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The Rising Threat of Food Insecurity due to Economic Slowdown during Social Restrictions Period

Two parameters construct food security: the availability of the food and people’s access to food. The
absence of one or both parameters will lead to food insecurity. This term is closely related to a
condition where people lack consistent access to enough food daily. Food and Agriculture (FAO) sets
the minimum dietary energy intake per person ranging from 2000 kcal to 3100 kcal. In Indonesia, the
requirement is 2000 kcal per person. Long term food insecurity can cause famine and even death.

Establishing food security in a large population is complex. In responding to the COVID-19, the
Indonesian government has applied the Large Scale Social Restrictions (PSBB) in some cities. This
measure aims to curb human-to-human virus transmission effectively and reduce morbidity and
mortality. During PSBB, public activities in public spaces are limited, includes restriction of religious
gatherings and closure of school and business. Only necessary public places remain open such as
health services also food and basic necessities stores. The government claims that the current food
security is relatively stable. It is said that the food system, particularly the food distribution from one
place to another, will not be affected by the social restriction policy. But why we hear the news that
people starve and die in this period?

While the country ensures the food supply is enough, the same thing cannot be said about people’s
purchasing power. Many people do not have the resources to meet their basic needs, especially food.
According to the FAO, 22 million Indonesians (8.3% of the national population) live in food insecurity.
This number is commensurate with the poverty rate in Indonesia, which is 9.2% of the population.
People living below the poverty line, or below the threshold in Indonesia of Rp 440,535 per capita per
month, is more likely to experience food insecurity. PSBB restricts activities in the formal and informal
sectors, which results in predictably a long-term economic slowdown. Until now, the unemployment
rate has been soaring to up to 5 million people due to the pandemic. In future scenarios, there will be
additions of 1.1-3.78 million people living below the poverty line.

Due to PSBB, those rely on low daily income will struggle even harder to buy enough nutritious food.
To overcome the situation, the Indonesian government provides three month social aid. Every
selected household will receive monthly assistance of Rp 600,000 and discount for electricity bills. It is
expected to increase people’s ability to access enough food and survive. However, many people
question the beneficiaries validity. There are multiple cases found where middle-class families
received aid. Consequently, the grassroots level officials (RT/RW) are continuing to validate the data
to ensure the help goes to the right recipients.

Ⓒ merdeka.com

In prolonged social restrictions, not only pre-prosperous families, middle-class families will also
struggle. People who work in a prominent yet affected industry such as tourism, leisure, and
transportation will be hit the hardest. The government has prepared the pre-employment card for this.
Yet, many experts argue that this card might not be well-targeted and unable to accommodate those
from the informal sectors.

Eventually, it is essential to ingrain people’s understanding of COVID-19 contagion. People need to
understand that the longer social restriction applies to curb the outbreak, the more severe food
insecurity and economic depression will threaten our lives. Unlike South Korea that able to maintain
its economic activities during the outbreak (with its immediate testing for asymptomatic people and
rigorous patient tracing and tracking app), Indonesia still has to implement measures that slow down
the economy. Our country is still learning on how to embed science-based findings to control the
pandemic.

At the end of the day, the government and the people need to work together to keep society alive.
Resolving the pandemic is now the synonym to pick up our economic situation. The sooner we
manage to end the COVID-19 spread, the sooner we get back to our regular economic activities,
which is essential to achieve stability of the food supply and people access to it.

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