop but yields have been severely reduced. As a result of significant shortfalls in rice supplies, BULOG -- Indonesia’s Food Logistics Agency-- has had to import 1.7 million tons of rice since April 1997 and will need to import as much as 2.5 million tons of additional rice in the coming year. El Niño events are generally phase-locked to an annual cycle. If a change is to occur, it would need to happen in April or May.

WATCHPOINT: The next month is critical to the future food supply of millions of people in Indonesia.


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