Jakarta Merchants Strike as Indonesia’s Tofu and Tempe Shortage Continues
Arientha Primanita & Antara
Jakarta residents with a craving for tofu or tempe might have a hard time finding the ubiquitous soybean staples this week after the capital’s tempe and tofu sellers went on strike in protest of rising soybean prices.
“The tempe and tofu sellers are on strike because they hardly make any profit since the soybean prices have increased from Rp 600,000 per 100 kilograms into Rp 800,000 per 100 kilograms,” Tri said on Wednesday.
Sellers of tofu and tempe — both an important part of Indonesian cuisine — across Jakarta are feeling the squeeze after a US drought and lower yields sent prices soaring. In the past three weeks alone, soybean prices rose to Rp 8,000 a kilogram, according to Sutaryo, the business head of the Confederation of Indonesian Tofu and Tempe Makers Cooperative (Primkopti).
The Indonesian government has agreed to scrap a 5 percent tax on imported soybeans until the end of 2012 in an effort to cool costs. The new ruling may go into effect as early as this month, Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Rajasa told Bloomberg.
But Wednesday afternoon, the capital’s tofu and tempe sellers were still on strike.
At the Gandaria market, few sellers were open. Tri, a food vender whose stall is next to a tempe and tofu stall, said that the merchants have been on strike since Tuesday. The protest is planned to continue until Friday.
It was a similar story at the Kebon Melati market, where Lati, a water spinach seller, said that the vendors didn’t show up on Wednesday.
“People keep on coming to buy tofu and tempe because they did not know that the sellers were on strike,” said Wahid, a noodle vendor.
Primkopti members were reportedly sweeping the city’s markets on Wednesday, confiscating tofu and tempe from vendors who decided to ignore the strike, according to Antara reports.
But one soybean merchant remained open on Wednesday, explaining that he was selling off his remaining stocks.
“I would be jobless if I don’t have products to sell,” Suloyo said. “But I support this action to normalize the price of the soybean.”
The producers went on strike earlier this week, halting production on Sunday for a three-day demonstration.
They restarted operations on Wednesday, but new stocks of tofu and tempe won’t hit the shelves until Saturday, Primkopti head Kalwi said. It takes three days, start to finish, to make tofu and tempe, he added.
“Tempe went missing on Wednesday, we will start producing again for Saturday sales,” Kalwi said.
The strikes were meant as “shock therapy” for Indonesian consumers who would have likely complained of price hikes, Kalwi said.
The producers are demanding the government subsidize soybean imports, but the move is unlikely to gain traction among decision makers.
When the price of soybeans rose to record highs four years ago, the government passed a soybean subsidy of Rp 1,000 per kilogram. While the subsidy reduced price pressures at the time, it did little to head off future increases, Deputy Agriculture Minister Rusman Heriawan said.
“Subsidies are not a good solution, as it would only result in short term reductions,” Rusman said.
Instead, the producers need to work out their own solutions like reducing the size of tofu and tempe packages or increasing the price, he said.
“They should find a middle ground,” Rusman said, adding the consumers need to accept higher prices when global stocks are low.
The Indonesian government earmarked Rp 5 billion to buy environmentally friendly equipment to boil soybeans in an effort to reduce dependency on foreign beans by 2014, Industry ministry official Euis Saedah said.
“We hope that with the new equipment, the soybean self-sufficiency program could be reached by 2014,” Euis said. “Last year, soybean imports reached 1.6 million tons, most of which was used for the production of tofu and tempe. At the end of last year, the national demand for soybeans reached 2.3 million tons.”
— Bloomberg contributed to this report.