(Bloomberg) -- Indonesia has started cloud seeding in an attempt to increase rainfall needed for its vital rice crop, after dry weather forced the country to import record amounts of the staple last year.

Nearly a fifth of the archipelago has already entered the dry season, which is expected to peak in July and August, according to the country’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency.

“We want to move fast while there are still clouds,” said Tri Handoko Seto, acting deputy for weather modification. The air force and disaster mitigation agency had deployed teams to conduct cloud seeding over Sumatra and similar operations were planned for Java, the main rice-growing region, he said.

Cloud seeding is a form of geoengineering that sees salt or silver iodide particles injected into existing clouds to produce rain. Experts say evidence is mixed as to how effective the process can be, especially in flat regions or during drought.  

The Southeast Asian nation’s government hopes the weather modification technique will help replenish reservoirs used by farmers to irrigate their fields and also wet peatlands to prevent forest fires that peak during the dry season and can send toxic haze billowing across the region.

Read More: How Cloud Seeding Works and Why It’s Controversial

Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest rice producers, imported the most of the grain in more than two decades last year as it sought to replenish stockpiles wiped out by the a dry spell that was exacerbated by the El Nino weather pattern, and tamp down surging food prices. It increased quotas for rice imports this year after production was estimated to have declined in the first quarter. The government has told farmers to speed up sowing to boost output after harvests peaked in April.

Extreme weather has also been rattling the rice market beyond Indonesia, with global prices rising to the highest level since January. Thai white rice 5% broken, an Asian benchmark, jumped to $649 a ton in mid-May, and has stayed at that level on worries that floods in southern Brazil could disrupt harvests.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.