Sunday, October 1, 2023 | 06:34 WIB

Rice, wheat, and misplaced diversification

Jakarta, IO – Instant noodle consumption has stunningly hit 121 billion servings per year. China ranks first, with 45.07 billion servings annually, followed by Indonesia (12.26 billion) and Vietnam (8.48 billion). There seem to be no other non-four food products that have sold as spectacularly as instant noodles. 

Wheat four, prepared from wheat, is a staple food of global citizens. It surpasses other prominent foods, such as soybeans, potatoes and corn. The only staple that can beat wheat is rice – the staple food of half the world’s citizens. Although Indonesia does not grow wheat, national consumption continues to grow. In 2002, wheat imports were at 4 million tons. In 2021, this figure skyrocketed to 11.69 million tons, worth IDR 54 trillion. In almost two decades, wheat imports have nearly tripled. This means the country has lost a massive amount of foreign exchange. 

Wheat four is mostly converted into bread, cake, snacks and instant noodles. Indonesia is the world’s third-largest wheat-importing country, after Egypt and Turkey. National wheat consumption has reached 17.1 kg/capita/year. Wheat has become the second-largest dietary item in Indonesia, far above any other local foodstuff. 

Since its introduction in the 1970s, wheat consumption has increased by some 500% in 30 years. This successful penetration has resulted from business players who creatively manufacture wheat-based foods that are cheap, easily found and appetizing to locals. The most astonishing success of wheat four was in fact due to a policy implemented during the New Order era, when the wheat four price was slashed, 50% lower than the international price. 

Initially, the policy was intended to stabilize food prices and reduce inflation. The basic premise was to avoid heavy dependence on imported rice, whose price was unstable and volume thin (thin market). Rice was exported after domestic needs were met (residual market), and the market tended to be an oligopoly (imperfect market). Regrettably, this incidental policy has never been evaluated and has even endured until now. 

Ironically, the Western community has started to see four-based foods as a health threat. It is considered a threat to physical and mental health (Bressan and Kramer, 2016). This cannot be more dissimilar to what is happening in Indonesia; wheat is considered a “superior” food. Unintentionally, the incidental policy of introducing wheat as a (temporary) substitute for rice has created severe problems. 


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