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Preliminary Observations of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Hilal Elver, on her mission to Indonesia 9-18 April 2018

18 April 2018

Bahasa Indonesian

18 April 2018


Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,

Today, I would like to share some preliminary observations from my official visit to Indonesia which started on 9 April. I will present my final report in March 2019 to the Human Rights Council.

In my capacity as the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, I have conducted this visit with the aim of assessing the enjoyment of the right to food in Indonesia, including recommendations as to good practices and current challenges.

During my 10-day visit, I met with a wide range of relevant Indonesians, including representatives of several ministries and agencies of the government in Jakarta. I had extremely constructive and useful meetings with the Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.  I also had instructive and helpful meetings with Komnas HAM, Komnas Perempuan, members of civil society including grass root organizations, private sector personalities as well as experts associated with relevant international institutions.

At the provincial level, I visited local governments and civil society in Palembang, Yogjakarta and Ambon which afforded me the opportunity to learn about the distinctive practices and issues pertaining to different regions. I conducted field visits to a farm built on sub-optimal land in Palembang. In Yogyakarta, I visited a village where women farmer’s group runs a sustainable home-yard food garden.  I also visited fisheries education and training center as well as aqua culture fisheries cultivation center in Ambon.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Government of Indonesia for inviting me and for extending its good offices and extraordinary Indonesian hospitality in ways that made the mission a success from my point of view. I was particularly gratified by the Government’s efforts trying to engage with me in a constructive and open manner, and for sharing its views and concerns so candidly.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs facilitated entire trip and managed the logistics which allowed me to meet with a wide range of government officials, people and organizations during my visit.  The level of preparedness - substantive and logistical – is a demonstration of the commitment of the Government of Indonesia to deal as seriously as possible with any existing obstacles to the realization of the internationally protected right to food.

I am also grateful to the members of Komnas Ham and Komnas Prempuan, as well as international and grass roots organizations for coordinating several meetings and for sharing their experiences, concerns and views with me. I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome and most impressed with the unwavering courage of activists defending human rights.

My thanks also go to the United Nation’s Resident Coordinator’s office in Jakarta and the OHCHR office in Bangkok for providing excellent support for my visit. I am also grateful for the private sector representative who willingly met with me and shared their views with me.

Preliminary observations

General overview

Indonesia has enjoyed a high growth rate in recent years and has made impressive achievements with respect to social and economic policies. As an emerging middle-income country, Indonesia has made impressive gains in poverty reduction, cutting the poverty rate to more than half since 1999, reducing it to 11.2% in 2015. Rice production has increased 14% and corn 47% from 2014- 2017. Indonesia rank in the global food security index was 74 in 2015,  71 in 2016, and 69 in 2017, a steady rate of improvement. Additionally, Indonesia has the ambition to become one of the world’s major rice producers with a program that aims at rice self-sufficiency. 

Indonesia’s  17,500 islands offer a diverse and promising range of agricultural and marine potentialities. Taking advantage of its large ocean space and long coastal lines Indonesia has become one of the leading exporters of fish. With regard to land resources, Indonesia is a leading producer of palm oil and other commodities such as rubber, cocoa and coffee, as well as being among the leading spice producers in the world.

I find it most encouraging that the Government treats food and nutritional security as national priorities, which includes strengthening rural and agricultural development. The Government has various policies to increase food production quantitatively and qualitatively, relying on modern technology, rehabilitation of irrigation systems, development of swamp and tidal land areas and rehabilitation of forests. ,

The commitments of the Government are expressed by the adoption of new policies and the enactment of appropriate laws, as well as through the energetic implementation of the existing legal framework. I observed good laws, policies, and practices, but I also witnessed challenges to the full realization of the right to food for the entire Indonesian population.

Legal and Policy framework

At the international level

It is commendable that Indonesia has ratified several basic human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which stipulates the obligation of states in Article 11 to realize the right to food. As party to ICESCR, Indonesia has a legal obligation to realize the right to food for all Indonesians, among its other human rights obligations.

Indonesia is also party to several other treaties that are relevant for the right to food such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  It is important that Indonesia is a party to these treaties as the right to food is indivisibly related to other rights including rights to health, social protection, housing, water and sanitation, land and work, a healthy environment as well as freedom of expression and peaceful assembly based on the principle of non-discrimination.

At the domestic level

Indonesia has several laws and policies bearing on the right to food- explicitly and implicitly.

The Constitution of Indonesia implicitly recognizes the rights to food and nutrition -- in the context of its affirmation of rights to life and livelihood, a dignified life, a healthy environment, social security and employment.

