Jakarta. Indonesia must implement policies aimed at diversifying its staple foods and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption to ensure the right to food for all, a United Nations representative said.
Data compiled by the Ministry of Agriculture shows that Indonesia will consume an estimated 33.8 million metric tons of rice this year, compared with 30.65 million tons in 2017. Average rice consumption amounted to almost 150 kilograms per person last year, which is higher than in other major rice producing countries, such as China and India.
Former Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan previously voiced concern over Indonesian rice consumption and suggested that people eat less of the cereal grain.
"If we can reduce rice consumption to only 100 kilograms per person per year, we can save 10 million tons of rice, which will result in a rice surplus of 10 million tons by 2014," Gita said during the Jakarta Food Security Summit in 2012.
While Indonesia has been trying to become rice self-sufficient through technological innovations and improved irrigation methods, the country still has to import approximately 3 million tons rice per annum from neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam to satisfy domestic demand.
According to Hilal Elver, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, the government did not consider regional cultural differences when it decided to make rice the staple food across the archipelago.
"There is a need to diversify policies to limit the focus on rice… Policies developed to reduce food insecurity appear to be overly focused on rice, such as at the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate," Elver told a press conference in April.
The MIFEE project, launched on 2.5 million hectares of converted land in Merauke district in Papua Province in 2011, is aimed at increasing national self-sufficiency in food crops such as rice, corn, and sugar in order to reduce import dependency.
"Considering that not all people in the country want to make rice their main staple, the government's policy in the production of staples should be more mindful of the diverse needs and preferences of communities with a variety of food traditions," Elver said.
She cited as an example rice and instant noodles distributed in communities in the eastern part of the country, where people traditionally eat sago as a staple food.
Elver was sent on a mission to engage in dialogue with food-sector stakeholders in Jakarta and other parts of the country. Her observations and recommendations will be included in a UN Human Rights Council report due in March next year.
"What strikes me the most is the irony that in a leading food-producing country, 30 percent of children have stunted growth and over 92 percent of the population eats considerably less fruit and vegetables than World Health Organization recommended levels," Elver said.
She highlighted a case in Asmat district, Papua, where 72 children died of measles and malnutrition in January, which she said "was preventable but allowed to happen."
According to the WHO, adults must consume at least 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day to maintain optimal health.
"This is telling: Food is not only about quantity, but also about quality, accessibility, and affordability. People living in remote areas have limited access to healthy food, and poor people in cities are unable to afford fruits and vegetables, which are very expensive," Elver said.
Agung Hendriadi, the head of Indonesia's Food Security Agency (BKP), said social inequalities and poverty cause food insecurity in the country and that his agency has prepared several programs to address the problem in remote villages that are difficult to reach.
"These programs will teach community members to produce healthy ingredients for their households independently," Agung said.
The BKP, in cooperation with the North Sulawesi provincial government, also introduced the Eating Without Rice Movement (Gentanasi) in September last year aimed at replacing rice and flour with local foods as sources of carbohydrates.
"Efforts to reduce the consumption of rice and wheat should be followed by the provision of carbohydrates from local foods, such as sago, cassava, sweet potato, breadfruit, and bananas," Agung said, as reported by state-run news agency Antara.
The Ministry of Agriculture also established a program called Poverty Eradication Through Agriculture, which aims to develop horticultural products, especially domestic fruits, in 1,000 villages in 100 districts on Java Island and in the provinces of South Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara, South Kalimantan and Lampung.
The program, launched at the end of April, involves the distribution of free seeds worth Rp 5.5 trillion ($395 million) through regional governments.
According to Agriculture Minister Andi Amran, the program aims to make domestic fruit production more competitive, while improving the welfare of local fruit farmers.
Rising Protein Consumption
Kundhavi Kadiresan, the representative of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Asia and the Pacific, said protein consumption in Indonesia is expected to increase faster than that of carbohydrates between 2020 and 2045.
He said consumption of vegetables and poultry is expected to increase by more than 45 percent, followed by beef at 40 percent, fruits (35 percent), eggs (25 percent) and fish (20 percent). Rice consumption is projected to increase at less than 10 percent.
Kadiresan attributes rising protein consumption to the country's growing middle class, with more people paying attention to a healthy lifestyle.
"The demand is for fruit and vegetables. Farmers should be able to read these changes if they want to enjoy more profits… More private investment through public-private partnerships in this sector will also advance the people's economy," Kadiresan said.
FAO data shows the total area under fruit and vegetable production in Indonesia only increased 30 percent between 1990 and 2014, compared with 180 percent in China, 140 percent in Vietnam, 135 percent in Bangladesh, 105 percent in India and 95 percent in Myanmar and Nepal, respectively.