The global food system has reached a breaking point. The sector is embroiled in climate change, absorbing an estimated 25 percent of the total damage and losses from climate-related disasters.
In addition, the ensuing disruption of global supply chains, reduced access to critical food staples, and sky-high fuel prices due to the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war have culminated in a worldwide food crisis.
Indonesia currently ranks 63rd out of 113 countries on the 2022 Global Food Security Index, with high risks across the availability, sustainability, and adaptation metrics. Indonesia's food imports surpassed $24 billion in 2021.
Nevertheless, some 22.9 million people still cannot meet their dietary requirements.
The implications of climate change are even greater for the 17 million rice farmers susceptible to crop losses resulting from extreme weather events.
Despite these vulnerabilities, agricultural and resource-rich Southeast Asian (SEA) countries such as Indonesia can play a crucial role in securing food sovereignty while mitigating the global food crisis.
Collectively, the region is a significant contributor to the global food supply of key commodities and staples such as palm oil, coffee, and rice. Stakeholders in Indonesia must weigh all future possibilities of the country's domestic agri-food sector and act in advance.
Four futures that could dictate Indonesia's path toward food system resilience
We examined four very different futures (scenarios) and looked at their implications for Indonesia's public and private stakeholder groups. The scenarios are: 'Uneven Progress,' 'The Rise of Africa,' 'Every Country for Itself,' and 'Coordinated Step Forward.'
Each offers a distinct vision of the middle-term future for the country, developed based upon overarching factors that will impact global food systems over the next five years, namely the state of the world's agriculture, the success of climate action outcomes, and global economics and geopolitics.
1. Uneven progress
In this scenario, global coordination stalls, but a few high-income countries (HICs) in the Global North lead a policy-driven development agenda, promoting the uptake of existing climate-smart technologies.
Inequity worsens in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), including SEA countries plagued by high debt and extreme weather events that impact land productivity and agricultural output.
Smallholder farmers in SEA have become displaced by agricultural technology focused on industrial and contract farming.
The Indonesian public sector will need to consider strengthening regional trade to import key agricultural inputs while also looking into increasing the yields of domestic production through financial subsidies, training of smallholder farmers, and modernization of farming activities.
The private sector will need to invest in decarbonizing their supply chains and developing healthier processed foods to participate better in high-tech global supply chains. Investments in climate resilience and adaptation that include smallholders will be crucial.
2. The Rise of Africa
In scenario two, the African continent accelerates its agriculture potential through unprecedented South-South cooperation. Food availability and productivity increase while prices and hunger fall.
But continued unequal distribution leads to backsliding on
As global trade reduces, trade within Asean becomes stronger. Indonesia must consider participating in trading blocs such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Private-sector companies will benefit from investing in climate-smart technologies to boost the local production of commodities and
employing regenerative farming techniques.
3. Every country for itself
If this transpires, global agricultural trade will fall by 20 percent. Food costs will rise further as availability declines.
Limited climate action will lead to extreme weather events, perpetuating the cycle of inequality.
In Indonesia, governmental action will be critical in reducing the risk of food price volatility and the resulting potential for unrest.
Early investments in localizing fertilizer production, strengthening strategic grain and crop reserves such as maize and wheat, and alternative commodities through the local value chain, as well as improving coastal infrastructure, will be needed.
In the private sector, domestic and regional opportunities can be tapped into, especially for climate-smart food processing and technology investments that increase yield and productivity.
4. Coordinated step forward
As greater global coordination in climate policy and agriculture gains momentum in the fourth scenario, climate-friendly innovations will spur global trade, strengthen resilience in food supply chains, and increase demand for sustainable agricultural practices.
Resource-rich countries like Indonesia will feature more prominently in global supply chains.
Public sector players must encourage collective climate action and create demand for diversified crops via subsidies, minimum price supports, and public procurement.
In the private sector, companies innovate to simplify supply chains for staple foods beyond rice (e.g., potato, sago, cassava, and sweet potato) and invest in alternative nutritious grains (e.g., oats, millet, and buckwheat), and alternative proteins will thrive.
Future-proofing Indonesia's food sovereignty with no-regret moves
Regardless of how these scenarios play out in the near to mid-term, Indonesia's public and private sectors must take action.
With three-quarters of the country's territory surrounded by sea, investments in coastal infrastructure will be crucial.
Last year, the launch of Ocean 20 in Bali marked an important milestone in Indonesia's efforts to boost lasting, equitable, resilient growth for G20 countries through a sustainable ocean economy.
Encouragingly, Indonesia has also recognized the need for nature-based solutions (NBS) as part of the country's broader climate adaptation strategy, with initiatives such as the restoration of mangroves in Demak, Java, which will protect the 30 million lives that are at risk.
Greater enforcement and dedicated funding are, however, needed to scale efforts. In 2020, Indonesia's forestry and agricultural sectors contributed 18 percent and 9 percent, respectively, to national greenhouse gas emissions.
With smallholders caught at the heart of the issue, hastening their adoption of agricultural climate-smart technologies by providing them information, advisory services, and agricultural extension services at national and provincial levels, and making investments accessible, for example, through dedicated microfinance solutions can be transformative.
Government-led initiatives such as the Agriculture Value Chain Development (ICARE) project are a promising start towards strengthening public and private sector institutional capacity to help farmers adapt to changing climate.
Increases in agricultural yield and productivity should come from investments in regenerative farming technologies.
To make farming more efficient, Indonesian agritech enterprises are stepping up to enhance traditional farming with climate-smart technologies such as IoT, robotics, drones, and AI. Still, more effort is needed to bring smallholders on board.
The government is also seeking to expand planting areas by at least 300 percent through 2024, aiming for a higher output of sorghum, sago, and cassava while exploring new high-yielding rice varieties.
It's also focusing its distribution of subsidized fertilizers to safeguard the production of staple crops.
These initiatives are a vital starting point for stabilizing and creating a climate-friendly food system for Indonesians while promoting a healthy food trade surplus.
Ultimately, Indonesia can support a more robust and equitable global food system by securing its food sovereignty.
Marc Schmidt is the managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group. Andrey Berdichevskiy is a partner and associate director at Boston Consulting Group.