Explicit reference to the right to food is found in Law on Food (no. 18/2012) and Law on Sustainable Food Crops and Farmland (no. 41/2009). This Law on Food, in particular, holds the Government responsible for producing and distributing staple food and other foods in line with the needs of the poor, as well as people prone to food scarcity and malnutrition and those confronted by emergency situations (Art. 59 (1)). This law, as well, encourages local food diversity and safe and balanced food consumption patterns.

There are also laws that are closely related to the right to food such as law on Sustainable Agricultural Land Protection (no. 41/2009), Forestry law (no. 41/1999), law on Coastal and Small Island Management, law on Fisheries as well as law on Agrarian Principles (no. 5/1960), law on Farmers Protection and Empowerment (no. 19/2013) and law on Protection and Empowerment of Fishers, Fisher Farmers and Salt Farmers (no. 7/2016).

The Government has adopted specific laws and policies aimed at promoting food security and nutrition such as Government resolution 17/2015, Presidential Decree 83/2017 as well as ministerial regulations.

Indonesia possesses a good legal framework and policies for issues relating to food and it is in the process of drafting laws on palm oil production and indigenous peoples rights that should result in further improvements.

Normative contents of the right to food

Normative contents of the right to food include availability, accessibility, adequacy in quantity and quality, and sustainability.


Availability refers to the possibilities either for feeding oneself or having well-functioning and comprehensive distribution, processing and market systems responding to the demands of diversely situated and needy people. It encompasses not only quantity but also quality of food, which relates to nutritional concerns and respect for traditional diets.

Indonesia is doing well in terms of increasing production, especially of such staple as rice and corn, keeping up with an increasing population and growing demand due to rising living standards. The population has grown from 205 million in 1998 to 262 million in 2017, and it is expected to reach 305 million in 2035. Food policies and programmes of the Government should be developed and implemented in a manner that takes into account the food needs of a growing population with rising consumptive expectations.

The Government has made and is making a good progress in terms of food production, but there is a need to diversify the policies so as to limit the focus on rice –which is, of course, one of the main staples in Indonesia. Polices developed to reduce food insecurity appear to be overly focused on rice as in the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE). Considering that not all of the population wishes to make rice their main staple, the Government’s policy in the production of staples should become more mindful of the diverse needs and preferences of communities with a variety of food traditions.

The availability of food has to satisfy the dietary needs as well as be sensitive to traditions and cultural values bearing on the relative acceptability of various foods.. The Government has responded to the population’s needs to food by promoting agriculture and by providing subsidies if necessary. However, it came to my attention that official policies and practices were not always sensitive to cultural attitudes pertaining to food, generating pockets of dissatisfaction. For instance, rice and instant noodles have been distributed in communities that have been accustomed to relying on different types of staple such as sagu.

Food is not just a quantity that will prevent people from being hungry. Especially in a culturally rich country such as Indonesians with its incredibly diverse and rich cultural background, food informs human identity; food defines who a person is. At the same time, food can take away or compromise the identity of people and distort its historical memory. In this regard, the Government’s food policies and practices should make a maximum effort to take the cultural acceptability of food into account.


For the right to food to be fulfilled, it requires both physical and economic access. Physical accessibility means that food should be accessible to all people, including  children, older persons or persons with disabilities, as well as peoples who live remote places.

Economic accessibility means that food must be affordable without compromising other basic needs such as education fees, medical services or housing. However, food prices are steadily increasing that many Indonesians are not always enjoy diversified nutritionally balanced diet needs meeting the minimum nutritional needs. This is particularly true for urban poor, fisher folk, indigenous communities, and subsistence farmers.  According to the World Food Programme, one third of the population in Indonesia is unable to afford a balanced diet needs meeting the minimum nutritional needs. High food prices are one of the contributing factors to Indonesia’s malnutrition. 

Adequacy: Malnutrition

Despite the economic growth and increased food productivity of recent years, over 80 million Indonesians remain vulnerable to food insecurity. Indonesia suffers from the several dimensions of malnutrition: underweight, which, wastes and stunts children, micro-nutrient deficiencies, and in very recent years, overweight/obesity.

Indonesia is dealing with issues relating to overconsumption of staple food and not enough of fruits and vegetables. According to the World Bank, 92% of the population in Indonesia consumes considerably less than WHO recommended levels for fruit and vegetables. The Government’s efforts promoting healthy and balanced consumption should be strengthened through school programmes, education, and also by doing as much as possible to enable people, especially among the poor, to gain access to healthy food at affordable prices and at convenient locations.

