Indonesian leaders feel the heat over soaring chilli prices (Feature)
By Ahmad Pathoni Jan 14, 2011, 5:46 GMT
Jakarta - The soaring price of chillies, an essential spice in Indonesian households, has unsettled the population and prompted the government to scramble to stem discontent.
Chilli prices have jumped almost fivefold over the past few months with some varieties costing 100,000 rupiah (11 dollars) per kilo, a hefty amount for a commodity that is enjoyed by people from all walks of life.
'Everything tastes bland without sambal,' or fresh ground chili paste, said Dewi Roro, a civil servant, echoing the sentiment of many Indonesians.
Sambal is a much-loved sauce that comes with almost every meal in Indonesian households.
The crisis has prompted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to step in. Last week, he urged Indonesians to be creative and grow their own chilli plants.
'Such an effort will help develop food security for the people,' he said.
Throwing her weight behind her boss, Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said she had grown 200 chilli plants in her own yard.
The Agriculture Ministry said it would distribute seeds free to households as part of its 'grow chili movement.'
'This is just a temporary solution,' said Agriculture Minister Suswono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. 'We will try it out in several provinces.'
But some people were not won over by the government's advice.
'It's the government's job to stabilize prices,' said Ardi Maulana, a Jakarta office worker. 'If we can't afford to buy rice, will the government ask us to plant paddy too?'
The Central Bureau of Statistics announced this month that inflation for 2010 reached 6.96 per cent, higher than the government's target of 4 to 6 per cent.
The bureau attributed the high figure to the rising price of food, including rice and chillies.
Global food prices hit a record high in December, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Programme. The rising costs have triggered rioting in Algeria, Egypt and Haiti.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Bayu Krisnamurthi said heavy rainfall has led to failed harvests, causing the price of commodities, including chillies, to increase.
The skyrocketing prices have prompted food vendors to cut back on their use of chillies.
'I can no longer be too generous with chilies if I still want to make a profit,' said Supriyadi, who sells fried food on a pushcart in a small alley surrounded by Jakarta's gleaming skyscrapers.
To try to promote food security and reduce imports, the government has also launched a campaign to wean its population off rice, the staple food in the world's fourth most-populous nation.
The drive seeks to encourage Indonesians to include other staples, such as cassava, in their meals
But critics said the drive had achieved little success and rice remains the essential feature in every meal.