The Webinar proceeded in four sessions – the first with Mr. Sudirman, the second with Prof. Edi Matono, the third with Mr. Andreas Subiyono, and the last with questions and answers with the audience.
Mr. Sudirman explained that the most notable impact of COVID-19 in the agricultural sector was in vegetables growing. Social distancing meant buyers could not get to the producers to buy vegetables. This caused harvested vegetables to become rotten, while unharvested vegetables were dying. Rice was not affected as it was not going off like vegetables. The other impacts was the increase in prices of seedlings, which forced peasants into difficult situation. At one point, they could not make profit out of agriculture, but as long as they could sell whatever they could harvest, that would be a relief. Mr. Sudirman further said that in time of pandemic, peasants played important roles, not only medical personnel, as they were in the frontline for food provision for the whole of society.
On his part, Prof. Edi Martono explained that Indonesia still relied on rice imports when other countries were in lockdown. He also said that local lockdowns in Indonesian villages/hamlets disrupted distribution of vegetables to consumers. Thus, consumers had difficulty finding food, particularly vegetables which in the past they could get easily in local shops/stalls/markets. The alternative access was to get vegetables online, as long as customers were willing to pay the additional price. Hence, Prof. Edi suggested one idea regarding food resilience in Indonesian households - “Grow what you eat, and eat what you grow”. The statement was a direct reference to local capacity to procure their own food to meet household needs.
In response to a question by Andreas Subiyono, regarding challenges faced by peasants, Mr. Sudirman stated that peasants were still dependant on chemical fertilizers from agricultural stores, and this was a key issue in agricultural productivity as chemical fertilizers were in short supply during pandemic. He also suggested (and hoped) that the pandemic could become a meaningful drive for peasants to return to organic fertilizers, although they were still not sure about the lack of harvest when compared to chemical fertilizers. Yet from the point of food resilience, organic fertilizers were safer and more environmenmtally sustainable. With regards to the use of technology for peasants, Prof. Edi elaborated that Indonesian peasants should not depend too much of agricultural technology (chemical fertilizers), and needed to look back at their ancestors who used traditional methods to grow quality vegetables. Peasants had to have bargaining power particularly in setting prices. The current harvest processing technology could not yet guarantee better sale of agricultural produce, so peasants still relied on sale of unprocessed harvest, not processed harvest that could generate better income (sale price). The government needed to provide infrastructure – i.e. harvest processing – to help peasants improve food resilience and to get better prices for their produce even in times of crisis.