Nov 12, 2012

Indonesia - Indonesia needs to diversify its staple foods

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Faced with a possible decline in its rice production, more Indonesians should start placing more types of staple foods on the table, experts have said.

By consuming more diversified staple foods, average Indonesians would not only be healthier, but also contribute to improving the welfare of farmers.

Bondan Winarno from the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation said local resource-based staple produce including corn, potato, cassava or tapioca, could help ease the food scarcity problems and also address major health problems.

"We need to inform people that by reducing rice consumption, they will have a better digestive system and lower their risk of diabetes because rice contains a significant level of sugar," Winarno said recently.

Winarno, who is also one of the country's most celebrated foodies, said that the country's obsession with rice had placed Indonesia fourth on the World Health Organisation's list of countries with the most number of diabetes patients.

Data from the Agriculture Ministry said that the nation's rice consumption average is 316 grams per capita per day, higher than most Southeast Asian countries. The suggested rice consumption per day is 275 grams.

The government has started campaigning to promote new eating habits through the issuance of Presidential Regulation No. 22/2009, which mandates every province to diversify their food production.

A number of local governments have also taken the initiative to reduce the consumption of rice.

Earlier this year, the mayor of Depok, West Java, Nur Mahmudi Ismail, introduced the "One Day, No Rice" policy, by banning cafeterias in government buildings from serving rice.

Local government workers got around the regulation by bringing their own packed lunches.

In recent years, the trend has shown that besides rice, Indonesians also avidly consume wheat flour-based products.

Last year, the consumption of the imported staple rose to 18 kilograms per capita annually, from 17.1 kilograms.

Helianti Hilman, the chief executive officer of Javara local food distributors, said improved awareness of locally grown food, other than rice, could also mean improved welfare for millions of farmers.

"We should start to see our food choices as a political movement. Consumers need to consider where food comes from, and how their preference will impact society," said Hilman, who markets about 800 locally grown food products from 50,000 farmers.

Purwiyatno Hariyadi, director of the Southeast Asian Food and Agricultural Science and Technology Centre, said that other lesser known staples must be processed in order to make it more appealing to consumers.

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