The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed problems in Indonesia’s food system. Not only did it disturb food supply chains and restrict food production, but it also exposes long-term food insecurities, such as problems of physical access to food with greater reliance on the market and challenges in logistics, and problems in economic access as more households are not able to purchase food due to job and livelihood loss.

The pandemic has forced us to rethink and find alternatives to make our food system more resilient. In December 2020, a report released by the High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy highlight the potential role of the sea in overcoming food insecurity and malnutrition and transforming our food system to become more resilient towards shocks and climate change.

Here is how food from the sea can help Indonesia achieve food security and nutrition:

First, contribution of fish and food from the sea as a source of protein and other nutrients.

Food from the ocean, especially fish, are undoubtedly important to people’s diet in Indonesia, contributing as much as 50 percent of all animal protein intake and acting as an affordable protein source for marginalized households. Despite the fact that fish contributes to 50 percent of total animal protein consumed in Indonesia, statistics showed that Indonesia is low in protein intake to meet dietary guidelines, especially when compared to the consumption of carbohydrates. This, among others, is why Indonesia is one of the largest countries in the world facing the severe double burden of malnutrition, both under- and over-nutrition, i.e., stunting, and obesity.

To overcome this situation, food from the sea can provide reliable protein sources, essential fats, and nutrients to improve health and well-being. Tropical warm water marine fish in Indonesia’s ocean contains a high concentration of calcium, iron, and zinc. With its high protein value, fish provides better protein components compared to meat and provides micronutrients (e.g. vitamin A, B, and D, etc.), essential for fighting the high number of stunting and malnutrition in the country. Furthermore, fish can provide access to low-cost protein for marginalized households, whether through the market or by harvesting directly in coastal areas or the sea.

Second, contribution to a sustainable livelihood.

The fisheries sector remains a critical source of livelihood for small-scale, artisanal, and traditional fishing communities. About 90 percent of fishers in Indonesia are small-scale fishers, and more than 80 percent of Indonesian fish catches are from the small-scale fishery.

However, small-scale fishing has often been termed as the “livelihood of last resort” and treated as a subordinate category on the national fisheries development plan. Fisher communities also remain the poorest of the poor, where 2.7 million fishers in Indonesia contributed to 25 percent of the national poverty rate with most of them living under the poverty line. Limited assistance from the government for small-scale fishers on the national fisheries agenda, often marginalizes small-scale fishers and traps them in poverty. These grueling conditions were also exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

Securing fishers' livelihood and ability to continue their livelihood practices is important in the effort to ensure accessibility and stability of food security for a large population group in Indonesia. This also includes an urgent need to pay attention to fisherwomen and women who work in the fisheries sector.

Third, contribution to dietary diversity with less environmental impact than land-produced food.

Indonesia has the potential to further develop diverse diets and diverse livelihoods by incorporating the harvesting and production of food from the sea.

Marine culture (mariculture) in Indonesia is the most productive and has the potential to play a significant role in Indonesia’s food security and nutrition, especially for unfed mariculture (e.g., seaweed and marine bivalves). Seaweed production is the largest share of the total aquaculture production in Indonesia. Like other unfed mariculture organisms, seaweed does not require additional feed, as they extract food sources from their surrounding environment, and thus cut the cost of the operations. Marine bivalves (e.g., mussels, clams, oysters) are also a source of affordable and high-protein food. They also help to clean waterways in or to the ocean, as they eat organic particulates such as excess algae.

Furthermore, there is other seafood, based on the local ecosystem that has long been part of local food, which is both affordable and high protein food. For example, Bactronophorus sp. or locally known in many names in Indonesia, which is a mollusk that lives in deadwood submerged in brackish water. It is an important source of protein for Mentawai people in Sumatera Barat and is called toek. Toek are harvested from the trunk of tumung tree (genus plant Campnosperma) that has been immersed in brackish water for months. The continuous consumption of toek, ensures the protection of the tumung tree in coastal forest. Not only that, but this also proves that exploring local food can open up opportunities to initiate and integrate local wisdom into ocean resources management.

Indonesia has the potential to further develop its unfed mariculture sustainably. However, many Indonesia coastal areas are heavily polluted. This became a challenge for unfed mariculture, as a polluted environment raises concerns for its consumption since marine bivalves and seaweed can absorb pollution, toxins, and bacteria from the water. Thus, expanding mariculture sustainably also means making the commitment to eradicate pollution problems in coastal areas.

Although climate change is expected to reduce the productivity of mariculture, studies showed that the reduction remains small compared to the potential of the production. Furthermore, cultivating food through mariculture is advantageous from a climate change perspective, since its production does not directly drive land conversion and produce lower greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, expanding sustainable mariculture will also make seafood more accessible to a lot of people.

In conclusion, there is an urgent need to explore the untapped potential of food from the sea to secure Indonesia food security and nutrition, this includes pushing for incorporating food from the sea, especially those already familiar to locals; creating livelihood and climate-friendly food production, are ways on how the ocean can partake in creating a resilient food system.