Indonesian Tempeh, Tofu Producers’ Rampage Shuts Down Sales
Lenny Tristia Tambun, Arientha Primanita, Fitri & ID/Tri Listiyarini
Jakarta/Mataram. Despite the government announcing plans to temporarily remove the 5 percent import duty on soybeans in response to production halts by tofu and tempeh makers, protests and clashes were seen in several wet markets in Jakarta and other major cities across the country.
“We will remove the 5 percent import duty,” Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Rajasa said on Wednesday.
He said the tax suspension would be effective from Aug. 1 until the end of this year, bowing to demands by a group of tofu and tempeh producers.
The duty-free action, however, did not convince tempeh producers to abandon their plan to halt manufacturing. Scenes of protests and even clashes between soybean producers and tofu and tempeh sellers were reportedly rife.
At the Rawamangun wet market in East Jakarta, members of the Indonesian Tempeh and Tofu Cooperative (Kopti) attacked tofu and tempeh sellers who went against a verbal directive not to sell the two food items. Tofu and tempeh, derived from soybeans and eaten mainly with rice, are staples for many Indonesians as they are among the cheapest sources of protein.
Suharto, chairman of the Jakarta chapter of Kopti, said the cooperative had called on producers in Jakarta to halt work from Wednesday through Friday. The walkout in production reportedly will be expanded nationwide.
Agus Ramli, 50, a tofu and tempeh seller in Rawamangun, had his food stall attacked and his goods thrown to the floor. His stall was attended by his daughter Nurul Aini as violent Kopti members stormed the market to keep the vendors from selling.
“I cannot accept this action. If they want to do the sweep, do it subtly. I am personally supporting Kopti’s move, but don’t act in such a manner. Whoever scattered my goods for sale, they must be responsible,” Agus said.
Suyanto, head of the East Jakarta chapter of Kopti, said the sweep was aimed to create a common goal between producers and traders as well as demonstrate against high soybean costs. The commodity’s price has risen 33 percent in the past three weeks to Rp 8,000 (85 cents) per kilogram, mainly due to a drought in the United States that has shortened supplies.
Suyanto admitted that many traders were protesting the action, but he claimed most traders understood its purpose.
“From last night’s sweep, we got around two tons of tempeh. All of it was disposed of,” he said. “These tempeh were seized from a number of traditional markets and production houses in Jakarta.”
Kopti had been demanding the government lift a 5 percent duty on soybean imports that was imposed in January.
The commodity, accounting for less than 1 percent of the consumer price index, has caused concerns about the country’s policy of food security.
Rusman Heriawan, a deputy minister for agriculture, said on Wednesday that should US soybean production return to normal, the price of soybeans should decline. Indonesia was the fourth-biggest market for US soybeans this year.