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Home>FFTC Document Database>Extension Bulletins>Upland Crop Production in Indonesia with Regard to Fertilizer Utilization
Upland Crop Production in Indonesia with Regard to Fertilizer Utilization
Achmad M. Fagi
Agronomist and Director,
Sukamandi Research Institute for Food Crops.
Agency for Agriculture Research and Development
Indonesia, 1992-01-01


Concern over the increase in the production of non-rice food crops (palawija) is growing in Indonesia, as is awareness of the need for food diversification to anticipate the situation when rice production growth rate is stagnant. This involves additional inputs to palawija crops. Fertilizer remains central to the aim of sustained self-sufficiency in food. Palawija crops still receive less fertilizer than the recommended amount, while in the case of rice, fertilizer consumption is approaching the level of diminishing returns. Efforts to increase fertilizer utilization efficiency should start with lowland rice, especially since rice has been the largest recipient of subsidized fertilizer. Location-specific fertilizer packages are an important way of increasing fertilizer utilization efficiency. This program requires basic information on land suitability ratings, and land characteristics that are qualitatively included in the FCC system. The farming systems perspective has to be taken into account in developing location specific fertilizer packages, since this is particularly concerned with subsistence farmers who have limited resources and capital.

Abstracts in Other Languages: 中文(1011), 日本語(1064), 한국어(1253)


After the world's food and fertilizer crisis of 1974, Indonesia recognized that increased domestic production of food crops was the only solution to its food and foreign exchange problem. The government saw fertilizer as central to this aim, and adopted policies to stimulate fertilizer consumption and production. These included the use of fertilizer subsidies and price policies. As a result, fertilizer consumption in Indonesia has grown very rapidly at a rate of more than 16% per year over the last fifteen years.

Indonesia achieved self-sufficiency in rice in 1984. Since this time, most of the fertilizer used in Indonesia (72%) has been used for lowland rice, and only 13% for non-rice food crops.

Since too great a dependance on rice for food and for income generation is risky in the long run, the government has now begun to more attention to non-rice food crops, known as 'palawija'. Two main questions arise with respect to food crop diversification in Indonesia:

  • How can we increase palawija production without sacrifying rice production?
  • What policies should the government adopt for its palawija intensification program?

Present Upland Crop Production System

The main characteristies of upland farming is that there is no standing water or waterlogging throughout the growing season. Water is used only to moisten the field, to ensure good growth of roots and of aerobic soil microorganisms. By definition, the list of traditional crops which may be considered "upland crops" is a long one. This paper focusses on non-rice food crops (palawija) such as maize, grain legumes, and tuber crops.

Upland Crop Planted Area

Generally, the areas where palawija are widely planted may be defined as follows

  • Sawah Flat lowland on downhill sites or on floodplains and terraced land on upper slopes. The major crop is wetland rice while upland crops are planted in the off-season. Lowland crops are usually irrigated, while those on upper slopes are rainfed.
  • Tegalan Gently sloping land which has no access to any irrigation system, and which is usually located quite close to settlements (home gardens). Such land is planted in a patchwork of tuber crops, maize, grain legumes, and tree crops.
  • Ladang Slopeland of varying steepness and altitude, which is usually located quite far from settlements but close to forest. Food crops, vegetables and tuber crops are intercropped with tree crops.

The total area of irrigated and rainfed sawah, tegalan, and ladang ( Table 1(1395)) shows the potential for palawija cultivation. Irrigated sawah should be the focus of the soybean intensification program, because such areas have a better infrastructure, are relatively more fertile, and have a more reliable water supply (Beets 1991). In 1986, the area of irrigated sawah planted in palawija crops and other upland crops was far less than the potential area ( Table 2(1120)).

Cropping Patterns

Palawija crops are planted in various cropping patterns, depending on where the food crops are grown and how they are used. In irrigated areas, cropping patterns greatly depend on the duration of irrigation water allocation.

Ten Months' Irrigation

Lowland rice is planted in the wet and dry seasons, and palawija crops follow the dry season rice. In some areas, palawija crops are planted at the beginning of the wet season.

Seven Months' Irrigation

Lowland rice and palawija crops are planted atternately in the wet and dry season. Usually the rice is planted in the wet season and palawija in the dry, but this pattern may be reversed. Two palawija crops may be planted, if short duration varieties are used.

