We Have Seen Peak Indonesia

We Have Seen Peak Indonesia

by David Archibald, author of Australia’s Defence (Connor Court)

9 March 2016


There was a prediction in 1976 of the fall of the Soviet Union, based on increased infant mortality rates, which indicated a society in decay.

Therefore an indication of declining infant welfare in Indonesia deserves close scrutiny. After declining over decades, childhood stunting in Indonesia has increased from 28.6% to 36.4% over the decade from 2005 to 2015.

Indonesia’s GDP nearly doubled over that decade, so lack of money shouldn’t be the cause of the increased infant malnutrition. But most of the income growth went to a small subset of the population. McKinsey counts 45 million members of a consuming class with household income of US$7,500 or more. Some 82% of Indonesia’s population, 200 million people, live on less than US$4 per day, with half of those under US$2 per day.

Indonesian rice production has plateaued at about 35 million tonnes per annum from 2003. Domestic rice production per capita has declined from a peak of 171 kg per capita in 1991 to 144 kg per capita today. Food imports started taking off from the same year as per this graph:


The situation is a little more complicated than that, because Indonesia has significant corn production, now approaching 10 mpta. A significant proportion of that corn and of the imported soybean meal would be going to conversion to animal protein for the consuming class.

While Indonesian per capita foodstuff consumption has increased, for the bulk of the population the quality has declined, as reflected in the childhood stunting statistics.

Though the stunted children might be getting an adequate amount of food, they are missing the micronutrients that come with animal protein. The most important organ in the body is the brain, with most of the brain cells being created and refined in the first four years of life, so nutrients are prioritised for brain development and the rest of the body misses out. Severe protein deficiency results in kwashiorkor, the symptoms of which include brain damage.

Animal protein deficiency is causing an increasing rate of childhood stunting in Indonesia. Now let’s go on to examine the role of our Julia in contributing to the problem. Back in June 2011, the Gillard regime banned the export of live cattle to Indonesia. This was a major inconvenience to the Indonesians. Our cattlemen developed some other markets and our live cattle have been exported as far afield as Israel.

Vietnam has become a major market and Australian beef is labelled as such in Vietnamese shops. Indonesia is back to getting 80% of its beef from Australia but plans to reduce its reliance on us. It has built a ship to transport live cattle from the outer islands to Java. The ship, Camara Nusantara, is capable of transporting 500 cattle per month, well below the 700 to 900 Jakarta requires each day. Another seven vessels will be built in this programme.

Diversification away from Australia may include supply from India, though parts of that country are infected with foot and mouth disease. To circumvent this problem, the Indonesian government has suggested the establishment of quarantine islands. Cattle from countries that are not entirely disease free would be impounded on these islands until they are cleared for the Indonesian market.

Food production is the conversion of fossil fuels into protein, both to provide motive force for tractors and so on and also to capture nitrogen from the air. With respect to fossil fuel production, Indonesia’s oil production peaked in 1991 at 1.7 million barrels per day, and is now about half that and steadily declining.

Coal production has taken off faster than Australia’s and is now about 500 million tonnes per annum. Indonesia was an early mover in the LNG trade but now has signed contracts with Cheniere to import LNG all the way from the Gulf Coast of the United States. The imports will start from 2018. Indonesia could have got its LNG from Australia right next door but perhaps Ms Gillard’s lesson in the virtues of supply diversity was taken to heart.

On the plus side for Indonesia, their government has been making some better defense decisions than ours. They have better quality tanks and more of them. They have battlefield missiles; we don’t have any. They are buying the Su-35 fighter aircraft, which can shoot down our proposed F-35s at the rate of 2.4 F-35s for each Su-35 lost.

They are also ahead of us in getting to the energy source that will replace fossil fuels in keeping us all fed. They have leaped ahead of us while we wallow in helplessness and stupidity.

Successive Australian governments have tried to be nice to Indonesia, hoping they won’t regard us with animus. There isn’t any point, because public opinion can turn on a dime.

But we have a bit to answer for in our engagement with Indonesia. Julia Gillard’s actions might have resulted in a few million stunted children, but Gough Whitlam encouraged Sukarno to invade East Timor — resulting in a quarter of a million dead straight up, and decades of oppression. Indonesia has suffered more from Labor Prime Ministers than Australia has.

A country that has better weapons and nuclear reactors doesn’t need our aid, and the Indonesians have said that themselves.

There is one thing we should do. In their promises prior to the last Federal election, the Coalition said that it would build 100 dams across the north. In government, the Abbott regime released a white paper on northern development. The first recommendation of that report was to spend $20 million on legal fees for native title, betraying an utter cluelessness about how the world works.

For anything to ever happen, the white lawyers have to be taken out of the process. Even a handful of simple dams in the Kimberley could increase WA’s agricultural production by 50% and feed 30 million people. If we don’t, as a nation, then some other civilization will. That is the lesson from Indonesia’s infant malnutrition statistics. Let’s get on with it.