With regard to under-nutrition, about 9 million children in Indonesia under five are stunted. In 2015, almost 30% of Indonesian children are stunted. Malnutrition among pregnant women is also a serious issue especially for lactating women. As stated earlier, the Government has policies to address these issues but these efforts need to be greatly strengthened and more effectively implemented throughout the country with the goal of not leaving anyone behind.

Malnutrition and food vulnerability are affecting certain regions more severely than others

and affecting certain population more than others. Children, lactating and pregnant women, indigenous peoples, people living in poverty and remote areas are especially vulnerable

Ladies and gentlemen,

Now, I want to draw your attention to a very tragic incident. 

Over the last few months, 72 children have died in Asmat district in Papua: 66 from measles and 6 directly from malnutrition. The deaths were caused by multiple factors including chronic food insecurity issues and a lack of access to proper health services. Their deaths were preventable, but it was allowed to happen.

As a mother, I can’t even imagine the immeasurable pain and grief that the mothers and fathers must have felt -- seeing their children die from preventable causes and not being able to give them proper medical attention.

My deepest condolences go to the families and communities in Asmat who lost children.

Regrettably, I wasn’t able to go to Papua on this visit due to my limited time in the country, but thankfully a good number of their representatives came to talk to me.

I remember vividly an outcry from a midwife from Papua: “I can’t let the children die anymore; we can’t let that happen anymore. I don’t want to feed my people and children the food that we don’t want.”

I also remember the frustration. Some questioned, “Why? Why is this continuously happening to us? We are also Indonesians. We want to be treated like other Indonesians.”

I think this anguish expresses a very legitimate demand.

The Indonesian Government has an obligation, which it recognizes to guarantee the right to food to all of its population in Indonesia regardless of their origin, ethnicity, religion, gender or age. The challenge is to implement this fundamental obligation by adopting effective policies.

I understand that the Government, especially the President, has made the improvement of the livelihood of the people in Papua a high priority that focuses on ensuring food security and addressing malnutrition issues. I particularly welcome the Government’s willingness to cooperate with the UN human rights system on the challenge presented by the situation in Papua. This forthcoming attitude was expressed by inviting my colleague, Special Rapporteur on Health to Papua last year and extending a similar invitation to the team of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

I am very glad to learn about the commitment of the Government, and strongly call on the Government to adopt measures to prevent such a tragedy ever happening again in Papua or anywhere else in Indonesia.

In the implementation of its commitments, the Government needs to take urgent actions to overcome the food and health immediate crisis in Papua but at the same time to address the root causes of food insecurity, including policies to reduce poverty and unemployment while increasing social protection, education and the general livelihood of the population...

Malnutrition does not only depend on food consumption but also is dependent on good health services, social welfare and poverty reduction programs, clean drinking water and sanitation.  In this regard, the Government should take a holistic approach in the realization of the right to food, especially in response to emergency conditions of which Papua is the outstanding current example.

Challenges to the realization of right to food

I have observed a number of issues that affect people’s right to food.

Land ownership/tenure

Food availability and accessibility are closely related to the right to land and to other natural resources for food production.

The majority of farmers in Indonesia are small scale farmers. About 25 million farmer families are small farmers who own less than 0.5 hectares which is not enough land to help them out of poverty. The Government has been working on land distribution to farmers so that each famer’s household could have minimum of 2 ha. I welcome this initiative of the Indonesian Government in providing a sufficient land base for farmers to facilitate realization of the right to food. I understand that the full implementation of the project is experiencing delays due to lack of resources and problems of coordination between central and local governments. I would strongly encourage the Government to further these efforts so as to complete the project in a timely manner.

Considering the huge disparity in land ownership between men and women, the Government should take gender perspectives into account when distributing lands with aim of achieving equality with respect to men and women. Despite affirming gender equality in the legal system, customs and traditions continue to block women’s accessibility to land ownership and tenure. This hampers women’s access to such related resources as credit and extension programs. 

I was pleased to learn of the official recognition of indigenous lands. Following the ruling of the Constitutional Court, the Government has announced that it would return 13,000 ha of customary lands to nine tribal communities. Given that many indigenous communities are dependent on land and forest as the principal source of their food and livelihood, recognizing their ownership and giving back the ancestral land to them is an important step toward the fulfilment of their right to food.

