Indonesia’s new market disruptor for getting unglamorous produce to urbanites

“Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Agriculture assured there’s enough supply of rice and other staples to last through August, but in the last few days the President warned that provinces are seeing deficits.”


The price rollercoaster started around January and February. The skyrocketing garlic price, for example, was because there were delays in shipments from China, from where the bulk of the import comes. Indonesia imports 95% of its garlic, which doesn’t grow well in tropical climates.

Even domestic products are impacted, although to a lesser degree. The average price of rice across Indonesia during the first week of April rose to IDR 11,900 (US$0.79) per kg, a 1.28% increase from December 2019, according to research by the Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS).

In provinces that have imposed partial lockdowns, which includes Jakarta, rice prices are even higher—averaging IDR 13,500 (US$0.90) per kg in traditional markets.

The problem isn’t bad harvests—they were good and are expected to remain reasonably good this year, says Felippa Amanta, a food security expert at CIPS. It’s an accumulation of little things. The pandemic is throwing more sand into the already creaky machinery of food distribution.

There are fewer people working in facilities like storages or slaughterhouses; there are fewer surveyors inspecting goods arriving at the ports, which causes jams and delays.

In theory, food distribution should go ahead without disruption, says Amanta, because it is exempt of all work and travel restrictions. However, regional travel restrictions do make logistics unpredictable. Some cities introduced curfews, which means trucks have to wait overnight before they can offload.

“We don’t have figures, just anecdotes,” says Amanta. “We’re hearing that truck drivers are simply afraid of going around, and some local communities aren’t allowing food distribution coming into the region because they are afraid.”

This has meant there are also fewer trucks on the road than before the pandemic.

Closer to the source

Sayurbox hasn’t faced these logistical challenges, says Hernis. Its trucks are registered with authorities and drivers carry documentation as proof that they’re transporting food.

Agritech startups like Sayurbox attempt to reduce some of the friction in the supply chain by building relationships with farmers and linking them directly with the end-buyer. In Sayurbox’s case, these are individual customers in the Greater Jakarta area. The startup chose to focus on this demographic first.

Five-year-old Tanihub, another agritech company from a similar cohort, chose to focus on enterprise clients: food processing firms, resellers, hotels, and caterers. The company is present in several cities.

Tanihub’s model was initially more adapted to bulk orders, says Pamitra Wineka, its president and co-founder. But the startup was affected by the pandemic. After movement restrictions set in, its B2B arm saw less and less activity because businesses, especially in the hotel and restaurant sector, were winding down. Tanihub’s B2C arm simultaneously saw more demand.

B2C was never Tanihub’s strength, says Wineka. The firm introduced it mostly for branding, so that there’d be a reason for people to know Tanihub.