Some farmers putting rice seed to be planted and deployed in the field in Kampung Embankment, Kasemen, Serang, Banten, West Java on June 8, 2015. Rice is one of the main crops in Indonesia. (Antara Photo/Asep Fathulrahman)

Enough to Eat: Indonesia's Food Security Drive Gains Renewed Urgency


JUNE 09, 2015

A child drinking milk, during an event in Yogyakarta, on May 31, 2015. Thousands of people at the event were campaigning for a healthy lifestyle by drinking milk, to bring attention for better nutrition and exercise. (Antara Photo/Andreas Fitri Atmoko)

Jakarta. Indonesia needs to beef up its fight against hunger and malnutrition as the government struggles to ensure the availability and affordability of food, after a United Nations report showed that millions of Indonesians live in hunger.

In a regional overview of food insecurity in Asia and the Pacific released on May 27, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization noted that almost 20 million Indonesians, or around 8 percent of the nation’s population, suffer from chronic hunger.

The UN defines food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”

“The government has done well, considering where we started, but helping those last few millions out of hunger will be quite difficult,” Mark Smulders, the FAO’s country representative in Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe on Monday.

The FAO’s statements come at a time of heightened interest in national food security. In February, officials from the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD) and the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) announced the Indonesian government’s aim to become food-secure by increasing rice yields by 200 kilograms per hectare every year from the current 5,150 kilograms per hectare at present. Indonesia is estimated to produce 73.4 million metric tons of rice this year, an increase from 70.61 million tons in 2014, according to the Agriculture Ministry in January.

While there has been a substantial rise in the availability food products like rice, Indonesia has made slow progress in reducing undernutrition, with the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age at 37.2 percent in 2013. Within Southeast Asia, Indonesia’s stunting rate is high, compared to 17 percent in Malaysia and 16 percent in Thailand.

Stunting in children is primarily caused by prolonged inadequacy of food intake, repeated episodes of infections or repeated episodes of acute undernutrition. While rice is rich in carbohydrates, it lacks key nutrients that can be found in fruits, vegetables and meat.

“Food security is not only about having enough food, but also having right kinds of food,” Anthea Webb, the UN World Food Program’s representative in Indonesia, told the Globe.

“Government programs should look at the nutritional impact of their programs. Rice alone is not enough,” Webb said.

Indonesia has successfully achieved the UN Millennium Development Goals’ hunger target (MDG-1c) of halving the proportion of undernourished people from 17 percent in 1990. However, it has failed to meet the target set by the World Food Summit (WFS) of halving the absolute number of undernourished people from 16.6 million in 1990 by 2015. Part of the difficulty in achieving that goal is the rapid growth in Indonesia’s population.

Public and private sector initiatives

At present, the government has in place a series of measures meant to eradicate hunger nationwide.

Legislation adopted in 2012 institutionalized the right to food and defined the state’s obligations to ensure the availability and affordability of sufficient, safe and nutritionally balanced food for all people at all times.

Raskin, a poverty alleviation and social protection program managed by the Indonesian Bureau of Logistics (Bulog), has long provided subsidized rice to low-income households identified as being Raskin Beneficiary Households (RTS-PM) by the National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction. These households are entitled to receive as much as 15 kilograms of Raskin rice per month, at a price of Rp 1,600 (10 cents) per kilogram. A kilogram of rice in retail markets, by comparison, cost around Rp 9,000 to Rp 10,000.

“What is good about Raskin is the card system that helps identify the most needy,” Smulders said of the program’s efficiency in designating RTS-PMs within vulnerable populations.

“The card system is a good safety net because it can target and channel investment, including inputs like fertilizer and subsidies, to the poorest of the poor.”

However, despite the measured successes of programs like Raskin, Bulog has recently come under fire for failing to reach targets for domestic rice buying.

Bulog chief Lenny Sugihat was removed from office on Monday after just five months in the role, the deputy state-owned enterprises minister said.

The FAO further noted that the issue of food insecurity demands cooperation from all government ministries, particularly those that deal in labor practices.

“Labor practices are deeply tied to the issue of food security. Our main objective is to educate, and we cannot do that if children are taken out of school to he put into the workforce,” Smulders said.

In a statement issued last month, the FAO and the UN’s International Labor Organization signed a partnership agreement with the Indonesian Ministry of Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration establishing a code of conduct on decent work for food security and sustainable rural development.

“The objective of the program is to promote food security and sustainable poverty reduction of rural communities, through increased labor productivity, enhanced employment opportunities, and expanding entrepreneurial opportunities,” said Marwan Jafar, the minister.

The bid to establishing proper labor practices comes at a time of concentrated efforts in providing aid to Indonesia’s rural and urban workers. Last Thursday, Manpower and Transmigration Minister Hanif Dhakiri announced a roadmap toward eradicating child labor.

Hanif’s plan includes a series of policy adjustments, including the creation and review of social safety nets.

