“Who will be the farmers?”
President Jokowi inquired the lack of interest for young Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) graduates to take up farming in a speech at their anniversary event. As a country populated with 260 million people, it seems reasonable that the preferred strategy for raising food security; a state that has been the goal of generations of previous Indonesians leaders, would be to promote improved agricultural productivity. However, does the real future of agricultural production depend solely on producing more farmers? I am afraid it does not.
The pursuit of food security for all
The world is changing in way we have not seen before: economically, demographically, health-wise and also climate-wise. To be able to feed the projected 9 billion people sharing the planet in 2050, food production must be increased by 60% of where we are now (FAO, 2012).
However, The World Food Programme (WFP) reported in 2014 that Indonesia has 9.5 million children under five malnourished. Overweight and obese Indonesian adults have almost doubled in numbers in the last decade, resulting in a startling increase in non-communicable diseases.
Ironically, while 20 million of Indonesian go to sleep hungry every day, 300 kg of food wasted per capita per year. Many regions already suffering from high rates of hunger and food insecurity are predicted to experience the greatest decline in food production due to rapidly changing climate.
Paradoxically, our ambition to achieve high food output has placed great strain on natural resources. The agriculture sector is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, where 20-30 percent of the total comes from the agriculture, forestry and associated land use sector.
With environment being one strong pillar of sustainable development, it is vital to address the impacts our current food systems are making in this world. How can we ensure food security and nutrition in such a way without compromising the social, economic, and environmental conditions for future generations?
The role of innovation
Innovation can break the systemic issue that is creating a vicious cycle: some of the problems in our current agriculture practices are intensifying climate change, while at the same time climate change has impacts on our food production. Yet innovation hasn’t always been the trademark of this particular industry. In fact, overcoming reluctance to change and accepting how different the industry will have to look will be the first barriers to clear.
Now is the right time to embrace opportunities technological innovation has to offer. After all, in an era that is prime on technological advancements and associated changes in the global economy, agriculture is not immune to the changes of the digital disruption. We don’t all need to wield ‘cangkuls’ to be farmers, don’t we?
Agricultural disruption, from farm to fork
Indonesian entrepreneurs and visionaries have already realized that the opportunity to improve the way we produce, harvest, distribute, and consume food is there.
Tunggul Dian Santoso, a graduate from Pratama Mulia Politechnic in Solo invented the Genitech, a solar-powered tool that uses ultrasonic waves to drive pests away from crops. Other than being more environmentally friendly than pesticides, the water-resistant tool also boosts the growth of rice crops.
Tanihub forms a digital platform to provide farmers with information on farming techniques and commodity prices. By improving access to information for farmers, they are able to improve the efficiency of their crop management. They also increase their bargaining power with middlemen.
Urban farming is a growing trend for citizens of packed cities like Jakarta where land availability is extremely limited. Communities are initiating vertical farming and hydroponic gardens, with the local government’s support. In fact, the provincial government of Jakarta is planning a grand design for an urban farming program that will fulfill future food needs through local farmers.
Michelli Wirahadi, an Interior Design student from Petra Christian University (UKP) Surabaya has invented a form of Styrofoam made from a compound in orange peels, turning waste into a functional object.
These promising technologies, among many others, are transforming every link in the food chain, from farm to fork. By providing space for innovations to shift the perspective on how our food is made, we can collectively realize our right to have a healthy and secure food system. Only then will agriculture be able to do more with less: making food more accessible and available for all, while making sure the planet is in good care.
We need the farm of the future today. But first, we first have to make sure it is actually possible to realize by creating public policies that supports innovation and allows multiple sectors to drive disruptive innovation. More supportive policies, laws, and public spending on infrastructure would help create a favourable investment climate for innovation. Then President Jokowi need not question who would be the farmers.
Anindita Sitepu is the Programme Director at Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives, and serves as Chair of Forum for Young Indonesians (FYI)