Revolution from the Kitchen: A Case of Empowering Female Local Innovators in Jember

Blog by Silvana Paath, March 8, 2019

Getting healthy, tasty and affordable food in Indonesia is (still) not easy for most consumers. The market—and therefore the food on the dining tables—is overwhelmingly unhealthy and ultra-processed. In Jember, East Java province, a number of female-led SMEs have started their own revolution—from the kitchen. Can these female-led SMEs be empowered to be part of the solution in providing healthy food in Indonesia? Let’s find out…

SMEs in Indonesia

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Indonesia’s food sector. Food SMEs account for around 80% of the total SMEs and 90% of the total number of companies in the food and beverage industry.

Despite the common issues that SMEs face in the country—including a lack of capital, limited market access, and insufficient human resources—Hivos and partners believe that there is great potential for committed actors, like SMEs, to provide more healthy, tasty and affordable food across the country. And given its ubiquitous culinary heritage, Indonesian SMEs can furthermore play a valuable role in preserving local and traditional food in their respective regions.

There is an increasing number of SMEs in Indonesia – usually led by females – selling food products that are healthy and made from locally sourced ingredients. Since taste and presentation are crucial for attracting consumers, especially in competition with the marketing and commercial and ultra-processed food, these SMEs are also challenged to be creative in creating menus that are not only delicious but also look enticing.

Sustainable Diets
Some creation from Ledokombo’s food entrepreneurs. Photo: Hivos

Empowering local innovators in Jember

On 1 October 2017, three female food entrepreneurs stepped onto the Jember airport‘s tarmac feeling jubilant. They were returning from Jakarta, where they had just won third prize in a national-level culinary competition, which is organized by the Ministry of Tourism every year. It was a proud moment for everyone as they were only nominated by the District Tourism Office to attend the event less than two weeks prior to it starting, leaving very little time to prepare. For one of the ladies, it was her first airplane ride ever!

One of the proud women is Ibu (Mrs.) Enny Melly. Ibu Enny and her friends, Ibu Halimah and Ibu Maesah, along with other culinary group members in the Ledokombo sub-districts, have received monthly assistance from Tanoker since 2016. Tanoker is one of Hivos’ Sustainable Diets for All’s (SD4All) local partners in Indonesia.

Collaborating with the local university, chef association, and other experts, Tanoker provides capacity building activities for people around the topics of nutrition, creativity, healthy cooking, and group organization. Ibu Enny participated in the trainings and now Tanoker regularly invites her and the other local innovators to be partners and participate in relevant discussions, in local culinary bazaars, as well as at the region’s famed Annual Stilt Festival.

Ibu Enny as a local food leader

Winning a national award hasn’t stopped Ibu Enny from innovating with her menus and meals. Her catering business is booming and she has been consistent in creating and promoting healthy food.

The District Education Office took note of her expertise and experience as a resource person on healthy food. On 21 April 2018, the Chair of the Women’s Organization of the Jember District Education Office, Dharma Wanita, appointed Ibu Enny as their representative to participate in the Jember Regency’s culinary competition with the theme, “Food Independence”. Ibu Enny prepared rice cooked in screw pine leaf, mushroom skewers, cassava, tofu muffins, chili paste with turkey berry and anchovies, papaya pudding and pineapple juice. And the total production cost was 1.25 euros, showing that producing healthy and tasty menu is also affordable.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Ibu Enny won the competition. Since beginning with nothing but an idea in 2016, Ibu Enny has grown to become a widely respected female leader who represents the female food SMEs in her region.

Sustainable Diets
Ibu Enny and her fellow food entrepreneur Ibu Latifah during a cooking session. Photo: Tanoker

‘Food Diplomacy’ advocacy to create demand

Ibu Enny’s success, however, would not necessarily have come to be without public campaigning about the availability of healthy food alternatives. Creating demand for the food is vital to entrepreneurs like Ibu. Here, Tanoker has also played a critical role. They combine their capacity building of local SMEs with running consumer campaigns throughout culinary bazaars. They also approach various strategic government and stakeholder groups to introduce the food to people.

Since 2017, Tanoker has been actively promoting “Food of the Month”, i.e. curated products from their culinary groups. Then they provide food to relevant stakeholders such as government agencies, journalists, local schools, public and others, often during meetings or events. This kind of persuasive ‘Food Diplomacy’ advocacy among various actors has brought lots of opportunities to local culinary groups who strive to explore, innovate and sell healthy food options. Getting government officials and local leaders on board in terms of healthy food awareness has also led them to become buyers and champions of the food.

The promise of women-led healthy food SMEs

Within just two years, the experiences of women-led SMEs in Jember, like that of Ibu Enny’s, show that women clearly have vital roles to play in the ongoing healthy food revolution. Like good food, however, success requires a good recipe: a concoction of motivated women, capacity building and well-targeted campaigns.

On this International Women’s Day, we at Hivos celebrate women like Ibu Enny and her fellow entrepreneurs, as well as our partners like Tanoker, who dedicate time to empowering them to develop and strengthen as SMEs so they can transform the food landscape, one mouth at a time.