Tue, 01 Jul 2008
From: The Jakarta Post
By Debnath Guharoy, Consultant
A special poll was conducted in April by Roy Morgan Research to understand the views of people around Jakarta on issues relating to the increasing price of fuel, energy and commodities.

As many as 2,010 respondents of 14 years of age and older were asked what would impact more greatly on the lives of their families: the rising prices of commodities, fuel or electricity.

The overwhelming response was the price of commodities, with 74 percent of respondents ranking it their number one concern. Projected to the national population, that would account for 106 million people concerned with the ever-increasing price of food.

The price of fuel ranked number two, with 22 percent of respondents, and electricity came in third with only 4 percent.

Asked what they thought of "the government's performance in managing the stability of prices of essential goods", 0.1 percent said "very good", 21 percent chose "good", 52 percent "bad" and 27 percent "very bad." Collectively, eight out of 10 people gave the government a thumbs-down.

The anger was more pronounced in rural Indonesia, with women even more concerned than men about commodity prices. In May, fuel subsidies were capped, adding to the pain expressed in April.

The Roy Morgan Good Governance monitor recorded a 1 percent dip in the January-to-March quarter on "the government is doing a good job running the country" poll.

In fairness to the SBY government, a positive rating by 58 percent of the population is a strong vote of confidence by international standards. Where similar measurements are in place, George Bush crawls in the low 30s and Kevin Rudd alone is still sailing in the 60s.

Leaders everywhere will continue to take a beating at the polls for some time to come, with no end in sight yet for the twin concerns of fuel and food prices.

These conclusions are based on Roy Morgan Single Source, the country's largest syndicated survey with over 27,000 Indonesian respondents annually, projected to reflect almost 90 percent of the population over the age of 14. That is a universe of 140 million people. The results are updated every 90 days.

In April, 2010 respondents across the country were asked the specific questions relating to the impact of rising prices.

The shift in focus to "growing fuel" instead of food has hurt the global food basket even harder. Incentives have attracted farmers in the U.S. to convert corn to ethanol, instead of feeding humans and livestock.

Conversion to biofuel is estimated to be contributing at least 30 percent of the increases in the price of food. The escalating price of a barrel of oil which is nudging $150 this week impacts not only the direct cost of transporting food, but the cost of fertilizers as well.

Adding to these self-inflicted pains, people around the world are witnessing the growing demand for food exacerbated by crop failures resulting from droughts and floods.

A predominantly agricultural people, the Filipinos are today the world's largest importer of rice largely due to the lack of investment in agricultural infrastructure. An exporter of rice not so long ago, Indonesia is now heading in the wrong direction.

As the price of food continues to spiral upwards, the impact on food habits is becoming visible again. While just about everybody continues to eat increasingly expensive rice, the consumption of beef, chicken and even fish is dipping again. Fresh vegetables are filling the gap.

Occasional handouts of cash by the government to the poorest sections of society cannot substitute the need for long-term solutions. All efforts to grow more food, locally, have got to take higher priority than it has in the past.

The greater the self-reliance of each community, the lesser the dependence on transported food, the better-off everyone is going to be.

While the need for mechanized farming to produce crops on an industrial scale is now greater than ever in Indonesia, it is also an ideal opportunity to address unemployment and unutilized arable land in one concerted effort.

Businesses big and small, especially those in food-related industries, can all contribute towards the lessening of this heightening crisis. Now is the time for food processing, packaged foods and food retailing companies to chip in.

Using management skills and commercial leverage, efforts made to organize small farmers, influence and encourage banks to lend seed capital to them, help organize transportation and guarantee purchase of produce will all pay dividends for mutual benefit.

Such alliances between big businesses, big banks, small farmers and small businesses can only help build a stronger future, utilizing the individual and collective skills of a wide-cross section of society.

This is not charity, it is more common-sense. Shareholders everywhere would reap the benefits not just morally, but financially as well. It is an opportunity to do some good instead of paying lip-service to corporate social responsibility just because it is dictated by law.

The writer can be contacted at Debnath.Guharoy@roymorgan.com



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