Indonesia aims to cut rice consumption for better nutrition, food security

Indonesia aims to cut rice consumption for better nutrition, food security


Indonesians are eating too much rice, which is bad for the economy and bad for nutrition, government officials say.

The Ministry of Agriculture says that Indonesians will eat 33.8 million metric tons of rice in 2018, compared with 30.7 metric tons in 2017. The Jakarta Globe newspaper reported that the average Indonesian ate 150 kilograms of rice in 2017, which was higher than people in other rice-producing countries, including China and India.

Indonesian trade officials say the country needs to be rice self-sufficient. The country imports about 3 million tons of rice each year from other countries, including Thailand and Vietnam. The Vietnam Food Association reported that the value of Vietnam’s rice rose nearly 40 percent in the first four months of 2018 because of demand from Indonesia.

Ideally, Indonesian officials have said, Indonesians would eat two-thirds of the amount of rice they currently consume, which would enable the country to have a rice surplus.

Indonesians also need to eat a better variety of foods, nutritionists say. Hilal Elver of the United Nations said that when she toured Jakarta and other parts of the country, she was surprised at the amount of malnutrition she encountered.

“What strikes me the most is the irony that in a leading food-producing country, 30 percent of children have stunted growth and over 92 percent of the population eats considerably less fruit and vegetables than World Health Organization levels,” she told the Globe. In one district, she said, 72 children died of measles and malnutrition in January 2018, which was “preventable but allowed to happen.”

Indonesia’s Food Security Agency, BKP, introduced the Eating Without Rice Movement in 2017, to replace rice and flour with other sources of carbohydrates.

“Efforts to reduce the consumption of rice and wheat should be followed by the provision of carbohydrates from local foods, such as sago, cassava, sweet potato, breadfruit and bananas,” said BKP head Agung Hendriadi, as reported by the news agency Antara.

The U.N. says Indonesia has some of the world’s most troubling nutrition statistics. Two in five adolescent Indonesian girls are undernourished and have vitamin A deficiencies, largely because they eat too much rice and processed snacks. Reuters has reported that food superstitions in the country are also part of the problem, such as women believing that eating pineapple compromises fertility.

Scientists say that if Indonesians won’t cut back on eating rice, the country should find a way to make its rice more nutritious. American scientists are developing a strain called GR2E Golden Rice, which is genetically engineered to bio-synthesize beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. The International Rice Research Institute says the beta carotene produced in Golden Rice “is identical to the beta carotene in green leafy and many types of yellow-colored vegetables and orange-colored fruit.” says the rice is specifically engineered for cultivation in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh to reduce vitamin A deficiencies.