Indonesia Expat

Infrastructure and Policy Remain Key Challenges for Food Security

Is Indonesia meeting the definitive requirements to be considered self-sufficient? Is its definition of food security the same as the one set by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations?

What is Food Security?

In Indonesia, the term “food security” is defined as the condition of “food fulfilment for the country down to the individual level.” According to Law No.18 of 2012, food security should be evident in the availability of sufficient food, including quantity and quality, nutrition, distribution, diversity and accessibility, among others.

Compare that to the definition provided by FAO, which states that “food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Food Security Challenges in Indonesia

The 2015 Global Hunger Index (GHI) showed a 25 percent decrease in Indonesia’s GHI score since the year 2000. While it has yet to resolve its hunger problems in the same way that its Southeast Asian neighbours Vietnam and Thailand have, the country has shown considerable improvement in terms of combating food insecurity.

In 2012, Indonesia announced its plan to provide 90 percent of its food demand from domestic sources by 2014, a move that was largely dictated by its fear of supply disruptions. The 2013 forecast by the Future Directions International, however, showed that the country was being overly ambitious with its goal.

Food-crop farmers in the archipelago are generally smallholders, keeping up with the challenges of economies of scale. The industry finds it difficult to maximize production and meet self-sufficiency targets, particularly because of the erratic climatic conditions brought about by global warming.

President Joko Widodo has pursued self-sufficiency policies for the country since taking office in 2014. He believes that reducing or delaying the import of beef, rice, corn and raw sugar will encourage increased local production of these key food products. He stated that the country “must have the courage to stop imports.”

To circumvent the problem on market diversification for the country’s beef supply, on the other hand, the government suggested the creation of quarantine islands where unhealthy beef will be impounded until it is “ready” for the Indonesian market. While the policy allows for the import of beef from alternative suppliers other than Australia, this will result in longer delivery periods and inevitable price increases.

In September of 2015, the government announced its implementation of a series of a 12-reform package, highlighting the need to reduce non-tariff barriers, where several import and export requirements were abolished. While the country progressively slashed import tariffs over time, there has been a more intense use of non-tariff measures (NTMs).

Unfortunately, however, regardless of the goals put in place, one of the major impacts of NTMs is significantly raising prices of traded goods with the increase of trading costs or the reduction of the domestic supply of goods. These policies have backfired and have resulted in price hikes and supply shortages instead of boosting production in Indonesia.

Recent FAO reports also revealed high rates of malnutrition throughout Southeast Asia, including of course, Indonesia. By 2015, while the number of malnourished Indonesian people had declined from 36 million in 1990 to 19.4 million, the country’s obesity rates have increased and the nation now ranks tenth on the list of the world’s most obese countries. The same holds true for the rate of growth stunting in Indonesian children, where the rate has increased to 36.4 percent from 28.6 percent for kids under the age of five.

Both obesity and growth stunting lead to serious lifelong health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, slow or improper brain development and others. High rates of these health and nutrition problems, when left unattended, will likely make considerable impacts on the Indonesian economy.

The Likelihood of Achieving Food Security in Indonesia

Food security in Indonesia has improved over the past few years, and the country has the potential to bring about self-sufficiency in its primary agricultural commodities such as rice, while simultaneously improving domestic production of high-value food products including beef.

A number of challenges, however, continue to prevent it from reaching its full capacity of producing enough food for the Indonesian population. Major agricultural lands and regions have been developed into palm oil plantations that contribute absolutely nothing to bolster the state of food security (despite being commercially profitable).

The never-ending expansion of industrial and urban areas, and the increased land use pressure that comes with it, makes it even more difficult to find new land conducive to serving an agricultural purpose.

This could be overcome by the government’s increased investment strategies on infrastructure development in the long run. Realizing President Widodo’s ambitious goals for the nation’s infrastructure would significantly improve the food distribution network on which Indonesia’s capacity to produce its own food largely depends.

Experts are also looking at other viable methods of ensuring food security such as increasing inter-island connectivity. Theoretically, that would encourage access to markets for the country’s local food producers in addition to the continuous import of food products. While this could largely improve the country’s food network and reduce costs across the board, the new system would take time and require investments that the country may not be able to secure in the short term.

Food security in Indonesia will require government programmes focused on alleviating poverty, diversifying food production, promoting food nutrition and adapting to climate changes. Coordination and communication across all relevant sectors should be improved, while public and private initiatives should be encouraged.

These and the government’s open-mindedness in terms of examining existing programmes and strategies that will help improve food productivity increase the possibility of security. A robust economic growth and its capacity as a gigantic institution shows the archipelago having bright prospects to improve its food and nutrition security in the years to come.

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