The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Road Infrastructure and Food (In)Security in Indonesia

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on May 31, 2013

Physical access to food constitutes one of the four pillars of food security. Among the many factors that affect physical access to food, road infrastructure plays a critical role. High-performing road networks will enable effective transportation systems, and eventually lead to more cost-effective food supply chains, lower food prices and better guarantees of food availability for consumers.

In Indonesia, the lack of roads and poor road conditions in many rural areas are major drivers to food insecurity. Geographical isolation results in low farm gate prices and low income for small farmers. The difficulty in accessing these places also gives rise to high transportation costs for commodities coming in and going out and results in higher food prices in the markets.

Regardless of the fact that over 80% of villages in Indonesia are accessible by four-wheeled vehicles, road coverage and road quality outside the islands of Java and Bali are comparatively much worse. Road conditions in many rural areas are deplorable, and lack of commitment to road maintenance is one of the main contributing factors. The district governments that are in charge of rural roads reportedly gain more benefits from constructing new roads, leading to funding for construction but relatively little for maintenance. Current available funds for the latter are only 5.9% of what is needed to maintain road quality. Furthermore, the highly complex road construction financing system that involves central, provincial, and district governments opens the way for corrupt practices and fund misappropriation.

The considerable negative consequences that this condition has for food access and food security are exacerbated by frequent climate-related incidences in a number of rural spaces. Since the beginning of the year, Indonesia has been ravaged by more than 30 occurrences of landslides; many of which have resulted in road blockages. In January, landslide in Cicalengka paralysed commercial activities in five villages as road accesses were completely severed. In April in Wonosobo, landslides and poor road conditions effectively isolated one village and impeded emergency assistance efforts. The apparent vulnerability towards environmental changes clearly aggravates the existing food insecurity resulting from poor road infrastructure.

Considering the criticality of road access in ensuring food security, it is imperative for the government to perform a thorough review into the current road infrastructure arrangements. The problems associated with sub-standard road quality and meagre resources for road maintenance are compounded by changing climatic conditions. Climate change is altering precipitation and storm patterns in Indonesia in ways that lead to greater soil erosion, landslides and flooding in some impacted areas. Road planning, construction and maintenance strategies need to take these climate realities into consideration, which entails collaboration with climate experts and risk modellers. All such reviews, whether climate-related or not, will bring about difficult political decisions on strategic infrastructure planning, existing funding system, and corrupt practices at multiple governmental levels. 

As food commodities move across different parts of Indonesia, it is essential for food security coverage to be extended throughout the entire archipelago. To this end, efforts towards narrowing the gap in road infrastructure between places within and outside the islands of Java and Bali need to be carried out.

Road infrastructure is vital for food access, and securing the lines to food access is key to providing greater assurance for Indonesian food security.  

 This blog post has been written by Margareth Sembiring. She is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non–Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).


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