  1. Another challenging issue involves large scale land acquisitions. It has been brought to my attention as one of the most critical obstacles blocking the realization of the right to food in Indonesia. With unclear land ownership and classification systems in the Government registry, businesses including logging, palm oil and mining companies have reportedly been given permits to operate in lands on which people had been farming for generations. Such reallocations of land are often done without consultation, and without implementing prior informed consent procedure with the affected population, without adequate compensation and without securing humane alternatives. 
  2. People are forcefully evicted from their lands and often face criminal charges while they are trying to re-claim the land, which is often the sole basis their livelihoods. It is said that more than 230 tribal leaders and activists are currently on trial over land issues and six tribes face near extinction as a result of land deprivations. I am gravely concerned about this criminalization of farmers, community members and activists over contested land issues. The Government should do more to avoid the land issue further escalating and ensure that these activities by farmers attempting to retain or reclaim their land should not be criminalized when their actions are in reasonable pursuit of their rights.  
  3. Several land conflict issues were brought to my attention during the visit. I’ve heard of a woman from Pari Island almost crying when she exclaimed: “We never sold our land. We never sold our land,” a local farmer from South Sumatera sharing his years of yet unresolved fight for his land against a big sugar cane company. I am deeply touched by their courage and perseverance in the course of fighting for their rights against powerful corporate interests. The Government should listen to those victims of land conflict and try to resolve all conflicts in an adequate and timely manner.  

Fisheries and fishing communities

Fishing and coastal area communities also face several challenges for food and preservation of livelihoods. Increasingly, they are losing their coastal access and fishing areas to infrastructure building, tourism, environmental pollution, extinction or endangerment of fish because of illegal fishing, as well as extreme weather events. These fishing interests are forced to go further to fish subjecting them to greater risks due to poor equipment; because they are not able to fish in the waters that are familiar, and experience huge reductions in their catch. I congratulate the Government for implementing rigorous policies and surveillance practices to stop illegal foreign fishing vessels from entering territorial waters.

At the same time, already poor communities living in the Jakarta Bay area were severely impacted by the 17 Island Reclamation Project. The project is on hold for the moment but the reclamation that already undertaken has created an 80% reduction in the amount of fish they catch which has major detrimental impacts on their right to food and livelihood. I have witnessed the humble life lived by fishing families in Jakarta Bay, yet they are determined to sustain their life where they are. Taking away their source of livelihood is pushing them over the edge in the direction of extreme poverty. Many of these community members have been relocated four times -- imagine that you have been uprooted from the entire life and work you know and put somewhere to carry on –and it has happened four times.

I remember the community members - including fishermen, fisherwomen and their children -- in a small boat with a flag proclaiming their rights, crossing the sea with the malls and fancy skyscrapers behind them creating a sense of deep social and economic cleavage. Yet what I saw and remember was their moving resolve to uphold their dignity and pride –and doing so in its way higher than the skyscrapers.

All they wanted was to live their lives the way they had known before reclamation had affected them.

For any concession on land or in water, the Government should ensure that the rights of affected communities are fully respected – those affected should be adequately informed of the anticipated impacts in a timely manner, and they should be provided with opportunities to participate in decision-making processes that bear on their lives, and be given adequate remedies in case of violation of their rights.

Development is an important goal for every country including, of course. Indonesia. Therefore, development t should be carried out in a manner that doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of human rights including the right to food, as well as right to have a healthy environment, and access to clean drinking water to maintain the right to life. This is not only a moral thing to do for governments. It is their legal obligation and one very good way to keep their development projects effective and sustainable at a practical level. A healthy, satisfied population is an invaluable, yet often overlooked, resource in the development process.

Business practices

Business activities especially businesses relating to palm oil, mining and other plantations have considerable impact on the right to food. Indonesia is the largest palm oil producer in the world and produces 35 million tonnes of palm oil per year. Palm oil appears to be a lucrative business but unfortunately the business came with some cost -- a cost over human rights, and environment. The industrial expansion of palm oil plantation over the past years has created in numerous issues related to the right to food such as deforestation, soil degradation, conflicts, and working conditions for plantation workers including long hours and handling of toxic fertilizers especially for women. 

Amid the growing concerns, the Government has declared a temporary moratorium on granting new permits for palm oil industry, which I warmly welcome. I suggest the Government to take this opportunity to review the existing policies and practices relating to palm oil businesses and ensure that the business practices are in line with international human rights laws and standards including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

I would also like to encourage that the Government to increase transparency and ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders on palm oil related issues including the proposed draft bill on palm oil by the Parliament.

