Covid-19 and Food Needs Problem in Indonesia

By: Endar Purnawan*

THE spread of COVID-19 is something that was never expected. It impacts all aspects of people's lives and even tests a country's endurance and capability. In Indonesia, the pandemic is still peaking with the number of rising infected day by day. Large-scale social restriction policies were also implemented in the red zones with most COVID-19 cases. Social and economic impacts are then increasingly tangible: a wave of dismissals as many companies have suspended their activity and therefore, cannot pay their employees anymore, a subsequently high unemployment rate. Many people left without any source of income and have a hard time surviving. Therefore, Indonesia faces another problem resulting from the spread of COVID-19: providing people with sufficient food during the crisis.

Some cases showing the extent to which food security at the household level is shaken by this pandemic, for instance:
1) The case of a mother who died after two days of drinking only water, because she was unable to buy food. This mother leaves four children;
2) The case of stealing rice because of starvation;
3) The story of a father who struggled to get rice to feed his children. And more.
The above situation in Indonesia certainly requires the government to meet citizens’ needs during and even after the pandemic.

The government is trying to assist the community, especially for those who are directly affected and those vulnerable due to lost income during the outbreak. The state budget will also be distributed to people in need, from the central government to the village budget. It is hoped that affected households will be able to meet the family's food needs during the pandemic.
There are four types of government assistance for food needs available to the communities, such as:

Program Keluarga Harapan (PKH) provides 10 million beneficiary families with a total budget of 37.4 trillion rupiahs (1 euro = 15,892 rupiahs). Previously, PKH was distributed every 3 months, but now it will be distributed every month starting from April 2020;

The basic Food Card Program will support 20 million Indonesian citizens. Each person gets 200,000 rupiahs per month, starting from April to December 2020. The overall program budget is 43.6 trillion rupiahs. Previously this program was only given to 15.2 million people with a magnitude of 150,000 rupiahs per month from January to February 2020;

The central government has provided special assistance for groceries to citizens in Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, and Bekasi (Jabodetabek) and outside Jabodetabek as epicenters of the outbreak in Indonesia. This food assistance will be provided for 3 months and is equivalent to 600,000 rupiahs per month;

Village Fund Assistance Program, which is given to 10 million families in villages. It will be available for 3 months and amounts to 600,000 rupiahs. The total budget for this program is 21 trillion rupiahs.

Thanks to the kindness and culture of the Indonesian people. Indonesia is famous for 'gotong-royong' culture, which is solidarity or cooperation culture where people help each other and work for hand in hand for a common purpose and face difficulties together. Hence, food-charity initiatives during the crisis are also coming from a widespread network of community groups. For instance, there is a movement called ‘one family for one family’, which means one family can cover the needs of another affected family. There is also another initiative, ‘Berkah box’, where rice boxes with nutritious food are daily distributed to those in need, while one more initiative delivers food to specific groups of people or organizations, e.g., orphanages. Moreover, public kitchens have recently been opened to distribute cooked food to people in need further. These efforts are carried out individually, by communities, by religious and social organizations, as well as by organizations that are specifically engaged in food security, such as food banks.

Indonesia has a food source that, if managed properly, reduces the risk of food vulnerability during the pandemic. For instance, from April to May (during the outbreak), wet season rice harvest occurs in various regions. Those regions follow a monsoonal rainy season pattern starting from North Sumatra, Riau, South Sumatra, Lampung, Java, Bali, and parts of Kalimantan-Sulawesi – all in 32 provinces. The next crucial step would be to manage yields from various regions to distribute them well to other areas that need food up to the household level. Besides, the use of local staple foods that are spread throughout Indonesia must also be encouraged, such as corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, taro, sago, sorghum, and so forth.

The government has to comprehensively monitor the impact of the outbreak on the food system from farmer to consumer-level, from production and distribution to consumption, and be able to address problems at a macro-level (national) and micro-level (household). The involvement of many parties, such as government, scientists (academics), farmers, private sectors, community organizations, and others, is important to find the best way to deal with the food security issue. The problem-solving in any way should be carried out from the national level to the community at the lowest level to ensure that food needs at the household level can be met during this pandemic or even after the pandemic.

The writer is : Ph.D. Candidate, Department Agriculture, Food & Environment, University of Pisa. 

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