Five Months' Irrigation

These areas have cropping patterns similar to those with seven months' irrigation. Both lowland rice and palawija crops are short duration varieties, and there is no chance to increase cropping intensity further, because of limited water availability.

In rainfed areas, cropping patterns are rainfall dependent. In the northern coastal areas of Central Java, with an average annual rainfall of 1500 mm which falls from October to March, lowland rice and palawija crops are planted. By using gogoranca rice cultivation (non-puddled, dry seeded, bunded rice) in the wet season, and walik jerami rice cultivation (minimum tillage, transplanted rice) in the dry season to shorten the turn-around time, palawija crops may be planted after the dry season rice. Failure to harvest the dry season rice and the following palawija crops often occurs if rainfall intensity is below normal or unevenly distributed. Small water reservoirs have been constructed on farms to impound excess rainwater in the wet season and use it to irrigate rice and palawija crops in the dry season when water is scarce (Iis Syamsiah et al. 1989).

All types of cropping pattern_ intercropping, relay cropping, and sequential planting _ are found in dryland areas. Figs. 1 and 2 show examples of cropping patterns in such areas. Soybean is an important palawija crop, since Indonesia has to import large quantifies of soybean every year to meet domestic demand.

Fertilizer Recommendations

Fertilizer packages for palawija crops have been developed as part of a coordinated program which began with field research at the experiment station, and was followed by verification trials and demonstration plots in farmers' fields in the palawija crop production centers. Past activity has been concentrated in Java, where more than 85% of total palawija production is grown. However, 57% of farm families in Java own less than 0.5 ha of land (Center for Socio-economic Research 1991). Thus, palawija crops are planted mainly by subsistence farmers, who suffer from constraints such as lack of capital and technical skill, in addition to small farm size.

Research institutes developed the fertilizer package to meet the needs of subsistence agriculture in a limited number of locations. Extension specialists then introduced these packages over a wide area, which included various environments. This simplified procedure can result in either ineffective or inefficient fertilizer utilization. In fact, the average levels of urea applied to palawija crops in the years 1982-86 remained low, particularly in islands other than Java ( Table 3(1116)).

East Java is the most successful palawija growing region, even though the levels of urea, triple super phospate, and potassium chloride applied to maize and soybean during three cropping seasons (1984 dry season, 1984/85 wet season, 1985 dry season) were still lower than the recommended levels ( Table 4(1060)). The actual amount of urea that farmers applied to maize was 65-83% of the recommended level, and 36-40% of the recommended level for soybean. Farmers in the outer islands used much less fertilizer for palawija than those in Java. Thus, efforts should focus on how to encourage farmers to use more fertilizer for palawija crops, rather than how to make present fertilizer use more efficient.

Major Issues in Future Upland Crop Production

Three dynamic features mark the contemporary Indonesian food scene that have to be taken into account in any future agricultural development program:

  • There is a substantial variation in the extent to which the production growth rates of various types of food crop differs from the demand.
  • There is a rapid growth in demand for feed and for raw materials for agroindustry, and a growth in per capita income. This has led to substantial and increasing imports of grains, particularly soybean.
  • Growth in food crop production is increasingly dependent on increased yield per unit area under subsistence farming.

Thus, although Indonesia has achieved self-sufficiency in rice, other problems remain to be solved if the country is to attain a proportional balance, both in rice-palawija production and in the fertilizer used for these crops.

The following issues have to be taken into consideration in a future palawija development program.

Fertilizer Dilemma

With the success of the rice production program, the Indonesian government then sought to extend the policies which had been so successful for rice to palawija. However, a study of prices and investment suggested that the implementation of this idea would be very costly if crops are targeted without considering economic efficiency (International Food Policy Research Institute). This study is in line with the recent government decision to eliminate gradually the fertilizer subsidies, to relieve the budget of this financial burden.

Partial elimination of the fertilizer subsidies since 1987 has increased fertilizer prices. To prevent a decline in the farm revenue of rice growing farmers, the government increased the floor price of rice as compensation. A recent study has indicated that a complete halt to fertilizer subsidies would cause a significant drop in rice and maize production, but would have little effect on cassava and soybean production (Krasyno and Rosegrant 1988). This may be due to the fact that farmers applied the least amount of fertilizer to soybean and cassava (see Table 3(1116)).

