Long Lines for Subsidized Rice Highlights the Struggle of Indonesia’s Less Fortunate Communities


State food procurement agency Bulog is running a temporary bazaar in the city of Bekasi, east capital of Jakarta. Dozens of Indonesians, mostly women, endure the snaking lines to buy bags of subsidized rice, grabbing tickets to ensure their purchase.

The price of rice in Indonesia has climbed to more than 16% since 2023 due to the El Nino weather phenomenon that has reduced rainfall across large parts of Asia. El Nino has reduced grain output, giving rise to food inflation.

“It’s better to queue up and have the rice at home. It is expensive in the market, so better to get it cheap here,” says Masih, a 55-year-old coconut vendor who was among those in the queue, buying a 5kg bag of rice.

Rice prices at the bazaar are capped at 10,600 IDR (67.8 US cents) per kg, compared to the 14,300 IDR found in the open market. Bulog limits sales to 10 kg per customer to prevent hoarding.

The National Food Agency which oversees Bulog said that it has conducted 429 makeshift bazaars throughout the country in January alone, distributing more than 300,00 metric tons of rice from government reserves. They plan on 315 more bazaars by the end of February.

Planting delays and lack of rains in Indonesia have delayed the peak harvest by a month, with farm ministry data showing a rice supply deficit of 1.63 million metric tons in January and 1.15 million in February. The country imported record volumes of rice in 2023. Indonesia has also allocated an additional import quota of 1.6 million metric tons on top of 2 million tons previously approved for 2024, potentially triggering further gains in global prices which are near 16-year highs.