Soil information to support sustainable agriculture and food security in Indonesia

The goal of this project was to investigate how a soil information system can be linked to socioeconomic data and used to support sustainable expansion of agriculture and its management in Indonesia. Digital technologies have revolutionised the way soil data is being produced, but challenges remain in integrating this data with socioeconomic data to support future agricultural strategies. Opening up new areas of land is required to maintain food security and find ways to adapt to the impacts of climate change. This project explored the state of soil mapping and relevant socioeconomic data in order to understand food security issues in Indonesia.

Soil information is essential to supporting sustainable agricultural development. Soil has many important functions, including biomass production, regulating water, serving as a cultural environment and biodiversity pool, providing a source of raw materials and nutrient supply, and archiving cultural heritage.

There is an urgent need for proper soil data in order to protect Indonesia’s prime agricultural land and increase production via improved land management. There is also a pressing need for soil data to help solve Indonesian environmental problems such as peat management, water management, greenhouse gas emission and land fires. Soil data in its current resolution is of too low quality to enable effective regional planning. New digital technologies are therefore needed to facilitate faster data provision and soil mapping at better scales.

The project revealed that Indonesian agriculture contributes around 10.3 per cent of the country’s total GDP. With an annual growth rate of 4 per cent, it is dominated by plantation or estate crops. About 60 per cent of major food crops (rice, maize, and soybeans) are produced in Java, while plantation crops such as palm oil are produced on other islands (primarily Sumatra and Kalimantan). The importance of agriculture and food production is clearly established in the Minister of Agriculture’s goals for the years 2015 to 2019. These goals include increasing food availability and diversity to achieve food sovereignty; increasing the competitiveness of Indonesian food and agricultural products; increasing the production of bioenergy; and raising income levels to improve the prosperity of farmers. The project showed how a large part of the achievement of this goal relies on soil as a natural resource.

To improve food production in Indonesia, relevant stakeholders must be able to benefit from the latest agricultural research, and have access to improved technology and soil information. The primary assets for smallholder farmers are land, labour and seeds. The intrinsic productivity of soil is a key determinant of food security of subsistence producers. Thus, soil is the primary asset that needs to be efficiently managed and utilised. Farmers, agriculture extension agents and policy makers must have comprehensive information on soil conditions to determine the best practices to be employed. This project was not just about generating soil maps; it developed an initial framework for the use of biophysical and socioeconomic data in assessing soil functions for crop production. In addition, the project linked soil functions with socioeconomic factors that can affect decisions about land use. All of these components combine to create a valuable tool for policy guidance. Australian digital soil mapping techniques in particular have been used in the project as a reference to support soil mapping to improve food production in Indonesia.