The slow progress of government initiatives means that a renewed effort must be made in strengthening the implementation of food security policies, say private sector observers.

“The government must work with and support small farmers, with the aim of increasing overall commodity output,” says Herry Kristanto, head of corporate affairs at Monsanto Indonesia, the local unit of the US agricultural giant.

According to Herry, the government must empower farmers to make more efficient use of farmland by giving them access to technologies that would increase overall crop yield.

“By using new technologies like hybrid seeds and fertilizers, farmers could increase their output without having to increase the overall area of farmland,” he told the Globe on Monday.

Herry also highlighted a lack of development on key infrastructure as a factor for Indonesia’s food insecurity. Many roads across Indonesia are inadequate, and transportation of goods between islands can be expensive because of the difficulty of access to ports.

“Transporting food and grain across Indonesia can be very difficult and expensive, which harms the overall productivity of the agricultural sector,” he added.

Debora Tjandrakusuma, the legal and corporate affairs director at Nestlé Indonesia, one of the nation’s largest food manufacturers and a unit of the Swiss corporation, says that private companies and the government can work together to develop programs that make nutritious food available to all Indonesians.

“Long-term national strategies and public-private partnerships are required to ensure food security in Indonesia, a country with 250 million population to feed,” Debora told the Globe.

“A long-term national strategy on education, family planning, land usage, the agricultural sector, nature and forest conservation and its disciplined implementation will help to achieve food security in the country.”

Some farmers putting rice seed to be planted and deployed in the field in Kampung Embankment, Kasemen, Serang, Banten, West Java on June 8, 2015. Rice is one of the main crops in Indonesia. (Antara Photo/Asep Fathulrahman)

Challenges ahead

The government’s moves toward increasing equitable food production and ending food insecurity are complicated by a series of formidable challenges, some officials say.

Food production makes use of various inputs, making food prices sensitive to changes in volatile global commodity markets.

The FAO has emphasized the need to diversify Indonesia’s production of crops, a preventative measure against factors of instability that could harm local production markets. Indonesia’s main crops include rice, corn and cassava, but little focus on other types of produce including protein-rich foods such as soybean — of which almost all is imported from the United States.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s population boom could hinder efforts to fight food insecurity, particularly in terms of the sustainable allocation of land for farm use. As the population increases, people are moving into cities, and as cities grow, farmland is being developed for residential use.

Herry of Monsanto says that more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land are transformed for urban needs each year. “In Java, farmland has been converted to suit the needs of the growing cities,” he said.

Conversely, Indonesia must work toward controlling the amount of forests converted for farm use.

“The world cannot afford for Indonesia to transform further forest land into agricultural land,” said the FAO’s Smulders, emphasizing the importance of Indonesia’s rainforests in maintaining the region’s ecological balance.

Climate change also will play a role in determining the future of Indonesia’s food security, said the WFP, as changes in rainfall affect Indonesia’s efforts to increase food production.

Conflicting interests could become a growing challenge to Indonesia’s search for food security, even in terms of government programs.

The 2012 Food Law contains numerous provisions calling for the realization of “food sovereignty, self-sufficiency and security.”

The FAO’s regional report targeted government self-sufficiency programs for “[entailing] significant trade restrictions and therefore a trade-off with economic efficiency,” creating further obstacles in establishing food security. Indonesia has made self-sufficiency a prime objective through increasing rice production.

Speaking on the possibility of conflicting interests between self-sufficiency and food security initiatives, Smulders said the government “must balance their different policy objects in order to reap the most benefits.”

Regional cooperation

As a member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and hence the Asean Economic Community that goes into full force at the end of this year, Indonesia must now grapple with the issue of food security in the regional context.

Although Southeast Asia as a whole has made significant strides in hunger eradication by reaching the MDG-1c target of halving the proportion of the hungry, the region has yet to grapple with key issues of undernutrition.

While Smulders believes that Indonesia and other nations in the region have the capability to free themselves from hunger, he added “the bigger challenge is to achieve good nutrition.”

According to the FAO report, Southeast Asia suffers from higher rates of wasting among children than both Eastern Asia and Oceania.

Wasting, the result of short-term inadequacy of food intake, has significant efforts on human growth and development. The continuance of wasting and other similar conditions has led to a host of medial issues in Southeast Asia, including the increased prevalence of anemia among pregnant women and children.

In a bid toward enhancing regional cooperation in the fight against food insecurity, Asean will host its 14th Food Conference in the Philippines later this month. The conference aims to strengthen the capabilities of Asean in promoting a higher quality of life for the people of the region through the achievement of food security and safety.

Asean has also spearheaded the creation of the Asean Integrated Food Security (AIFS) Framework and the Asean Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve, initiatives meant to foster food security in the region.

“Nations in Southeast Asia all share similar dietary needs and requirements,” said WFP representative Webb.

“Cooperation between the Asean states in ending food insecurity is inevitable and necessary.”

Correction: The latest version of this story removes reference in the 22nd paragraph of FAO bidding to establish proper labor practices.