Please Update your browser

Your browser is out of date, and may not be compatible with our website. A list of the most popular web browsers can be found below.
Just click on the icons to get to the download page.

Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
Video Weather icon 30°C
DKI Jakarta, Indonesia
weather-icon
30°C Partly Cloudy

Dry and mostly cloudy throughout the day.

  • weather-icon

    Wed

    26℃ - 32℃

  • weather-icon

    Thu

    25℃ - 32℃

  • weather-icon

    Fri

    25℃ - 31℃

  • weather-icon

    Sat

    26℃ - 30℃

Tempeh, science and politics in Indonesia

  • Jonathan Agranoff

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Thu, September 26, 2013 | 01:24 pm
Tempeh, science and politics in Indonesia Protest: Workers rest during a two-day strike at a tempeh plant in Tangerang, Banten, on Sept. 9. (Antara/Rivan Awal Lingga)" border="0" height="341" width="512">Protest: Workers rest during a two-day strike at a tempeh plant in Tangerang, Banten, on Sept. 9. (Antara/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Sukarno once rallied the nation, saying “We are the nation of Indonesia, don’t let us be a tempeh nation!” referring to tempeh as food for the poor.

Despite tempeh’s reputation as the “poor man’s meat”, threats to its production must be taken very seriously and are a sign that something is wrong with the management of the economy. Ignoring the most basic nutritional needs of the population has lead to revolution.

During the New Order, officials knew that people in the countryside would be satisfied if they could fill their stomachs once a day with “some rice and a piece of tempeh”.

During the late 1960s when rice was running out, Soeharto knew well that food self-sufficiency was paramount to a satisfied and peaceful population.

Under Soeharto — the father of the nation’s development and himself from a family of farmers — the nation achieved soybean self sufficiency in 1992 and nearly became self-sufficient in rice production, as well.

However, the economic collapse following the 1997/1998 financial crisis and Soeharto’s resignation left the nation susceptible to foreign pressure to deregulate the soybeans commodity markets.

The IMF offered Indonesia loans to survive the financial crisis if it agreed to “reforms”, some of which directly affected agriculture, including eliminating the State Logistics Agency’s (BULOG) import monopoly and ending subsidies for wheat, wheat flour, sugar, soybeans and garlic.

At work: Workers measure soybeans while making tofu at a small factory in West Teja in Pamekasan, East Java, on Sept. 7. As soybean prices continue to soar, some small operators have suspended work due to mediocre-quality supplies, stopping production. (Antara/Saiful Bahri)At work: Workers measure soybeans while making tofu at a small factory in West Teja in Pamekasan, East Java, on Sept. 7. As soybean prices continue to soar, some small operators have suspended work due to mediocre-quality supplies, stopping production. (Antara/Saiful Bahri)
The government also agreed to other policy changes required by the IMF as part of the loan deal, including reducing import tariffs on food items to a maximum of 5 percent, deregulating agricultural trade between the nation’s districts and provinces and removing formal and informal barriers to investment in palm oil plantations.

The consequences of the IMF’s opportunistic intervention destroyed the protections the government offered to the nation’s agricultural sector.

Genetically modified soybeans grown efficiently on massive US farms were sold here for less than what local farmers could match, leading to marginalization of the crop and the ensuing demise of the general agricultural sector.

Rice monoculture became the norm — and the clever legume crop rotation system of nitrogen-fixing soybeans that we all learned about at school-stopped.

As a result, more fertilizer and pesticides had to be purchased.

Over 70 percent of all soybeans currently consumed in Indonesia are imported US beans, representing almost all the tempeh and tofu eaten in Indonesia’s cities. Locally grown soybeans — sweeter and cleaner than crude US beans — are generally eaten by lucky villagers.

A dependence on the US has been restored, going against the anti-imperialist ethos that Sukarno preached to his last breath.

The US Soybean Export Council, to be fair, has supported many projects in Indonesia. It is staffed by pragmatic individuals doing their best to maintain a constant soybean supply and to fund research and international seminars on tempeh where Indonesian scientists can present their work.

While the council maintains the quality of US soybean exports, it has no control over what happens when after beans arrive in Indonesia, where local importers, some of whom have reportedly hoarded soybeans to dilute quality, allegedly create shortages and increase prices.

The government needs to crack down on importers to prevent price fixing as well as on the practice of adulterating quality US beans with animal-feed soybeans at the expense of consumers.

Meanwhile, agricultural scientists in Indonesia have been working hard to improve the yield and quality of food crops, despite budget cuts and lowly civil servant salaries.

For instance, in Malang, East Java, the Legume and Root Crops Research Center has an excellent record of success in cultivating local soybean varieties.

