Living in this world nowadays is not as simple as what our grandmother used to live. It is true that everything in this world becomes easier to get and the distance does not become barrier any more, but in food context, we no longer know precisely (or not even care) the journey of our food before it came on our dinner table. All we know is that the mango from Thailand tastes delicious and the coffee from Colombia smells really nice. But do we really know whether these items actually belong to the country? Do the farmers get benefit from what they plant? Do the people in those countries can consume what they plant? Who actually get the biggest benefit from this agricultural trade? These are some of the questions that Food Sovereignty movement tries to understand. In Indonesia, soybeans import has been the main issue. With all of the potential in developing the agricultural sectors, Indonesia still has to import soybeans that is known as one of the essential part in Indonesian food culture.

Food sovereignty (FSov) movement arises from the concern of food system in this globalisation era. FSov sees food system being dominated by small number of large corporations in production and distribution sector. FSov tries to criticize this system by putting people who produce, distribute, and consume food as the centre of decisions rather than the demands of markets and corporations (WDM). By recreating the food system, we can help farmers in global south to get fair income for what they have done. We also help environment, especially soil, by not doing conventional farming to push the production of one agricultural product to satisfy the demand of the global market. The most important thing is, we help people to get the access to food by not producing the agricultural product for an export orientation (WDM).

Indonesia has been known as one of the leading countries in agricultural products. Although there has been a decline in contributing to the economy of Indonesia since 2000, it still has great impact. It shows in the contribution to GDP between 1997 – 2000 where agricultural expanded by 3 percent although real GDP declined by 8.3 percent in total (FAO). Agricultural sector still plays a big role since 45% of Indonesia’s workers are engaged with it (nationsencyclopedia). But sadly, Indonesia still has to import agricultural products to fulfil the needs. One of the most crucial commodities is soybeans. But why importing? and why soybeans?


import export statistics

(The imbalance of soybeans import and export by year in Indonesia)

Soybeans can be processed as milk and tofu, but in Indonesia, we also use soybeans as the main ingredient for a food call Tempeh (‘Tempe’ in the Indonesian language). Tempeh is made from a fermentation of soybean that transformed the soybean into cake-like form. According to William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, tempeh traditionally comes from Java Island (in Indonesia) from at least 1875. Before being cooked, tempeh contains 19.5% protein compare to 17.9% for hamburger and 21% for chicken, on average. Tempeh is popular because it is much cheaper than other protein sources like meat and chicken. Not only consumed by the low-income , tempeh is also popular for higher-income society. Tempeh has been a product of the culture and the identity of the country itself.

So, there are high demands of soybeans as primary ingredients for tempeh production which is known as one of the main foods culturally and economically for Indonesian citizen, but why 60% of soybeans in Indonesia are imported while Indonesia has big amount of agricultural area? (BPS) Of course there are many aspects in figuring the best answers for this question, but there is one reason that food sovereignty can get into the debates. It is about the dilemma of developing countries to apply Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) as a technology to develop their agriculture. Despite the controversy in the health issue, GMO seeds can be useful for the farmers in developing countries in overcoming many problems that increase the failure level of their plants. For example, GMO soybeans are better resistant to stress and more nutritious (FAO). The problem is, to grow GMO product, the farmers have to buy the seeds every time they want to plant the seeds (Global research). GMO seeds patent are being dominated by big companies like Monsanto. For the farmers and government, it means that they have to pay more to plant the soybeans, and this is not the best option. Therefore, importing the soybeans can be the most effective way to deal with the increase of soybeans demand. Especially with the trade barrier that has been loosen; the agricultural markets are (too) open for international imports.

import statistic( Soybeans become top 5 imported product – FAO)


(the picture shows the comparisons of local vs import soybeans)

In food sovereignty point of view, this issue should be fixed. The open market should not be used as a justification to get an easier and economical way to provide food in the country. Although GMO soybeans are still not easy to be applied in soybeans farming in Indonesia and it is more effective just to import the soybeans, the government should think about the long term plan in developing soybeans farming in the country by finding another way other than GMO. Supporting the farmers by giving knowledge and fund to increase the productivity of organic soybeans farming can be one of the solutions. Because depending on import means there will always be the fluctuation in soybeans price it makes uncertainty for the local soybeans farmers, tempe industries, and the consumer of tempe. With all of the potential in agricultural, the farmers should have a chance to plant their own soybeans to be consumed locally. The tempe industries should also have a chance to operate their business without worrying about the up and down off the price. And finally, the consumer should not be afraid of losing one of the best protein options just because the prices of the soybeans have increased. In the end, food sovereignty should be considered by the government as a whole concept in managing the long term agricultural sector because it will give advantages to every aspect related to the food chain systems in Indonesia.