Indonesia’s state procurement body, Bulog, has forecast that rice imports will be between 500,000-770,000 tons this year and that it is communicating with sellers in India and Vietnam because they are selling at cheaper prices than Thailand.
Bulog usually maintains rice stocks at between 1.5 million and 2 million tons by buying from domestic suppliers or exporters within the region, favouring the former.
“We have set a target for this year’s domestic procurement at 4.1 million tons to reach Bulog’s rice stock of at least 2 million tons at the end of this year,” Bulog CEO Sutarto Alimoeso told reporters on Monday.
“If we can procure 200,000-250,000 tons additional rice domestically in November and December, our total domestic rice procurement will be around 3.6 million tons.”
Indonesia’s main rice harvest is usually in June or August, with a second crop towards the end of the first quarter.
The country, which expects unmilled rice output to be about 68 million tons this year, has ambitious plans to maintain stocks of 10 million tons by 2014.
It was self-sufficient in rice in the early 1980s, but the crop gradually declined as farmland was turned into housing for a booming population. Monthly rice consumption stands at about 2.7 million tons and rising.
“Rice imports this year will be less than last year which was 1.8 million tons,” Alimoeso said. “It is estimated that our rice imports this year will be ranging from 500,000 tons to 770,000 tons.”
In late September, Bulog said Indonesia, one of Asia’s major rice importers, had no plans to import rice for the rest of this year and will not need to buy until the end of the first quarter of next year.
“We have been starting to communicate with Vietnam and India to anticipate if we need to import rice,” he added. “Vietnamese and Indian rice is much cheaper than Thai rice.”
Last year, Southeast Asia’s largest economy imported rice from Thailand, Vietnam and India, to ensure it had plentiful stocks of the staple food.
But that may change this year after Thailand, the world’s top rice exporter, introduced a controversial intervention scheme under which it pays farmers way above the market price for their grain.
Traders now estimate that the Thai government has a record 12 million tons of milled rice in stockpiles.
Bulog told Reuters last month that it had not imported any rice this year, but would prefer to buy rice from Vietnam or India if forced to import, as those countries offer a better quality and cheaper grain.
Indonesia has signed rice memorandums of understanding with Thailand for 1 million tons, Vietnam for 1.5 million tons, Cambodia for 100,000 tons and Myanmar for 200,000 tons.