It also runs a seed bank for the nation’s 14 excellent native varieties of non-genetically-modified soybeans. It is still illegal to grow GM soybeans in Indonesia.

Some of these local varieties yield soybeans that are much larger than those that are imported. They are also adapted to Indonesia’s climate and specific terrain, such as the Grobogan variety, which is cultivated between Semarang and Surakarta, while the Anjasmoro and Panderman varieties are grown from Blitar to the north coast in Pasururan.

Lombok is famed as one of the nation’s most successful areas for producing high quality soybeans. Scientists from the institute are currently working here. There are also promising trials to grow soybeans on bare wastelands on neighboring Sumbawa Island.

Their research has, among other things, led to the development of varieties that can mature in just 73 to 76 days — and yield the large beans favored by tempeh makers.

Contrary to popular belief, some local varieties are even larger than imported ones. These also taste far better and are bright yellow and clean compared to the imported beans that are often grey with dust and require extensive washing before use.

Taking a stand: Ade Suryadi stands behind protest signs in Nagrog Kulon in Tasikmalaya, West Java, on Sept. 9. Suryadi and other members of the local Indonesian Tofu Tempe Producers Cooperative Association (Gakoptindo) went on strike from Sept. 9 to 11 due to soaring soybean prices. (Antara/Adeng Bustomi)

Protest: Workers rest during a two-day strike at a tempeh plant in Tangerang, Banten, on Sept. 9. (Antara/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Sukarno once rallied the nation, saying '€œWe are the nation of Indonesia, don'€™t let us be a tempeh nation!'€ referring to tempeh as food for the poor.

Despite tempeh'€™s reputation as the '€œpoor man'€™s meat'€, threats to its production must be taken very seriously and are a sign that something is wrong with the management of the economy. Ignoring the most basic nutritional needs of the population has lead to revolution.

During the New Order, officials knew that people in the countryside would be satisfied if they could fill their stomachs once a day with '€œsome rice and a piece of tempeh'€.

During the late 1960s when rice was running out, Soeharto knew well that food self-sufficiency was paramount to a satisfied and peaceful population.

Under Soeharto '€” the father of the nation'€™s development and himself from a family of farmers '€” the nation achieved soybean self sufficiency in 1992 and nearly became self-sufficient in rice production, as well.

However, the economic collapse following the 1997/1998 financial crisis and Soeharto'€™s resignation left the nation susceptible to foreign pressure to deregulate the soybeans commodity markets.

The IMF offered Indonesia loans to survive the financial crisis if it agreed to '€œreforms'€, some of which directly affected agriculture, including eliminating the State Logistics Agency'€™s (BULOG) import monopoly and ending subsidies for wheat, wheat flour, sugar, soybeans and garlic.

At work: Workers measure soybeans while making tofu at a small factory in West Teja in Pamekasan, East Java, on Sept. 7. As soybean prices continue to soar, some small operators have suspended work due to mediocre-quality supplies, stopping production. (Antara/Saiful Bahri)At work: Workers measure soybeans while making tofu at a small factory in West Teja in Pamekasan, East Java, on Sept. 7. As soybean prices continue to soar, some small operators have suspended work due to mediocre-quality supplies, stopping production. (Antara/Saiful Bahri)
The government also agreed to other policy changes required by the IMF as part of the loan deal, including reducing import tariffs on food items to a maximum of 5 percent, deregulating agricultural trade between the nation'€™s districts and provinces and removing formal and informal barriers to investment in palm oil plantations.

The consequences of the IMF'€™s opportunistic intervention destroyed the protections the government offered to the nation'€™s agricultural sector.

Genetically modified soybeans grown efficiently on massive US farms were sold here for less than what local farmers could match, leading to marginalization of the crop and the ensuing demise of the general agricultural sector.

Rice monoculture became the norm '€” and the clever legume crop rotation system of nitrogen-fixing soybeans that we all learned about at school-stopped.

As a result, more fertilizer and pesticides had to be purchased.

Over 70 percent of all soybeans currently consumed in Indonesia are imported US beans, representing almost all the tempeh and tofu eaten in Indonesia'€™s cities. Locally grown soybeans '€” sweeter and cleaner than crude US beans '€” are generally eaten by lucky villagers.

A dependence on the US has been restored, going against the anti-imperialist ethos that Sukarno preached to his last breath.

The US Soybean Export Council, to be fair, has supported many projects in Indonesia. It is staffed by pragmatic individuals doing their best to maintain a constant soybean supply and to fund research and international seminars on tempeh where Indonesian scientists can present their work.

