As part of the newly formed ASEAN Economic Community, Indonesian self-sufficiency in corn within the next two to three years has become one of the top priorities of the country’s President, Joko Widodo, according to Indonesia Investments.

Alongside greater freedom to trade between members, one of the Community’s targets is to improve food security in staple crops that include rice, cassava, soybeans and corn.

Indonesia is the leading corn producer in the region, with output in 2013 at more than 18.5 million tons, according to ASEAN statistics, followed by the Philippines with more than 7.3 million tons and Vietnam with almost 5.2 million tons. All three of these top producers, however, consume more corn than they produce; for Indonesia, consumption amounted to more than 20.8 million tons in 2013.

The main user of corn in Indonesia is the animal feed sector, with some also going to biomass power plants.

Key to increasing corn output is to raise the size of corn plantations, according to analysts, but competition with other land uses adds high costs to the challenges, as well as bureaucratic difficulties in land acquisition. Other industries that process corn also need to be established, they say.

Indonesia’s Agriculture Minister, Amran Sulaiman, is optimistic about the prospect of achieving self-sufficiency in corn next year through a number of state efforts, which include adding 1 million hectares of planted corn at an estimated cost of land and seed of IDR3.25 trillion (US$230.4 million). Planting will be encouraged of higher-yielding hybrid varieties and improvements in irrigation systems and mechanization will be financed. Training by experts and fertilizer subsidises are to be offered to farmers. The state logistics agency, Bulog, is to receive additional funding to manage the nation’s corn reserves and keep prices stable.

Despite the initiatives, the corn production target may be hard to achieve. A recent report in Jakarta Globe highlights the challenges of grain production in El Niño years and, learning from the experiences of global shortages and high prices in 2012, Bulog has been warned to increase stocks of rice, soybeans, corn and beef.

The president last week blamed Indonesia’s poor infrastructure for fluctuating prices and food losses for the country’s rural population, reported Asia One.