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Indonesia’s Tofu and Tempeh Craftsmen Strike over High Soybean Prices

tempe tofu

A production strike by tofu and tempeh producers due to the increase in soybean prices starts today, 21st February, and will run until 23rd February, confirmed the Chairman of the Association of Indonesian Tofu Tempe Producers Cooperatives Aip Syarifuddin.

Syarifuddin said that starting today, Indonesia’s markets will have less supply of tofu and tempeh and supply lines for the distribution of the soybean products will also be disrupted.

“It’s disturbing, yes. The impact is that people won’t be able to buy tofu and tempeh because we don’t produce it, so there’s no supply. But it has to be done, right,” he expressed.

World soybean prices have increased. This situation will have a major impact on the domestic tempeh and tofu industry, which is dominated by household production. Referring to the Trading Economics website, soybean prices fluctuated in the range of US$15 per bushel – around 27.21 kg – after touching the highest level since May 2021 at around US$16 per bushel.

This situation has made the tempeh and tofu industry tough. Syarifuddin pointed out that 20 percent or 30,000 tofu and tempeh craftsmen have stopped production.

Handoko, a West Jakarta tofu and tempeh craftsman who has been producing tofu and tempeh since 1992 at the Semanan Tofu Producers Cooperative housing complex, also said the same thing.

“Yes, yesterday I knew that tempeh was indeed produced, today we don’t have tempeh. There is no tempeh trading activity because we agreed to strike for three days,” said Handoko.

He said producers and the public must both “fast” from tofu and tempeh as a form of concern and inform consumers that the price of tofu and tempeh will increase considering the price of raw materials has also increased.

We ask the government to act immediately, especially President Jokowi, he likes all tempeh. Tempeh is a typical Indonesian food. When there is a problem like this, it’s impossible to solve it,” said Handoko.

Moreover, China’s pig farming reforms have had far-reaching implications. The Trade Ministry has drawn a line between these changes and the uptick in soybean prices.

Indonesia imports around 80-90 percent of its soybeans and the economy is therefore directly affected. Tofu and tempeh craftsmen in the country require around three million tons of soybeans every year to manage supply.

The spike in soybean prices has driven tofu and tempeh craftsmen to strike and cease production. They are asking the government for permission to increase the selling price so as not to face a consumer backlash.

China is reportedly carrying out reforms of pig farming after being devastated by the outbreak of the African swine fever in mid-2018 which spread across China in 2019. The epidemic even made its way to Indonesian pig farms. The changes in China are increasing demand for soybeans in the region since they are one of the raw materials in animal feed.

The Director-General of Domestic Trade at the Trade Ministry, Oke Nurwan, said that last year his team estimated soybean production in Argentina and Brazil would increase. However, the projection is expected to be off.

Argentine and Brazilian soybean production fell, pushing  China to switch to buying from the United States. The soybean needs for tofu and tempeh craftsmen are usually supplied from the US, so they have had to now compete with Chinese demand.

“So, once the reform of pig farming is made, a good SOP will require a lot of soybeans to feed pigs. So, China is buying up the soybeans,” said Nurwan, as quoted by Detikfinance on Sunday 20th February.

He said the pandemic had raised logistics costs which has also contributed to the increase in soybean prices.

“The pandemic has increased logistics costs four times. The price of soybeans will increase, and the fall of soybeans in our country will increase,” he explained.

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