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Bringing Back Tempe to Our Tables
TEMPO Interactive, Jakarta:There must be an end to the dependence on imported soybeans. Farmers who make large areas of land available must be given incentives.
The strike action by producers of tofu and the soybean cakes known as tempe need not have happened if the government had recognized the importance of soybean cultivation to this nation. Tofu and tempe, as well as soy sauce, taoco (bean paste) and even oncom (a cake similar to tempe) are not staple food for the majority of Indonesian people, but we see them on almost every dining table in the country. It is difficult to imagine eating satay or other traditional foods without soy sauce. It is not surprising that consumption of soybeans continues to rise.
Unfortunately the government seems to be ignoring the importance of this plant. Data clearly shows that there has been an extraordinary decline in production. Last year, Indonesia imported 2 million tons of soybeans because domestic production was only 850,000 tons, despite demand of 2.8 million tons. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in 1990 when Indonesia produced 1.4 million tons and imported only 541,000 tons. Indonesia was even once a net exporter.
There are a number of reasons for the decline, but the main cause is unhealthy competition from soybean importers. The United States government grants low interest export credits to these soybean importers. As a result, imported soybeans are far cheaper than those grown locally. Farmers have abandoned soybean cultivation in droves. In 1992, there were 1.66 million hectares of soybeans, but by 2001 only 678,000 hectares remained – and this figure is still the same today. The government has tried to increase production through various programs, including expanding the area under cultivation and improving productivity.
These efforts have failed. Farmers are reluctant to plant soybeans because the income from the crop is not attractive. The solutions the government has offered do not address the main problem: the imbalance in prices. Even when the price of soybeans rises, farmers still do not make a profit – as is the case now. To read this TEMPO opinion piece in full, please refer to this week’s TEMPO English Edition. ***