This article was originally published on South China Morning Post.
Indonesia was ranked 70th out of 117 qualifying countries by the Global Hunger Index in 2019, and the pandemic threatens to make this worse. Increasing food production and quality with a sustainable approach requires immediate action led by research and innovation in the agricultural sector.
The latest findings of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show more than 800 million people worldwide are going hungry, 90 per cent of them in developing countries. This involves food availability and affordability as well as undernutrition, inadequate vitamins or minerals, obesity and diet-related disease. Hunger is an easy parameter to characterise food insecurity and the indirectly malnourished.
Indonesia was ranked 70th out of 117 qualifying countries by the Global Hunger Index in 2019. The ranking indicates the country’s severe hunger problem which has led to a high number of cases of stunted growth, mostly caused by insufficient nutrients in a child’s diet. It is strongly related to poor economic conditions, and Covid-19 is making the situation more complicated.
Indonesia has implemented a policy that helps poor people with small amounts of cash aid, and it aims to increase the ability to obtain food or purchase basic necessities. However, the programme does not solve the problem in the long term, since the aid only serves as a temporary safety net during the pandemic. At the end of 2019, Indonesia was reported to have 22 million starving people. This number is expected to increase after the Covid-19 pandemic, as unemployment numbers could rise to more than 12 million people.
The issue of providing food is affected by many factors, including ecology. There is limited land for new agricultural development. Today, half of all habitable land on Earth is used for agriculture. In Java alone, thousands of hectares of cropland area have converted for use in housing or industrial development. With little possibility to expand, increasing food production per hectare is the best option.
Finding a way of increasing food production and quality with a sustainable approach requires immediate action from various stakeholders. This action should begin with research and innovation in the agriculture sector. The combination of investment in intensive research, collaboration and technology development has caused a green revolution. Creating a variety of species that can thrive on suboptimal land, use water efficiently and have higher yields will be useful for food production.