Noodles, animal feed make Indonesia world’s top wheat importer

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - What do instant noodles, bread and animal feed in Indonesia have in common?

They face insatiable demand and their production depends almost entirely on imported wheat.

Not surprisingly, this year, the world’s fourth most populous country will officially become the number one importer of wheat, replacing Egypt, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Indonesia will be importing 12.5 million tons of wheat this year, up from 11.8 million in 2017 and 10.5 million in 2016, a USDA report said.

Egypt, which has been the number one importer for more than a decade, will buy 12 million tons from the global wheat market this year.

Food security is one of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s chief economic concerns, but his policy has primarily aimed at making Indonesia self-sufficient in rice, the country’s staple diet.

Efforts for food diversification to noodles — and to a lesser extent bread — will likely weaken rather than strengthen national food security, as both commodities rely entirely on imported raw materials.

News of Indonesia becoming the world’s biggest wheat importer hardly raised eyebrows in the government and in the food industry, as it was an inevitable consequence of the rising demand for wheat-based products, while government efforts to grow wheat locally had hardly taken off.

Early campaigns to produce wheat in Indonesia failed because the country’s climate and topography did not support it and farmers involved in the project quickly abandoned it when they learned they could not produce wheat commercially to compete with imports.

Even Trade Ministry officials took lightly the news of Indonesia’s rise in the list of global wheat importers.

International trade director general Oke Nurwan said the government did not regulate wheat imports, even as the import bill soared by 21 percent in 2017 to US$3.05 billion from $ 2.51 billion a year earlier.

Industry sources attribute the recent jump in wheat imports to the increase in demand for animal feed, particularly poultry, rather than direct human consumption.

Franciscus Welirang, head of the Indonesia Flour Mills Association (Aptindo), said the country had only started using wheat in place of corn as the main ingredient for animal feed.

“The main reason for the import increase is the high demand for animal feed, not the demand for wheat flour,” Fransiscus told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

The government’s policy to restrict corn imports to protect local production has forced producers of animal feed to turn to wheat, Fransiscus added, stressing that imports for wheat flour had been growing at a steady rate of 5 to 6 per cent in the past two years.

Nevertheless, wheat for noodle and bread production accounted for the largest volume of imports — 8.3 million tons of the total 10.5 million — in 2015.

Wheat for animal feed accounted for the other 2.2 million tons, compared to zero in 2015.

Indonesia’s wheat imports during the 2016/2017 market year came from Australia (48 per cent), Canada (17 per cent), Ukraine (16 per cent), and the US (11 per cent).

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