07 January 2011

Indonesia: Chili Self-Sufficiency...Grow Your Own!


The price of one of Indonesia's staple foods, the humble chili, is rocketing up the charts. If it was an album it would be platinum many times over already. The price of a kilogram of the spicy peppers has gone over IDR 100,000. This is an increase of some five times the price this time last year. The rising price of the chili is one of the factors that are contributing to an overall rise in food prices which in turn is driving inflation in Indonesia.

The chili pepper is versatile and can be eaten raw with tahu or tempe or just about anything one wants to eat it with really (having a moment here reminiscing about raw green chilies and bakwan and tahu Sumedang) or it can be ground up into a paste and form the base of a whole variety of Indonesian sambals. Sambal Bali is a favourite of mine and my mother-in-law is a bit of legend when it comes to putting it all together.

But I digress.

There are probably a lot of factors that are causing the price of the chili to spike, which in turn is causing the temperatures of the masses to increase as well, but mainly the government is attributing the poor production on global weather patterns, La Nina to be exact. So says Hatta Rajasa anyways.

Rajasa's plan to combat rising prices is for Indonesians to get pro-active and plant chili plants in their yards; front, back and sides. Perhaps, residents could co-opt medium strips in the centre of roads into little chili farms and establish neighbourhood cooperatives to provide a steady supply to all who live close by. Rajasa has the full support of the Minister for Agriculture, Suswono in this drive to localise production of the humble chili in every Indonesian household.

The plan is not as far-fetched as it sounds. The government has already made provisions for chili seeds to be distributed to some 100,000 households in the provinces of Lampung, Banten and Jakarta. According to Suswono, chilies are easy to grow in Indonesia's tropical climate. Hey, Mr Minister of Agriculture, chili plants are pretty easy to grow anywhere, I have one in my front yard at the moment.

The surging chili price is just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that the government is also making provisions to import another of Indonesia's staples, rice. The State Logistics Agency (Bulog) is responsible for collecting harvested rice. It has fallen well-short of its target.

The imports will be coming in from Thailand and Vietnam. The need to import rice and for home owners to grow their own chilies begs the question, "what are Indonesia's prospects for long-term food security like?" This is particularly so when one considers the inability to maintain food self-sufficiency in 2010 and 2011.

While the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs and the Minister for Agriculture are promoting programs that encourage individual Indonesians to become food self-sufficient starting with chili production, the President, SBY, is pushing through regulations that are designed to make it easier to free-up land for agricultural production. Unfortunately, ensuring food security and self-sufficiency is not as simple as setting aside some land for agricultural production. The land does need to be brought into a productive state. The president was a little less clear on how production was going to be improved during these times of extreme weather conditions.

I reckon it would be pretty hard for some Indonesians to come to terms with the idea of having a meal that did not include chilies in it somewhere.

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