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Rising soybean prices anger Indonesian tofu makers
The drought scouring the farming heartlands of the United States -- the world's biggest producer of corn and soybeans -- is the worst in 25 years, reportedly affecting 11 percent of soybean crops.
In the Indonesian capital Jakarta and in West Java around 23,000 tofu and tempeh makers -- mostly small family-owned businesses -- first demanded that a five percent import duty be removed, then said they would strike anyway after the government dropped the levy.
"We are upset because the soybean price just keeps rising. Producers have been forced to make the size of the cakes smaller and consumers are angry." said Sutaryo, chairman of the Indonesian Tofu and Tempeh Cooperative.
Locally, the price of soybeans has risen from 5,500 rupiah ($0.58) a kilogram in January to 8,000 rupiah now, in turn driving up prices of tofu and tempeh by 30 percent since April, Sutaryo said.
Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Rajasa told reporters that import duties in place since January would be suspended beginning this month.
"We have agreed to provide an exemption of the five percent import duty on soybeans until the end of the year. We hope the traders will adjust their prices accordingly and not take advantage," he said.
That did not placate manufacturers, who said they were not objecting to the levy alone but to prices driven up by shortages, caused by the drought.
"We stopped production today and will continue until Friday, even with the levy lifted," Sutaryo said.
"Tofu and tempeh are poor man's food. Poor people can't afford meat, and now if they can't afford tofu and tempeh too, what do they eat?" he said.
With about half of Indonesia's 240 million population living on less than $2 a day, many virtually survive on tofu and tempeh, which are rich in protein and were virtually absent from shops on Wednesday.
The price of a kilogram of tempeh rose from 6,000 rupiah in April to 8,000 rupiah presently, while a four-ounce piece of tofu jumped from 400 rupiah to 500 rupiah.
According to local reports, Indonesia imports 60 percent of its soybean from the United States.
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