As rice is the largest consumer of fertilizer, efforts to improve fertilizer utilization efficiency must therefore start with rice. Fig. 3(1012) shows that fertilizer consumption has risen at a faster rate than rice production, indicating that fertilizer use in rice cultivation is becoming less efficient now that rice production is approaching the maximum production level (Manwan and Fagi 1989). Increases in fertilizer use efficiency for irrigated lowland rice have been encouraged for the last two years. It is hoped that these will reduce production costs without sacrificing rice yield, and the fertilizer thus saved can be reallocated to the palawija intensification program.

Location Specific Fertilizer Packages

There is a growing interest in developing of location specific packages of technology, including fertilizer packages for food crops. This requires a systematic evaluation of soils in terms of their potential for increased production, current efficiency of inputs, and protection of soil potential. Unfortunately, Indonesia lacks a strong foundation of environmental analysis and basic knowledge about the potential of various local soils.

The Centre for Soil Research and FAO have developed general land suitability ratings for cereals, root crops and legumes, estate and industrial crops, pasture, and forestry to indicate their probable potential (Centre for Soil Research and FAO 1983). These were based on land resource surveys, and in the evaluation, 15 land characteristics are grouped under seven land qualities. Rooting conditions, nutrient retention, nutrient availability, and toxicity directly affect fertilizer use efficiency in dryland farming. Land suitability criteria for maize, for example, are classified into highly suitable (S1), moderately suitable (S2), marginally suitable (S3), and not suitable (N). Increasing the productivity level of marginal land to make it as productive as highly suitable land requires a high level of fertilizer and other inputs, which results in low economic efficiency.

The FCC system can also be used to assess the suitability of various varieties of e.g. corn, including hybrid corn, to particular localities.

Thus, efficiency of fertilizer utilization is determined by many factors, including the capacity of soil to supply nutrients and the capability of the crop to absorb both nutrients, both those in the soil and those applied. Both land suitability and FCC may be used as the basis to develop appropriate fertilizer management for high fertilizer use efficiency. Indepth study is still needed to make the best used of land suitability and the FCC system in improving fertilizer utilization efficiency.

Fertilizer Management _ the Farming Systems Perspective

In contrast to the single commodity approach, the farming systems approach takes into account all farm resources. Any technology introduced to any activity must be complementary to the others. This applies to fertilizer management in cropping systems.

In the short term, Indonesia is likely to pay more attention to improving cropping intensity in irrigated areas, by which palawija crop production will increase accordingly. Legumes planted in rotation with rice provide a substantial amount of N to subsequent lowland rice crops (Morris et al. 1986). Indonesian rice farmers prefer to grow grain legumes rather than green manure, because grain legumes provide grain as a source of protein and income, as well as residues to be used as an N source in rice-based cropping systems. Field studies conducted at IRRI in Los Baños, Philippines, showed that cowpea residues substituted for 44-50 kg urea per ha, and gave approximately 1.0 mt/ha cowpea grain (John et al. 1989). This saving of production costs because of the reduced amount of urea applied can be used to improve cowpea cultivation.

It is important to study nitrogen dynamics in rice-based cropping systems under various moisture regimes in irrigated, rainfed, and dryland areas, from which efficient methods of nitrogen fertilizer application may be developed.


  • Beets, W.C. 1991. How to expand legume production, Crop Development. Far Eastern Agriculture (January/February) p. 29.
  • Centre for Soil Research (CSR) and FAO. 1983. Reconnaissance Land Resource Surveys (1 = 250,000 scale). Atlas Format Procedures. MAO/UNDP/FAO, AGOF/INS/76/006, Manual 4, Version 1. 105 pp.
  • Center for Socio-Economic Research. 1991. Research Plan _ Indentification of poor regions in Indonesia, and alternative poverty alleviation. CSER/AARD, Bogor (Unpub., in Indonesian).
  • Central Research Institute for Food Crops. 1990. National Coordinated Research Program for Grain Legumes, Sumarno and I. Manwan (ed.). CRIFC, AARD. 90 pp.
  • International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). 1987. IFPRI Report 1987. pp. 29, 32.
  • Iis Syamsiah, Suprapto, and A.M. Fagi. 1989. Prospect of farm water collectors ( embung) for food crops in rainfed areas. Reflektor 2, 2: 1-7. (In Indonesian).
  • John, P.S., R.K. Pandey, R.J. Buresh, and R. Prasad. 1989. Lowland rice response to urea following three cowpea cropping systems. Agron. Jour. 81, 6: 853-857.
  • Kasryno, F. and M.K. Rosegrant. 1988. Fertilizer demand and price policy. Proceedings, Natl. Workshop on Fertilizer Efficiency, CSR-AARD, pp. 221-243.
  • Manwan, I. and A.M. Fagi. 1989. N, P, K and S fertilization for food crops: Present status and future challenges. Paper presented at Seminar on Sulfur Fertilizer for Lowland and Upland Rice Cropping Systems in Indonesia. MAO/ACIAR/AIDAB. Jakarta, July 18-20, 1989.
  • Morris, R.A., R.E. Furoc, and M.A. Dizon. 1986b. Rice response to a short duration green manure. II. N-recovery and utilization. Agron. Jour. 78: 413-416.
  • Sukmana Satjanata. 1988. Efforts to increase food crop/rice production in irrigated and rainfed areas, 1978-1990. Expert Staff to Minister of Agriculture (Working Paper). Jakarta, Nov. 1988 (Unpub., in Indonesian).

