Indonesia prepares rural flood defenses to protect crops

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia is bolstering its rural flood defenses to help farmers protect crops from monsoon waters and the La Nina weather pattern, its agriculture minister said on Wednesday. Indonesia is a top producer of cocoa, palm oil and coffee, as well as a major importer of rice and raw sugar. It has forecast that the La Nina weather pattern will strengthen from mid-2016. Any reduction in output of these crops could support global prices or lead to greater imports as domestic supplies dwindle in Southeast Asia's biggest economy. La Nina is a cooling of the tropical waters of the Pacific that is a counterpart to the El Nino weather event that is characterized by warmer waters. Indonesia is repairing irrigation systems and installing water pumps in areas likely to be worst hit, such as East Java, Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman told reporters, adding that rice planting was also being accelerated. "La Nina (will) possibly occur in October," Sulaiman added. "We're preparing early in anticipation, just like last year when we made early preparations to face the drought." Sulaiman said discussions with state food procurement agency Bulog were underway over domestic rice buying but declined to comment on imports, adding that harvests may be delayed a little and that Bulog currently had stocks of 1.2 million tonnes. Rice imports are a contentious issue in the country where President Joko Widodo is faced with fast-rising food prices but is also pursuing self-sufficiency to protect farmers. Despite the self-sufficiency push, Indonesia expected to have imported 700,000 tonnes of rice from Vietnam and Thailand by the end of 2015, a government official said last month. (Reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Writing by Michael Taylor; Editing by Joseph Radford)