Mining raises similar human rights concerns as palm oil business. Its impact on the environment such as pollution of land and water has resulted in reduced production of food and income for local communities who depend on the environment for their livelihood. There have been numerous conflicts over mining concession -- some resolved but many still on-going.

Mining and other big infrastructure projects needs environmental impact assessment (EIA) in order to get permit. In this regard, it is necessary to conduct an EIA that is more transparent and participatory to prevent problems rising later on.

Affected population should have access to remedies when their rights are violated by businesses and those who perpetrated violation should be held accountable.

Infrastructure and development projects

Indonesia consists of over 17,000 islands. It is challenged by such huge numbers and by problems of physical accessibility. There are uncountable remote areas that are difficult to reach making it difficult for people to access food and basic social services or for the Government to remedy the situation. To resolve accessibility issues, the Government has prioritized infrastructure building throughout the country including improving access to remote islands and areas. I believe this is a much needed effort in order to increase physical accessibility to food, but at the same time, I would like to reiterate that these infrastructure development projects should have keep the needs and values of the people affected at the core of policy planning; steps should be taken in a manner that serves the rights of people rights rather than uncritically catering to business interests. It is also crucial to reduce regional disparities in living standards. Most importantly, infrastructure projects should never be undertaken at the cost of their rights to land, food, and livelihood. I am concerned that in some cases land is taken away from persons for infrastructure building projects without proper consultation, adequate compensation, and careful planning to ensure humane alternatives.

Environmental issues and climate change 

The right to food is closely linked to environmental issues, as agricultural production is depending on natural resources availability and healthy ecosystem. This is particularly important for Indonesia, as the country has unique environmental position, and rich biological diversity. 

I am particularly concerned about the excessive use of chemicals in farming which could lead to soil erosion, as well as water pollution when released into water. Intensive agricultural practices have a serious adverse impact on environment. Sustainable agriculture, especially agro-ecological practices must be promoted and incentivized by the government for small holder farmers. 

Indonesia still has 76% of forest areas but it was vulnerable to rapid deforestation rate over the past decade. Forest is a home for diverse fauna, flora, and people. Healthy ecosystems are essential in the enjoyment of the right to food as people, especially subsistence farmers depend on ecosystems for their food and livelihood. 

Indonesia has 81,000 kilometers of coastline and is vulnerable to rising sea levels, coastal erosion. Extreme weather events induced by climate change have affected the country claiming lives of people and damaging livelihoods including food production. For instance, the prolonged Niño drought in 2015 and 2016, disrupted farming, increased diseases and reduced crop production. Climate change could have more devastating effects on human rights especially the right to food if proper measures are not taken including mitigation and adaptation. Having said that these policies should be carefully considered not to violate peoples’ livelihood.

Preliminary recommendations

I will have a detailed human rights analysis on food situation in Indonesia and make concrete recommendations to the Government and relevant stakeholders in my report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2019. In the meantime, I would like to make a few preliminary recommendations to the Government of Indonesia based on my 10-day visit.

First, the Government should increase level of coordination among relevant ministries working on food issues. During my visit, I have noticed that ministries are working in silos -- often not being aware of what each other is doing. Lack of coordination interferes with policy coherence and prevents effective policy implementation. The coordination between central and provisional governments are also crucial as many food relevant polices require the coordination and cooperation of the two levels.

Second, the Government should take urgent actions to reduce malnutrition. It should also eradicate root causes for hunger and malnutrition such as poverty, unemployment and lack of social welfare services.

Third, food policy should diversify. The current rice self-sufficiency focused food policy will not provide a long term solution to food security and nutrition as well as sustainable agricultural practices. 

Fourth, the Government should take further efforts in implementing various laws related to right to food. As mentioned, Indonesia has relatively good laws and policies that are conducive to the realization of the right to food. Not all of them are effectively and timely implemented. More should be done in this regard.

Fifth, the Government should provide increased protection for farmers and fisher folks by providing them with stable tenure to farm and fish, social services. A special attention should be given to women engaged in farming and fishing and ensure that they have equal rights and opportunities to access to resources.

Sixth, the Government should resolve issues relating to land tenureship. It should expedite the implementation of distribution of lands to farmers and resolve all land-related conflicts. The Government should not criminalize farmers, community members, activists working on land issues but provide them with consultations and mediations.

Seventh, the Government should make sure business activities especially large plantations, palm oil and mining activities are in line with international human rights laws and principles. Businesses should also ensure that their practices respect human rights in compliance with their responsibility contained in the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights.