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The Jakarta Post
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Toward national food security á la the Saman dance

  • Tejo Wahyu Jatmiko

Jakarta | Tue, October 16 2012 | 10:36 am

Today (Oct. 16), the world celebrates World Food Day for the 36th time since its inception in 1979, on the back of reports that 870 million people go to bed with empty stomachs — according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — and 30 million Indonesians remain undernourished.

Some experts say that Indonesia has jumped into the food trap due to the flooding in of imported food.

Food production in Indonesia and elsewhere has today become susceptible and connected to the global market. Ironically, according to the FAO, world food output declined from 2.3 billion tons in 2009 to 2.216 billion tons in 2011. In contrast, food consumption increased from 2.18 billion tons in 2009 to 2.25 billion tons in 2011.

The decline in food production is significantly affected by land pressures and climate change, while the growth in the consumption rate is largely due to the increase in welfare of four billion people, who demand more wheat, meat and other farm products (Ray, 2008).

Without adjustment to these production and consumption patterns, the world will plunge into a food deficit. Since 2004-2005, food trade has been characterized as an unstable market. It peaked in 2008 when rice prices tripled and wheat doubled compared to 2007 (Rosset, 2010). The fluctuation continues until today.

Speculators have exacerbated this condition by exploiting the food market following the devastation of the American stock market.

Today, huge food corporations control the global food chain, giving consumers and nations no choice but to rely on them. So much so that they can independently create issues of food availability as well as shortages and — more dauntingly — profit from it. Such is the condition now — we are relying on food from a fragile market.

Despite its claim to be a food-based country, Indonesia is experiencing food problems. Figures reveal that every year Indonesia has to spend its foreign exchange on food imports, which in 2011 amounted to Rp 125 trillion (US$13.03 billion) for the purchase of six food commodities. That practically translates into 10 percent of the 2012 state budget.

The import of soybean continues to increase from 1.9 million tons ( 2010 ) to 1.95 million tons ( 2012 ), wheat from 6.6 million tons ( 2010 ) to 7.4 million tons ( 2012 ), while rice reached 1.95 million tons ( 2012 ) and corn two million tons (Gain-USDA, 2012). The import of beef equaled 900,000 cows a year and chicken 900,000 hens a year. The import of salt reached a level of Rp 1.2 trillion ( 2011 ), despite the country’s vast coastal areas. Keep in mind these figures exclude other food commodities like fruit and vegetables.

Indonesia is blessed with 101 million hectares of potential agricultural land and 790 million hectares of sea, yet food imports carry on. Take into account that this nation is rich in food resources.

In our forests there are more than 800 species of potential food sources, not to mention our treasures under the sea in the forms of fish and other maritime products.

Furthermore, we have no deficit of experts, as well as tough farmers, fishermen, planters and breeders. Yet, their skills are not yet optimally used. Agricultural infrastructure, such as irrigation and pathways, is virtually nonexistent due to mismanagement. We fail to recall that we are undeniably rich.

It is not surprising that food prices are unstable and food often disappears from the market. The tempeh debacle earlier this year is just the tip of the iceberg of food problems facing Indonesia. Unless we change our food management, this food crisis will worsen.

In reality, basic prerequisites for Indonesian food security are sufficient. If intelligently addressed, it is not impossible to envision Indonesia as the world’s major food supplier.

Yet, a lot of improvements are needed. The advancement of the production capacity of small-scale food producers (farmers, fishermen, breeders, planters) by managing land, water, seed and technology as well as providing technical support, is needed.

Remember that these small producers place more than 60 percent of food on our table. The government needs to halt awarding land to corporations, hence the conversion of productive land. The government also needs to protect local food markets from the onslaught of imported food products.

The improvement in the governance of food supply and consumption is another issue as well as the enhancement of national food reserves through the development of food granaries at various levels. Last but not least is intensifying the state’s investment in food supply.

Attempts to improve Indonesian food security can start promptly. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono need only follow the Saman dance from Gayo, Aceh in taking the lead and directing his Cabinet.

The message of the dance is the need for speed, precision, unification and justice. Speed is required because the nation is already knee-deep in a food crisis, while precision translates to sustainable food solutions that are not temporary, namely food imports or major invitations for private investment.

Unification is significant because up to now the picture of Indonesia, including President Yudhoyono’s Cabinet, is far from harmonious.

Justice is the key to solving these problems by dedicating both attention and support to our small-scale food producers.

Full commitment from policymakers, producers and consumers in Indonesia is a must. With the grace as shown in the Saman dance, the country will be able to settle this trouble en route to food sovereignty.


The writer is national coordinator of the Alliance for Prosperous Villages, an alliance of 15 NGOs and a network that focuses on food and rural issues.


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