Pandemic disrupts food distribution across country, minister says

Pandemic-disrupts-food-distribution-across-country-minister-says Trucks line up at Sunda Kelapa Port in North Jakarta on Tuesday. The port resumed loading and unloading activities after the Jakarta administration eased the physical distancing policy on June 5. (JP/Arief Suhardiman)

Source: The Jakarta Post 
Date: 15 July 2020

The logistics disruption due to social restrictions to contain COVID-19 has affected the food distribution to many regions in Indonesia, particularly the eastern parts, Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo said.

The pandemic restriction led to a decline in the number of ships delivering food to eastern Indonesia to six ships per month from 48 ships per month in normal times, according to the minister.

"Many do not know that ships going to the eastern part of the country, including Papua, that normally can amount to 48 ships a month, now can only be six ships monthly," Syahrul said in a virtual briefing on Monday.

Truck drivers who have delivered food or picked up food from the country's hard-hit areas also have to be in quarantine for two weeks, adding to the prolonged food distribution across the country, Syahrul added.

COVID-19 restrictions, which are now being phased out in some places, have caused logistical disruptions along the supply chain by limiting mobility in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 78,500 people nationwide.

At the beginning of June, TaniHub Group, which sells agricultural products online, told The Jakarta Post that the mandatory quarantine for truck drivers, which led to delays in food logistics, had increased its operational expenses. This is despite the government exemption for food logistics on the restrictions in the regions.

Statistics Indonesia (BPS) reported that the transportation and warehouse sector grew 1.27 percent yoy in the first quarter of 2020. This was a significantly slower pace than the 5.25 percent annual growth in the first quarter of 2019.

The disrupted food logistics might also affect food prices. The average price of onions on July 14 in Jayapura, Papua, stood at Rp 67,000 per kilogram this year, a more than 34 percent increase from Rp 49,750 on July 15 last year, according to monthly data from the Center for Information on Strategic Food Prices (PIHPS).

Previously, the Transportation Ministry stated that it was relying on a long-running sea transportation program – the maritime highway – to support logistics in the country amid disruption induced by the pandemic.

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi on June 21 stated that optimizing the maritime highway, a flagship program in President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's first term in office, was part of the government's efforts to ensure the movement of goods during the health crisis.

"The maritime highway is expected to secure supply logistics all across Indonesia during the pandemic," Budi said according to a press release. "To optimize the maritime highway program, all stakeholders need to take part to maximize the carrying capacity of the ships and reduce price disparity [among islands]."

The maritime highway, which has run since 2015, is a subsidized cargo program to distribute staple goods and major consumer items — including rice, sugar, flour, cooking oil and eggs — as well as steel and cement to remote regions of the archipelago.

It aims to reduce the price disparity across the country's many islands, which is generally caused by costly logistics.

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