In this village, rice is just a dream



Finding enough food to eat is a daily struggle in some areas in Indonesia. In Part 2 of his report from Lampung, a province in Sumatra, DERWIN PEREIRA of The Straits Times Foreign Desk reports on how some villagers cope

VILLAGERS have taken to foraging in the jungles for food.

Sometimes they are lucky and return with bananas to supplement their diet. Other times, even the bark of tree would do.

In these food-scarce times, rice is a popular conversation topic among residents of Pakuan Ratu village in Sumatra’s southernmost province.

The talk sometimes gets heated when they compare the current price of “beras” or rice with prices before the fall of the rupiah’s value last year.

Prices have shot up – from 800 rupiah (S$1.30) to 2,000 rupiah a kg.

The village of Pakuan Ratu, which is scattered with attap and stucco-plastered houses on a broad undulating plain between green mountain ranges, is the stark face of poverty in Lampung.

“I have not tasted rice for more than a year,” said 50-year-old subsistence farmer Cumargin. “It is too expensive for poor
people like me.”

Mr Cumargin makes about Rp60,000 a month, barely enough to feed his wife and four children. Local government officials indicate that with rising inflation he would need at least Rp275,000 a month to feed his family.

A typical meal for them last year was rice, carrots and dried fish. Now they eat “tiwul” or tapioca, three times a day.

Indeed, most of the 13,000 villagers have turned to tapioca as a substitute to fill their empty stomachs.

They plant them in small plots outside their houses or get them from the jungles. Preparing it is a drawn out process. The final dish looks like rice and tastes like popcorn.

Those with money take the easy option of buying it. It is relatively cheap – Rp700 a kg.

Some farmers have tried to plant padi in the poor soil but with little success.

Isolation from the markets worsens things for the villagers. The nearest “pasar” or market is 30 km away.

Mrs Kartiam, 35, used to take the one-hour bus ride along the long winding dirt track of sand and gravel to the market once a week. Not anymore.

Like other housewives in Pakuan Ratu, she believes it is pointless now thinking up substitutes for the more pricey ingredient ts which she has been forced to strike off her shopping list.

“Everything is expensive,” said the mother of three children. “Last time it was a dream to eat meat and fish. Now it is an even bigger dream to eat rice.”

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