How Climate Change Affects Food and Water Security in Indonesia

16 February 2018 Ida Dreierstad, Research Assistant, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme Download PDF

Key Points

  • Increased risks of floods and droughts are the main threats to Indonesia’s food and water security.
  • Reducing deforestation would help to alleviate the severity of these threats.
  • Loss of soil fertility due to floods, droughts and changes in weather cycles can cause crop failure and threaten food security.
  • Warming waters and coral bleaching reduces fish populations and poses a threat to the livelihood of many Indonesians.


As a result of climatic change, Indonesia is likely to experience increased temperatures and more volatile dry and wet periods. Increased climate volatility is likely to reduce its domestic food and water security with implications for the supply of water to urban populations, the longevity of groundwater resources and agricultural productivity.


Indonesia and climate change

As the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Indonesia is responsible for about five to seven per cent of the world’s emissions. Approximately 75 per cent of these emissions come from deforestation, which is driven by land use changes. This figure does not account for the loss of carbon storage which is also depleted when forests are removed.

Indonesia has already begun to experience the effects of climate change as the average annual rainfall has noticeably declined over the last 80 years. These changes are not uniform across the Indonesian archipelago. In the southern regions the average annual rainfall has decreased, but the wet season has generally been wetter than the long-term average, increasing the risk of floods. In the northern regions, the average annual rainfall has increased, but the dry season has become drier, increasing the risk of drought.

Projections for future climate change effects state that the general warming trend will continue, with temperatures likely to rise by up to 0.3 per cent per decade, and while the average rainfall up to this point has decreased, over the next 70 years the rainfall is projected to increase by ten to thirty per cent in most of the country, with the exception of the far southern islands, where average annual rainfall is expected to decrease by up to fifteen per cent.

Floods, droughts and more frequent extreme weather patterns are the main climate change effects Indonesia faces, and it stands to have a severe effect on food and water security for the country.


Deforestation is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, second only to the burning of fossil fuels. Additionally, deforestation depletes the natural carbon storage provided by forests. Indonesia is home of one of the world’s largest rainforests, a vast amount of mangroves and half of the world’s tropical peatlands, which are valuable due to their ability to store vast amounts of carbon underground. But Indonesia also has the highest rate of deforestation of any country. Reducing the rate of deforestation and protecting the natural carbon storage is one of the most effective ways for Indonesia to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and could potentially reduce global emissions by five to eight per cent. Reducing climate emissions worldwide is naturally one of the most effective ways to slow climate change.

The rainforest, if properly protected and managed, could be a great resource to minimise the effect of climate change. It provides natural protection against floods and droughts by assisting in maintaining the water cycle. The water cycle is the natural cycle where water evaporates from the ground and goes up into the atmosphere, and then comes down as rainfall.

By pulling water out of the ground and releasing it into the atmosphere forests help prevent flooding, soil erosion and loss of soil fertility. Disruptions in the water cycle can lead it to speed up or slow down, increasing the risk of floods or drought.

The water cycle

Water availability and security

Indonesia is a country rich in freshwater, and has enough to potentially provide the whole of its population with drinking water. The natural sources of drinking water are not equally distributed over all of its inhabited islands, however, leading some areas to experience water scarcity, while others have an abundance of water. With as many as six thousand inhabited islands, distribution and the provision of adequate infrastructure pose great challenges.

With the challenge of climate change, water security may become even more difficult to guarantee. An increased flood risk in some areas will increase the pollution of local sources of clean water and pose an increased threat to human health. The poor are usually most vulnerable to water pollution, as they often have no other options for drinking water. The increased pollution of surface water sources could, therefore, lead to a greater reliance on groundwater and, if the resource is not closely managed, lead to the over extraction of water. For example, in Jakarta 30 per cent of the poorest members of society rely on groundwater, often using more than is sustainable from unauthorised and unregulated wells. Many of the aquifers below the city are rapidly depleting, consequently causing the city itself to sink slightly each year.

Droughts, on the other hand, reduce the overall availability of water. Rivers dry out and the option of collecting rainwater is problematic, as storage of still water is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitos and increases the risk of spreading diseases such as dengue and yellow fever. During droughts, it is not just the availability of clean drinking water that is limited, but also water for agricultural purposes. Without irrigation or natural rainfall, the risk of crop failure also increases, threatening food security.

Food production and security

With a growing population the Indonesian agricultural industry will need to take several measures on multiple fronts to reduce crop failure while simultaneously producing food to feed more people than ever before.

A few years ago, the Indonesian Government initiated a range of policies with the intention of strengthening the country’s food security by increasing domestic food production. These initiatives sought to ensure that more food, particularly crops like rice, were produced domestically. This approach equates food security with food self-sufficiency.

The self-sufficiency drive has, however, driven up prices for Indonesian consumers. A more volatile climate in the decades ahead could further weaken its domestic food security. Indonesia is likely to experience issues with food production as a consequence of increased temperatures, particularly as the minimum temperature rises. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, for every one degree rise in minimum temperature rice yields are likely to decrease by as much as ten per cent. Consequently the best temperatures for growing crops may shift to higher latitudes, where the soil is often not suitable or contain the right nutrients for high-yield food production.

Additionally, the changes in temperature are likely to affect weather patterns as well, making it increasingly difficult for farmers to decide when to plant their crops. Seasons will shift slightly as well, delaying the monsoon season and disrupting the timing of planting and harvesting crops.

Climate change also brings with it a risk to the fishing industry. Warming waters increases coral bleaching and coral death. Coral reefs are the foundation of the fishing industry as they are an important part of the ecosystem and food chain, coral death will lead to a notable decrease in fish stocks. Additionally, warmer waters lead the fish to move to other colder areas away from the reach of local fishers.

Ocean acidification as a result of greenhouse gas emissions also exacerbates these conditions. Ocean acidification is driven by the increased concentration of CO2 in the ocean, further increasing coral bleaching and reducing oxygen levels. Fortunately, Indonesia possesses a tool that helps reduce ocean acidification, namely mangroves. Mangroves can store large quantities of carbon, and can pull the CO2 out of the water nearby, providing an essential service to the marine life along the coasts of Indonesia.


As climate change continues to be a global problem, Indonesia faces a range of food and water security issues. These issues are likely to be exacerbated by the rate of deforestation in the country, along with the increased risk of floods and droughts provoked by changing weather patterns. Currently, some of these issues are not being adequately addressed or existing policies are not being thoroughly enforced. Efforts to address the decline of fish stocks or reduce deforestation, for instance, are prime examples of this.

A range of climate adaptation policies are available to Indonesia, ranging from preventative measures such as reducing deforestation by introducing sustainable farming practices, to rainfall harvesting, sea walls and flood reinforcements. Some of these policy options will be investigated in the second part of this paper.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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