While the council maintains the quality of US soybean exports, it has no control over what happens when after beans arrive in Indonesia, where local importers, some of whom have reportedly hoarded soybeans to dilute quality, allegedly create shortages and increase prices.

The government needs to crack down on importers to prevent price fixing as well as on the practice of adulterating quality US beans with animal-feed soybeans at the expense of consumers.

Meanwhile, agricultural scientists in Indonesia have been working hard to improve the yield and quality of food crops, despite budget cuts and lowly civil servant salaries.

For instance, in Malang, East Java, the Legume and Root Crops Research Center has an excellent record of success in cultivating local soybean varieties.

It also runs a seed bank for the nation'€™s 14 excellent native varieties of non-genetically-modified soybeans. It is still illegal to grow GM soybeans in Indonesia.

Some of these local varieties yield soybeans that are much larger than those that are imported. They are also adapted to Indonesia'€™s climate and specific terrain, such as the Grobogan variety, which is cultivated between Semarang and Surakarta, while the Anjasmoro and Panderman varieties are grown from Blitar to the north coast in Pasururan.

Lombok is famed as one of the nation'€™s most successful areas for producing high quality soybeans. Scientists from the institute are currently working here. There are also promising trials to grow soybeans on bare wastelands on neighboring Sumbawa Island.

Their research has, among other things, led to the development of varieties that can mature in just 73 to 76 days '€” and yield the large beans favored by tempeh makers.

Contrary to popular belief, some local varieties are even larger than imported ones. These also taste far better and are bright yellow and clean compared to the imported beans that are often grey with dust and require extensive washing before use.

Taking a stand: Ade Suryadi stands behind protest signs in Nagrog Kulon in Tasikmalaya, West Java, on Sept. 9. Suryadi and other members of the local Indonesian Tofu Tempe Producers Cooperative Association (Gakoptindo) went on strike from Sept. 9 to 11 due to soaring soybean prices. (Antara/Adeng Bustomi)Taking a stand: Ade Suryadi stands behind protest signs in Nagrog Kulon in Tasikmalaya, West Java, on Sept. 9. Suryadi and other members of the local Indonesian Tofu Tempe Producers Cooperative Association (Gakoptindo) went on strike from Sept. 9 to 11 due to soaring soybean prices. (Antara/Adeng Bustomi)
The work is ongoing, but these projects '€” funded by the Agriculture Ministry '€” need time and proper investments of money.

Meanwhile, back in the nation'€™s towns and cities, many tempeh makers have never seen locally grown soybeans, which have become so scarce that they tend only to be consumed within the farming communities that grow them.

In a recent trial of local soybeans, tempeh makers in Malang were amazed by how clean, large and yellow local soybeans were when compared to the US beans, which are usually covered in dirt from transcontinental shipping and years of storage.

The local soybeans needed no washing, their soak water was clear and sweet, and the tempeh produced had a rich, soft texture and intense fresh taste '€” something seldom experienced anymore.

It would be a shame if such high quality tempeh could not be appreciated by more than the privileged few tempeh connoisseurs able to source local soybeans.

However, in Indonesia there are many people who do care about tempeh.

At Universitas Tunas Pembangunan (UTS), a small independent university in Solo, there is a realization that farmers need motivation to stay in the village and that their children need motivation not to abandon the fields for menial work in Jakarta.

Unlike larger agricultural universities that require students to pay relatively exorbitant tuition fees and then leave them wondering what to do with their degree, UTS has hit the nail on the head.

The university offers vocational training that gives the children of farmers a rare opportunity to gain a university degree in agriculture while supporting the rural economy.

In return for joining a farming cooperative and producing first-class produce for market, the students attend classes at a facility in their own community where they learn agricultural science '€” and then apply that knowledge to their farms.

The fees are ingeniously subsidized by having the students work with a cooperative of local organic farmers, which receives income from sales of the produce, hence '€œeducation with added value'€.

It also reduces the exodus from the field, stemming the flight of young people that has left only the elderly as farmers in some places, as well as reducing the number of sharecroppers and landless laborers, the poorest of the poor.

With the advent of the next presidential election at hand, the scientists in Malang and the educators in Solo could well be offering a path to victory for politicians '€” if they read their history books and realize that people vote with their stomachs.

Winning at the ballot box need not just mean putting up more posters of candidates that looking like contestants in a best Indonesian moustache competition.

Promise the people inexpensive, good quality tempeh, and do this one thing properly. You will have the '€œtempeh nation'€ at your feet, Mr. President.

Jonathan Agranoff is a physician and independent development consultant who has worked for the UN in Jakarta and NGO emergency medical relief programs.

Comments