By Jacqui De Lacy, Minister-Counsellor AusAID, Jakarta
While Indonesia is succeeding in reducing poverty, it is still an enormous challenge. Over one third of Indonesian children are stunted due to inadequate nutrition. Around 120 million Indonesians live on less than $2 day. They spend the bulk of this money on food. This means that even small movements in food prices can have devastating impacts.
Many of these people live in rural areas and work as agricultural labourers to make a living. But while they might grow rice or other crops each day, what they bring home is barely enough to feed their own families.
Changing weather patterns, increased demand for food crops globally and vulnerability to natural disasters is pushing up food prices. Food security is therefore a major challenge for Indonesia and Australia is helping them address that challenge.
We have made a good start. We have helped increase agricultural productivity through research and development. We have built infrastructure, such as bridges and roads to help farmers get their produce to market.
We teach farmers about climate change and help local communities better protect their environment. We provide revolving loans to women’s groups so they can expand their small businesses and earn extra income for their families. And we are proud to be contributing to a range of social protection programs that assist communities in lean times and provide extra resources to the poorest and most vulnerable.
It is very rewarding to get out of Jakarta and see these programs in action. The people I meet have often struggled to pay for the essentials in life but with our support are now making enough money for things that we take for granted, like eating protein and sending their children to school.
We are proud of Australia’s work so far, but there is much more to do.
While international food prices came down after 2008, they have been increasing again since 2010 and are now almost back at 2008 levels. Recently Indonesian Vice-President Boediono warned that “… a food crisis looms on the horizon for Indonesia.”
In November in Bali following the East Asia Summit, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a new six year Australia-Indonesia Rural Development Program.
This program shows our commitment to strengthening Indonesia’s food security. It builds on our previous support and takes it to a new level. It is much more ambitious in terms of reach – around one million poor Indonesian farmers will be able to increase their incomes by at least 30 per cent over the next ten years because of our support. Many of these farmers are women.We will work in the poorest parts of Indonesia, like Papua, West Papua, East and West Nusa Tenggara, and East Java.
This program also recognises that there are a range of issues that prevent poor farmers from earning more – poor cultivation techniques; poor seeds and storage facilities; lack of access to fertiliser and pest control techniques; poor price information, low farmer literacy and numeracy; lack of access to credit; and poor regulation and infrastructure. Instead of working on just one or two of these issues, this program will work on all of them with the support of farmers, industry and local government.
More productive farms will lead to significant poverty reduction. Growth in the agricultural sector is four to six times more effective in reducing poverty than growth outside that sector.
Farms dominate the landscape across this vast and beautiful archipelago – so helping to create sustainable livelihoods for Indonesian farmers goes hand-in-hand with poverty reduction and better food security.