Food for thought from Indonesia


Hivos brings different stakeholders together to create innovative solutions to address key sustainability challenges in our current food system. In partnership with the International Institute for Environment and Development we have submitted a proposal for a strategic partnership with the Dutch Government to bring in a stronger citizen voice to ensure more sustainable diets, especially for low-income consumers, in ways that secure future natural resources.

Enlarge image Food for thought
Image: ©HIVOS
Food for thought

From a traditional rural focus, we want to expand towards and integrate perspectives of urban low-income consumers.  Indonesia is one of the key countries where we implement the programme focusing on the urban situation.

Food not providing what people need

Though Indonesia is a middle income country, more than one third of the children under five are malnourished. On the other hand 43 million of its 252 million inhabitants are obese. So you can say food is not providing what people need. In Indonesia, half of the population lives in cities and in 2030 this will be more than two third. They face challenges like poverty, unemployment, health problems and lack of food and nutrition security. There is a need for the Indonesian population to eat more fruits and vegetables as the current consumption consists of over 75% carbohydrates. Women are key as they grow, buy and prepare most of the food.

Last week I participated in an inspiring session of our food innovation lab in Bandung, Indonesia. Together with informal food vendors, city authorities, small companies, students, and creative minds, we identified the main food challenges and possible solutions. We have set up similar food labs in Uganda and Zambia, and our food lab coordinator from Zambia shared his experiences. I was impressed by the methodology which helped to create a safe and creative space in just two days. Mr. Rohmat a district official responsible for the reallocation of street vendors told me that it was the first time he could talk with street vendors in a constructive way, which gave him better insight.

Innovations by food vendors

Food vendors provide affordable food to specific groups of the urban poor, like low-income workers. In our lab they discussed about the role they can play in relation to nutrition. Students and young entrepreneurs, came with creative ideas and business models such as urban farming and marketing of healthy water spinach and other vegetables, the development of an app for tasty (and healthy) food stalls or a game to create awareness about the five important food groups. These innovations can lead to changes in public policy, further upscaling of the business models and ultimately behaviour change.

Media can play an important role in changing food habits and we do engage with them in various countries where we work towards a more sustainable food system. Television programs about cooking and gardening are increasingly popular all over the world. Our Hivos partner Farm Concern International produces healthy cooking programs in Kenya, while in the Netherlands many people watched the gardening and cooking competition: “from Dutch soil”. Hivos supports a global video platform called “the Innovation Station”, which allows for further sharing of knowledge and innovation around food.[1]  Marcel Beukeboom, head of the food and nutrition security department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will present his selection of innovative food videos on this portal during the Dutch Design Week in October.

Dutch support

The Dutch Government provides substantive support to policies and programs for food and nutrition security. The main focus is still very much on rural food security, and more specifically on productivity and quality. Hivos wants to expand the agenda, from a merely agriculture biased agenda towards a food agenda that is embracing consumption dynamics, such as the issue of urban food security, while also bringing in the environmental dimension. Interestingly, the Dutch Embassy in Indonesia organised a seminar on nutrition-sensitive urban agriculture earlier this year with innovative cases from middle-income groups.

By focusing mainly on production, policy makers have often neglected factors that shape and restrict access to food for low-income urban and rural consumers. With the focus on sustainable diets Hivos and IIED want to bridge this gap and ensure healthy and affordable food is available especially for low income consumers, produced in a sustainable manner with low environmental impact.

Sustainable Development Goals

Progress in the political agenda we see in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which will be finalized this month in New York. Governments, companies and NGOs have contributed. Specific indicators have been developed for food security, sustainable production and consumption, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

And finally to put it more simply in the words of Mr. Jojo, one of participants of the food lab, an ambitious “frontrunner” entrepreneur owner of 4 food stalls with 16 employees:” What really makes me happy is to sell healthy products which are appreciated by my customers. And when you see the other food vendors take it up, you can say we have impact!”

 Frank Mechielsen, Hivos