Urban and rural poor in Indonesia suffer food insecurity
The economic turmoil that first hit Indonesia in mid 1997 has left millions of people vulnerable to food insecurity, without enough money to buy sufficient food. Although food is available, growing numbers of poor people are finding it difficult to afford, according to a Special Report following a Mission to the country by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP). "Food prices have risen sharply, whilst purchasing power has fallen dramatically due to rising unemployment and falling real wages," the Report says.
Although the effects of the crisis were initially felt in urban areas because of job losses, they are now spreading to rural areas with increased migration. In some rural communities, population has increased up to 30 percent, putting severe pressure on services, increasing competition for scarce jobs and depressing wages. Rural women appear to be particularly affected.
Most of the migrants are landless and have few savings or assets left. Indeed, more than half of the rural population is estimated to be landless, and the Report expects a sharp decline in the economic fortunes of these households and calls for careful monitoring of the food situation in rural areas.
The Report stresses, however, that "Notwithstanding the rise in rural poverty, the nutritional situation of the unemployed urban poor still gives most cause for concern." The Government's food assistance programme aims to provide subsidized rice to approximately 19 million families in 1999/2000.
Civil unrest hampers market operations
In addition to the severe economic problems, food supplies are also affected by poor security and growing civil unrest in some parts of the country. The FAO/WFP Mission found that, as a result of this, "there are indications that markets are failing, as traders are reluctant to hold stocks or transport large consignments due to security concerns." Together with the diminished role of the National Logistics Planning Agency, BULOG, these failures, mean that supplies and prices across the country vary considerably, leaving isolated areas particularly vulnerable to shortages. As about 70 percent of rice produced in Indonesia is traded, functioning markets are essential to food security in rural and urban areas.
Although prospects for rice production in 1999 look good, with abundant rainfall and attractive producer prices, this is unlikely to dramatically improve the food situation of the vast majority of vulnerable people. The Report warns that, "The solution to long term food insecurity in Indonesia lies in economic recovery. Although national and international measures are being taken to stimulate such recovery, the benefits are unlikely to be felt in the short term. In the interim, therefore, the Government faces a tremendous challenge in ensuring greater food security to its population..."
Growing nutritional deficiencies found in urban poor
Recent studies in the country have found growing levels of nutritional deficiencies in vulnerable sectors of the urban population, such as small children and pregnant and lactating mothers. The Report talks of "alarming food related problems ... in urban areas", citing higher levels of maternal malnutrition, maternal night blindness and anaemia, as well as micronutrient deficiencies and wasting in children. The Report warns: "These are serious trends and solid indicators of declining access to adequate food."
The nutritional problems are mainly caused not by reduced intake of calories, but by the reduced quality of the diets. Poor households may be consuming normal quantities of rice, but have cut back significantly on more expensive but nutritionally valuable foods like meat, fish and eggs.
16 April 1999