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Making the most of natural resources

Indonesia abounds with natural resources. But the unique nature of its geography, coupled with the lack of transport infrastructure, makes their exploitation challenging. Moreover, a lack of investment, protectionism and an unwieldy regulatory environment are all inhibiting the sector from reaching its full potential. Agriculture has been held back by low productivity, under-investment, unclear property rights on land, ill-advised trade regulations, misplaced support for staples and restrictions on foreign ownership. By pursuing crop diversification, encouraging co-operation between smallholders and large estates and easing constraints on foreign investment, Indonesia could raise its farmers’ productivity. Fossil fuels have become central to Indonesia’s energy policy and its main source of export revenues. Growing environmental concerns, both domestically and internationally, combined with subsiding coal prices and the on-going shale gas revolution, call into question the sustainability of such a strategy. Indonesia should increase its energy efficiency and further develop gas to plug the gap until sufficient renewable energy, especially geothermal, comes on line. Government control over the oil industry via state-owned Pertamina should be gradually reduced. Clarifying, streamlining and publicising simple regulations in energy and minerals, especially regarding land rights and on-shore processing, and removing foreign-ownership restrictions will help bring much needed investment. The pressure on the environment that natural resource exploitation is creating should be addressed by increasing the share of gas and renewables in the energy mix, properly defining property rights and regulations regarding forest land, and implementing a positive implicit carbon price. More resources should be devoted to combating widespread illegal mining and deforestation.

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