Mrs. Suri is a member of one of two women’s groups in the area set up with help from Oxfam. Credit: Josephine Imelda/Oxfam
Women's groups help provide alternative sources of income.

Indonesia: Women’s groups and rising food prices

Tunda Island is an isolated community of just over 1,000 people, off the north western tip of Java – a two-and-a-half hour boat trip from the mainland. Many people on the island are fishermen, as well as small farmers and shop owners. As global food prices rise, life for poor people living in this remote part of Indonesia has become increasingly hard.

Over the last six months, the cost of rice here has risen over 50 per cent, from 3,500 rupiahs (about 32 cents) per liter in December 2007, to 5,300 rupiahs (about 50 cents) in April 2008. Work on the island here is very unpredictable – people can earn between 15,000 and 20,000 rupiahs (between $1.40 and $1.75) a day. So, when you consider that an average family uses 2-3 liters of rice a day, you can only imagine the impact these price rises are having.

“When I was young, rice was 500 rupiahs per liter, then it rose to 700,” says Mrs Suri, a 50-year-old widow with seven children. “The most expensive was 1,500 (about 13 cents) during the financial crisis in 1998. I never imagined it would climb to 5,300 rupiahs.”

The rise in food prices has caused widespread fear amongst the islanders. “Prices continue to climb,” says Mrs Sutihat, a 23 year-old mother. “So we try to feed ourselves according to our budget. To save money, we replace fish with tempe, a fermented soybean cake.”

Mrs. Sutihat is a member of one of two women’s groups in the area set up with help from Oxfam. These groups provide women with alternative sources of income, so they can support their family when their husband is unable to earn money from the sea. They have set up small grocery shops, and have food vendors selling meatballs and ice juices.

“First, the price of rice rose, and then it was kerosene and cooking oil,” says Mrs. Sutihat. “Soon afterwards, all prices – including sago flour, wheat flour, sugar and onion – went up too. Every time I went shopping to the mainland, all the prices had gone up. It caused me a terrible headache.” At the same time, the price of kerosene – used for cooking and fuel for their boats – has also risen, from 2,500 to 4,500 rupiahs per liter.

For the grocery shop owners, high prices of certain products mean they sell other products which people can still afford. “We’re not able to sell cooking oil and wheat flour because they’re expensive. So, we only sell goods which are essential and affordable for people in Tunda such as kerosene, diesel fuel and rice,” says Mrs. Sutihat.

No one here can avoid the impact of high food prices. “We just hope things will be better soon,” says Mrs Suri.