(Adds context, quotes)
By Hidayat Setiaji
JAKARTA, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Indonesia plans to stop imports of corn by 2018 “at the latest”, the agriculture minister said on Monday, amid government efforts to promote domestic production of the grain as part of a broader push for food self-sufficiency.
Indonesia’s corn imports had risen on demand for its use in animal feed, but government restrictions have cut imports sharply in recent years and bolstered imports of wheat as an alternative.
“Hopefully in the coming years there will be no more imports. Just pray,” Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman said.
Up to 7 million hectares of land would be needed for Indonesia to be self-sufficient in corn production, Sulaiman said, up from about 4.4 million hectares in use at present, according to ministry figures.
The government was also allocating more of its budget toward increasing production and mechanisation of farming, he said.
“If everyone used farming machinery, farmers would save 60 trillion rupiah ($4.45 billion),” he said.
Better irrigation could also improve output from land that is currently only being used for half the year, he added.
Indonesia’s wheat imports spiked this year after the country capped corn imports at 1 million tonnes, about one-third of the amount the industry had planned to import, making it the world’s second-largest wheat importer.
Corn imports reached a record 3.5 million tonnes in 2013/2014, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. This year, feedmills imported around 800,000 tonnes of corn, an industry association said last week.
Indonesia imports animal feed-grade wheat from Ukraine and Eastern European countries as well as Argentina, and corn mainly from Brazil and Argentina, with imports for animal feed projected to jump 36 percent in 2017.
$1 = 13,490 rupiah Reporting by Hidayat Setiaji; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Richard Pullin