No rice please, we're Indonesians

Indonesia is one of the world's biggest producers - and consumers - of rice, but in the interests of public health and food sustainability the government has launched an ambitious drive to wean people off their beloved staple.

For ordinary Indonesians like Andi Santoso, a 23-year-old student, the thought of going without rice for a day, as the government is proposing, is almost unthinkable.

"I eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner," he said, a little bemused. "If I don't eat rice, I feel like I haven't eaten. What else can I eat?"

Welfare Ministry secretary-general Indroyono Soesilo says the answer is simple, even if it sounds crazy to a nation that produces more than 40 million tonnes of rice a year and consumes around 33 million tonnes.

He likens the push to alternative sources of nutrition to asking a smoker to give up cigarettes.

"We urge Indonesians to kick their habit of eating rice. We need to diversify our diets. Many Indonesians still think that if they don't eat rice, they don't eat well," he said.

"Indonesia produces 66 kinds of other carbohydrates, such as corn, sago, cassava, sweet potato, potato and others. These all can replace rice for two out of three meals a day, for example.

"We urge Indonesians to diversify their eating habits from childhood."

With 240 million hungry mouths to feed, Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country. The average Indonesian consumes more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of rice a year, more than the Japanese and Chinese.

Improving farming techniques and a post-colonial food security drive have seen the country go from being the world's biggest rice importer in the 1960s to being self-sufficient now.

But while rice is plentiful and cheap, the government is worried that the nation is becoming too dependent on a single crop.

The grain that springs from paddy fields across Indonesia is vulnerable to shifting global weather patterns, such as this year's unseasonal rains linked to cooler sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, known as the La Nina effect.

Other concerns include population growth and the shrinking availability of arable land due to factors like urbanisation and rising sea levels from global warming, which the government fears could slash Indonesia's rice production.

But for millions of poor Indonesians, rice is not just a food staple, it's a livelihood that sustains life and deserves worship as a gift from the gods.

"Rice is life. It gives jobs and food," explained Djati Kusuma, the "king" of Cigugur, a village in the middle of Java island where the annual Seren Taun festival celebrates Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice.

For three days the villagers gather "to ask for her protection in order to avert disaster and to get an abundant harvest", he told AFP at the festival last month.

No one in Cigugur appears to be thinking of growing anything different on the verdant green paddy fields that flourish in the rich volcanic soil around the village.

The people in Java's rice-growing villages see the grain as something noble, occupying an elevated seat in the agricultural hierarchy compared to roots like cassava, which is associated with poverty.

Industrial growers however are rapidly seeing the potential of crops like cassava and sago for their dual uses as food and biofuel.

A September report by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the US-based Asia Society said Asian countries need to sharply increase and better manage rice stocks to improve food security in a region where 65 percent of the world's hungry live.

Asia's rice-producing areas are home to nearly 560 million extremely poor people, who live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. About 90 percent of rice is grown in the region, on more than 200 million farms.

Rice is the staple food for more than three billion people, about half the world's population.

 

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before