Events / December 2017

Meeting the Challenges of Food Sustainability

By Yanto Soegiarto

Food businessmen gathered at a prestigious conference in Jakarta in November to discuss food sustainability, environmental challenges and food-related health in the region. They focused on solutions and innovations while sharing with more than 500 international scientists, innovators, health ministers, politicians, activists and environmentalists.

Indonesia for the first time hosted a major gathering where participants discussed ways to strengthen the commitment of countries, their private sectors and academic institutions across the Asia-Pacific region to mainstream healthy diets and promote a sustainable food system to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SGD) and the Paris Climate Agreement. The meeting had a strong focus on solutions and innovations. Health Minister Nila F. Moeloek, who co-chaired the conference with the EAT Foundation of Sweden, said that being the host of the gathering was one way to promote food sustainability in Indonesia. “We still face problems of malnutrition.  It is important that we exchange views with stakeholders of other countries to promote food sustainability,” she said.

Indonesian speakers had the opportunity to present their views on food sustainability the Indonesian way. Entrepreneur Diva Indraswari, a lawyer who specialized in the mining industry, switched to farming and established a five-hectare organic farm in West Java. “We produce organic foods, vegetables and herbs. We make our own fertilizers. We feed the soil, and not the plants. Our products are green and pesticide-free and our farming methods are friendly to mother earth,” she said.

Food giant Indofood’s Axton Salim was also a speaker at the conference, stating that he was fortunate to represent the private sector and to be among extremely knowledgeable people from whom he could learn about various angles of complex nutrition problems. Speaking at a session themed “How to build multi-stakeholder trust in order to change behaviors to tackle multiple forms of malnutrition,” Axton said the country “should use the Indonesian spirit of ‘gotong royong’ (mutual assistance) to illustrate how we should all work together to achieve our SDG goals by 2030.”

Monde Nissin and Quorn Foods also participated in the event. They have been working to improve public health and nutrition by promoting meat substitute foods. Recently acquired by Monde Nissin, Quorn is expanding its market in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta, to introduce plant-based food products. Quorn is a microprotein meat substitute made by fermenting a type of fungus (Fusarium venenatum). It is sold on its own, in ready-to-eat meals or in products that replicate chicken fillets, sausages, chicken nuggets and burgers. Chief executive of Monde Nissin Group Henry Soesanto told a session that many city residents are increasingly becoming more conscious about their lifestyle choices.

“The trend is going there. We can see that more people are becoming health-conscious and they are starting to seek out a variety of options to live a healthy life. “Compared to the animal products that are more resource-intensive and environmentally impactful, our plant-based product doesn’t require a lot of land and doesn’t use huge amounts of water. We have a 50-meter fermentation tower and we use advanced technology to maintain environmental sustainability,” he said.

French revolution French consumer goods giant Danone introduced its “alimenta-tion revolution” at the conference. The collective movement is aimed at uniting the entire food production chain, from producer to consumer, globally and including in Indonesia, to improve public health and maintain a sustainable food system. “We are very committed to be part of a solution to the global food system,” said Emmanuelle Wargon, vice president of global corporate affairs and sustainability at Danone.

Danone has long maintained a presence in major business categories in Indonesia, including drinking water, early-life nutrition and advanced medical nutrition. One of the company’s oldest products in Indonesia is Aqua bottled water. Indonesian officials took turns speaking at the conference. Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Cultural Affairs Puan Maharani said food is a fundamental need of humans that must be fulfilled, and therefore the government has a role and responsibility in ensuring the fulfillment of that need. “We have to develop comprehensive solutions related to food production and consumption. Collaboration among ministers and politicians is of key importance. The government’s efforts will include ensuring domestic stock, equal distribution, price stabilization and fulfillment services of food for the poor,” she said.

In his opening speech to the conference, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said technology will help reduce world hunger and food insecurity. “Everything can be solved by technology. Even though it’s not perfect yet, it will help us fulfill our need for food.” The vice president added that food security plays an important role in keeping any government in power. “In many parts of the world, including Indonesia, every food-related problem can shake a government. This is why the current administration’s focus is, among others, on food production and prices,” he said. He noted that the government has subsidized fertilizers and built dams and roads to boost food production and improve distribution. The government has also established a team consisting of representatives of the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Trade, Bank Indonesia and the National Police, to keep inflation in check.

Food security, which includes increasing production capacity, diversification, improving farmers’ welfare, price stabilization and agricultural infrastructure rehabilitation, forms an important part of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s campaign known as Nawa Cita, or nine government priorities. In her keynote address, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said agriculture, including forestry and fisheries, is one of the most important sectors of the Indonesian economy as it makes up almost 15% of total gross domestic product.

Sri Mulyani cited The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index 2017 as proof that the country’s efforts to ensure food security have started to pay off. According to the index, Indonesia currently ranks 69th out of the 113 countries surveyed, moving up two positions since last year.