Consumption Uniformity Increases Food and Nutrition Vulnerability in NTT
The consumption pattern of the people is dominated by rice and wheat which have to be imported from outside the region which has increased food vulnerability and nutrition insecurity in NTT.
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MANGGARAI, KOMPAS - The diversity of local food is the foundation for food resilience in the dry climate of East Nusa Tenggara. However, the current consumption pattern of the community is increasingly dominated by imported rice and wheat, which increases their vulnerability to food insecurity and malnutrition.
The decreasing diversity of food in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) was revealed by participants of the seminar "Transformation of Culturally-Based, Just and Sustainable Food Systems" in Labuan Bajo, NTT on Monday (14/8/2023). The seminar was organized by several institutions including VCA, the Good Food Coalition, KRKP, the FOLU Coalition, and WRI Indonesia, and was attended by stakeholders from government, private sector, and community.
Serfia Owa (59), a farmer who is also the Chairwoman of the West Manggarai Independent Women Alliance, said that young people nowadays no longer know and consume local food. Even children who are given local food often refuse it because they are not used to it.
"In the village, children no longer eat local foods, but often consume instant meals. I think this is also happening in many villages in NTT," said Serfia, who lives in Munting Kajang Village, Compang Longgo Village, Komodo District."
The change in consumption patterns has made NTT dependent on food from outside, especially rice and wheat flour, which makes this province vulnerable to food crisis. "In April-May 2023, the price of rice which was originally Rp 11,000 per kilogram became Rp 15,000 per kg. However, our village produces rice," said Ina Pagu (25), a young farmer from Tal village, Satar Mese District, Manggarai.
Based on Kompas monitoring in April 2023, the rice crisis hit various regions in NTT. In the city of Kupang, the price of medium rice reaches IDR 14,000 per kilogram. In fact, in Lembata the price of rice reached IDR 17,000 per kilogram. There was a price increase of Rp 4,000 to Rp 5,000 per kilogram.
This rice crisis occurs due to NTT's rice deficit. Based on data from the Central Statistics Agency, rice production in NTT in 2022 only reached 442,842 tons, while rice consumption levels approached 1 million tons per year.
Father Inosensius Sutam, a food culturalist from the Ruteng Diocese, who was one of the speakers at the seminar, stated that the NTT region actually has a very high diversity of food. However, lately, the consumption patterns of the people have become uniform, dominated by rice from paddy fields. "Padi (upland rice) has indeed been cultivated since ancient times, but the quantity is limited and usually only consumed during rituals or special events," he said.
In the village, children no longer eat local food, but often eat instant food. I think this also happens in many villages in NTT.
According to him, the Manggarai people originally cultivated rice and various other plants in dry land. It was only in the 1930s that the Dutch introduced the rice field system. "At that time, many Manggarai people were sent to Bali and East Java to learn how to farm in rice fields. The spider web rice fields in Cancar were adopted from the distribution of dry land and have only started since then. The New Order government then continued this policy of rice self-sufficiency until now," he said.
Read also: Local Food for Improved Nutrition
The shift to paddy fields causes the diversity of food sources to disappear. According to Innosensius, the diversity of food sources in Manggarai is reflected in the farmers' prayers before starting to plant, namely loda wini woja, pau wini latun, wecak wini lempang, weri wini pesi, rendang wini selela, dorik wini hocu. That is, planting rice (fields), sowing corn, sowing sorghum, followed by barley. In addition to these grains, the community also cultivates various drought-resistant tubers.
"Nowadays, upland rice, sorghum, and millet have nearly disappeared. Yet, those various plants are highly resistant to drought," he said.
Shift in consumption
Director of Food Consumption Diversity of the National Food Body Rinna Syawal stated that food diversity is the key to food resilience in the region. "If all regions optimize their local food, there should be no food insecurity," she said.
Nevertheless, the shift in food consumption patterns in Indonesia has been acknowledged to continue. Data from 2009 showed that food consumption patterns in eastern Indonesia were still diverse. In addition to rice, corn, cassava, sweet potato, and sago were still dominant. However, in 2020, rice and wheat consumption increasingly dominated in eastern Indonesia.
"Local food should be integrated with the growing tourism industry. For example, the tourism department can mandate hotels to provide local food. This morning, I looked for local food for breakfast in this hotel and there was none," he said.
Not only in hotels, it is very difficult to find restaurants in NTT that sell local food menus. However, according to Rinna, the integration of local food and tourism can also drive the economy. By promoting local food, small and medium businesses that produce local food will also grow.
"In terms of health, the quality of local food is definitely better. For example, local food does not contain gluten like wheat. Imported grapes that we buy today may have been harvested since last year and preserved, compared to fresh local fruits," he stated.
Irfan Martino, a planner at the Food and Agriculture Directorate of Bappenas, who was also a speaker, said that although the number of people at risk of food insecurity in Indonesia is decreasing, malnutrition is still increasing. This malnutrition is triggered by an unvaried food pattern. "There is a need to increase the diversity of food consumption among groups," he said.
Various food issues currently require a transformation in the food system, as mandated by the United Nations. Presidential Regulation Number 18 of 2020 regarding the Medium-Term Development Plan 2020-2024 states that the transformation of the food system is one of the national priorities aimed at achieving a nutritious, inclusive, just, sustainable, and resilient food system.
"The transformation of the food system must be built by a local food system based on the local potential of the locality," he said.