Agriculture Beyond Food

Food Security,Inclusive Economy06 Dec 2011Suraya Afiff, Jacqueline Vel, Huub Löffler, Cora Govers

This blogpost is about the master class Agriculture Beyond Food that took place the first week of December in Indonesia. One of the main challenges discussed is how to choose for the food and fuel option, rather than food or fuel. 

Food security is a major issue for the decades to come. An increasing population will require a considerably higher production of biomass. This demand is seriously engraved by the fast development of the bio-economy. Large additional amounts of biomass will be needed to meet the biofuels targets. These conflicting demands induce heated debates on competing claims for biomass. One of the main challenges is how to choose for the food and fuel option, rather than food or fuel. The collaborative Indonesia-The Netherlands Agriculture Beyond Food programme (AbF) aims to develop and/or evaluate scientifically based options for this dilemma. These options need not only be economically and ecologically, but also socially sustainable. This last aspect was the subject of a master class that was held following the sixth Open Science Meeting, of 30 November- 1 December 2011 in Jakarta.

The master class was organized by the University of Indonesia and the University of Leiden in the framework of the Agriculture Beyond Food project JARAK (Jatropha Research and Knowledge network on claims and facts concerning socially sustainable jatropha production in Indonesia). AbF is part of a long research collaboration in various disciplines between Indonesia and the Netherlands. This was also clear from the master class participants, who came from Indonesian universities and from private companies with a background ranging from Development Studies, Anthropology and International Relations to Economics and Agronomy.

Social sustainability

The master class specifically focused on social sustainability in biomass production for non-food purposes. The main categories of social sustainability are labour rights, land and resource rights, food security (through prices and land), livelihood impacts and (investor) contributions to rural development. For this contribution the focus is on food security in the context of biofuels, farmer’s rights and rural development. After two extensive introductions on social responsibility from a company and social scientist point of view, the presentations focused on fuel and food from a People Planet Profit perspective. The two examples presented here are from a company representative and a social scientist.

Pt Waterland International is a company that grows crops for bio fuels in Central Java. In the philosophy of the company, crops with the highest Green House Gas (GHG) efficiency will be best suited for biofuels in the future, complying to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). Nutrient- and water use efficiency are important drivers for the GHG efficiency and, according to the company, Jatropha is one of the most promising crops in this respect. Many Jatropha growing companies, however, fail, and Pt Waterland blames insufficient markets for biofuels.

Multi-cropping system

Nationally, non-subsidized biofuels have to compete with subsidized fossil fuels, and internationally, markets are hampered by a decrease of subsidies on biofuels. Pt Waterland developed a strategy based on three pillars to gain profitability. First, the company uses as many components of the fruit as possible. Besides oil, outlet markets are identified for the seed cake and the husks. In this way, value is added to the product. In addition, Pt Waterland adopts a multi-cropping system. In cultivation, Jatropha can be combined well with a number of other crops, increasing the nutrient balance, decreasing problems with pests and diseases, increasing value and spreading labour and income for the farmers. Finally, the company used a new patented technology for processing, decreasing the processing costs considerably. Starting early 2012, a factory based on the new technology will be built on Java.

The business model of PT Waterland on Java is based on farmers participating in the company’s multi-cropping system. State-owned land is leased to farmers, using management and technology of PT Waterland. Profits are spread evenly between state, farmers and company. PT Waterland values the participation of farmers and add the P of Partners to the People, Planet, Profit paradigm, stating that all partners should profit. The master class discussed the role of farmers in this concept, and how local communities can be empowered to stand up for their rights.

National interest

The second case related to an initiative for converting Sumba into an iconic island for renewable energy that was launched early 2011 by the Dutch NGO HIVOS. JARAK researchers investigated how biomass can contribute to this goal. They found an initiative from an international company to plan a sugarcane plantation with a local permit of 25.000 hectares in West Sumba. The study focused on identifying suitable crops and waste materials, identifying the best sustainable options to increase production of energy crops. It also included the perspective on best crops from the point of view of local energy consumers.

A recurrent issue is the food and fuel debate: will sugar production displace local food crops, will it affect food prices, how does the seasonal work affect income? Will there be enough labour available or will this plantation attract migrants? One of the main problems is that local people lack the information to be able to deal with their own interest such as who will profit and how will land-owners be compensated. How will the energy that surpasses current use become available to the people outside the electricity grid? Would alternative options like cassava or cashew apples be more favourable for the local small holders?

In the end the central issue is who is involved in decision making and whose interests will prevail: local people, local and national politicians, national demand for energy, international company. The case tunes into a very important dilemma that may be seen as exemplary for the global food, water and energy challenges that we face: Indonesia is currently importing sugar and needs sustainable energy, so sugarcane production is a vital national interest. At present such production does not seem to bring a lot of advantages to Sumba. What do we need to find a way out of this dilemma? The main question thus turns out to be whether it is possible to combine the various interests and reach a social sustainable solution. The answer is not readily available yet, but it appears that NGO’s and social scientists can act as social brokers to facilitate this process as they have access to all information and they do not have a particular interest at stake.

The Agriculture Beyond Food research programme is co-financed by NWO-WOTRO Science for Global Development and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and jointly implemented with the Indonesian Ministry of Science and Technology (RISTEK).