Fig. 2(1122). Alternative cropping patterns involving soybean in rainfed areas in Lampung Tengah, Lampung, Indonesia

Source: Central Research Institute for Food Crops 1990



(Wan Mohd. W. Othman)

In the Philippines, many farmers grow leucaena for fodder and green manure. In your area, do many farmers grow leucaena as an organic fertilizer? If so, how do crop yields compare with those of crops grown with fertilizer N?
A. Leucaena was introduced into Indonesia mainly for use as a hedgerow plant. The application of 20 mt of leucaena leaves per hectare is equal to 75.9 kg N/ha. In the east of Bali the use of leucaena as an organic fertilizer has been widely adopted, but in 1976 jumping lice attacked the leucaena trees. We have tried many treatments, including injection of the trees, and the lice problem is now solved. The use of leucaena as a green manure is expanding, and Sesbania rostrata is also used.
Q. (T. Inoue)
According to your statistics ( Fig. 3(1012)), the increase in fertilizer consumption is not being matched by an increase in rice yield. Why is this?
A. There is a growing concern now in Indonesia over imbalance of nutrients. The continuous heavy application of urea has led to deficiencies of zinc, sulfur and other elements. We are now carrying out a massive soil survey of Indonesia, to identify areas with zinc deficiency and poor fertilizer management.
Because of this imbalance of nutrients, new crop diseases are appearing, such as bacterial red stripe of rice, and white stem borer which destroyed 65,000 ha in one region alone. Imbalance of nutrients is not the only cause, but certainly too much fertilizer N is being applied in some areas. In spite of these problems, the fertilizer promotion program has been successful, so that in the ten years after its introduction, rice yields in Indonesia rose from just over 1mt/ha to nearly 5 mt/ha.

Index of Images

Figure 1 Alternative Cropping Patterns Involving Soybean in Rainfed Areas in Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Figure 1 Alternative Cropping Patterns Involving Soybean in Rainfed Areas in Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta, Indonesia


Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 3 Milled Rice Production and Fertilizer Consumption in Indonesia, 1975-1986

Figure 3 Milled Rice Production and Fertilizer Consumption in Indonesia, 1975-1986


Table 1 Total Area of Irrigated and Rainfed <U>Sawah</U>, <U>Tegalan</U>, and <U>Ladang</U>, Which Can Potentially Be Used for Palawija Cultivation in Indonesia

Table 1 Total Area of Irrigated and Rainfed Sawah, Tegalan, and Ladang, Which Can Potentially Be Used for Palawija Cultivation in Indonesia

Table 2 Irrigated Sawah Planted in Palawija in 1986

Table 2 Irrigated Sawah Planted in Palawija in 1986

Table 3 Average Amount of Urea Applied to Non-Rice Food Crops (Palawija) in Indonesia, 1982-1986

Table 3 Average Amount of Urea Applied to Non-Rice Food Crops (Palawija) in Indonesia, 1982-1986

Table 4 Comparison of Recommended and Actual Fertilizer Applications for Maize and Soybean in East Java during 1984 DS, 1984/85 WS, and 1985 DS<BR>

Table 4 Comparison of Recommended and Actual Fertilizer Applications for Maize and Soybean in East Java during 1984 DS, 1984/85 WS, and 1985 DS

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