Healthy Diets from Sustainable Production: Indonesia

Indonesia has an uncommon chance to bypass the negative trajectory of diets in other emerging economies and build a healthy and sustainable food system.

Research paper Published 24 January 2019 Updated 15 September 2023

Indonesian Muslims prepare foods for iftar at the Jogokariyan Mosque on 3 June 2017 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo: Sijori Images / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images.

Indonesian Muslims prepare foods for iftar at the Jogokariyan Mosque on 3 June 2017 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo: Sijori Images / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images.


  • Indonesia is approaching a key point on its development pathway. Rapidly declining poverty, a growing and urbanizing middle class with increased purchasing power and consumption patterns, and a diminishing contribution of agriculture to overall GDP are all set to fundamentally reorient much in society.
  • Dietary change is at the heart of the public health and environmental challenges now facing Indonesia. Rates of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes are on the increase, while high levels of childhood undernutrition persist. This double burden of malnutrition presents a critical challenge for the future of Indonesian public health.
  • At the same time, shifts in diet are placing increased pressure on the environment, threatening biodiversity and species loss and rapidly increasing risks for land-use change, climate change and freshwater use. In Indonesia, these environmental impacts of agriculture are driven both by domestic consumption of food and biofuels, and by a focus on export-led agricultural growth – particularly palm oil, rubber, coffee and cocoa.
  • A core political focus on achieving national self-sufficiency in five strategic commodities – soy, rice, maize, sugar and beef – which has led to some price distortion, and the growing influence of modernized retail are potentially at odds with a transition to healthy diets from sustainable production.
  • The components to support an ambitious national food strategy already exist, but are either underutilized or misdirected. Indonesia’s national dietary guidelines and examples of successful food-based social services, together with the country’s potential to lead the sustainable production and consumption agenda, both regionally and internationally, and its commitments under both the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, can all be harnessed to foster improved diets.
  • There is a need to align high-level policy strategies across environment, public health and food issues. Mainstreaming the principles of a healthy diet within existing food policy and partnering with food providers and local pioneers to champion these efforts can help to ensure that healthy diets, produced sustainably, become the norm.
  • Between now and 2020, when Indonesia embarks on the final five-year tranche of its National Long-Term Development Plan, there is an important window of opportunity to take decisive action that will influence the future trajectory of the population’s health and that of its environment, as well as contribute substantively to the global fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.
  • 2019 will, meanwhile, be a critical election year in Indonesia, with both presidential and legislative elections due. Signals from Indonesian media and civil society organizations indicate that poverty reduction and social equity – including affordability of good food and healthcare – will be among the flagship issues for voters.
  • The moment is thus ripe for a bold new vision for a sustainable food system that supports healthy diets for all. In choosing to act now, Indonesia could lay the foundations for a more resilient and equitable development pathway that prioritizes improved public health while at the same time safeguarding some of the world’s most important ecosystems for future generations.