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Sago Meets the Community’s Food and Environmental Conservation Needs

  • Date:
    16 Oct 2021
  • Author:

Written by:

Professior of Gastronomy from STP Trisakti

Dr. Saptarining Wulan



Many countries in the world, including Indonesia, commemorate World Food Day every October 16. Food is so important to humans that we need to commemorate it to remind us that obtaining food is a fundamental human right. Various events are held to celebrate this day every year, with topics usually related to the world’s food condition at that time. Just like in 2020, still in the Covid-19 pandemic condition, the theme was “Grow, Nourish, Sustain, Together”. During the pandemic, where families stay at home, they rely on farmers to meet the food needs of every family. During this time each family also begins a positive culture of planting, whether it is planting flowers in pots, or vegetables in their yard for the family to consume.


For this year, 2021, where countries in the world are still experiencing the pandemic, FAO conveys the theme for World Food Day, namely “Our actions are our future-Better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life”.  The food we choose and consume will affect our health and our earth. This will impact the food farming system. The UN Secretary General, at the Food System Summit event in September, emphasized changing the way we produce and consume food to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) program.


Related to the theory from Thomas Robert Malthus, stating that population growth follows a geometric series while food growth follows an arithmetic series, no efforts to develop food crops will lead to famine. Added with climate change, most of the impact will hit the most sensitive sector, which is food farming. This is happening in every country in the world, including Indonesia. The population continues to rise, which of course is followed by increasing needs for food and housing. Land conversion will surely rise, too. Fertile lands change function to residential and industrial areas, while farming lands move to marginal lands that require special treatment to produce a better food farming production. Even forest lands shift functions to fulfill human needs, specifically for food farming and housing areas.


Thus, there needs to be a food plant/crop with high productivity, can live both on fertile and marginal lands with little treatment, is not harmful to the environment, and is resistant to the impact of climate change. The food plant fulfilling these criteria is generally an indigenous crop whose growth is suitable with the natural vegetation in its location. In Indonesia, one of its indigenous plants that store carbohydrates in its stem is the sago tree (Metroxylon Robb. sp). Sago is believed to be the first staple food in Indonesia and has existed thousands of years ago, proven by the finding of sago tree relief in Borobudur and Sriwijaya temples. Sago trees spread and form sago forests, which are spread across Sabang to Merauke. Until today, the largest population of sago forest is located in Papua and Maluku, even though its highest productivity is in Riau. Traditional foods that use sago essence as the basic ingredient are still found in Papua. Also foods similar to Papeda, only with different naming such as Kapurung, Sinole, Onyop, Sinonggi, can be found in Maluku and Sulawesi. However, these foods are mainly consumed by older generations and are starting to be abandoned by the young generation.


Indonesian people have various foods from the old times until today, starting from those coming from trees, tubers, and seeds. However, with the Rice for the Poor (Raskin) program during President Soeharto’s era, we have become very dependent on one staple food commodity, which is rice. Even until this time, our food farming programs continue to rely on three food farming commodities, namely: paddy, corn, and soybean, or is commonly referred to as Pajale. Just like during the opening of the National Sporting Week XX (PON XX) in Papua, President Jokowi asked millennial farmers in Papua to plant corns (IG: @pangan_news.id). In fact, the largest area of sago forest from the total population of sago forests in Indonesia is located in Papua. But, with the Pajale program, the people in Papua are still eating rice as their staple food. Even the younger generations no longer consume sago as their staple food, but they consume rice. Sago is mostly only consumed by older generations because of their love for it and the emotional bond when they ate sago as a child. It needs our awareness to restore the love for Sago as nature’s gift for Indonesia, to provide food prosperity to the young generations, especially the people in Papua. This way, its sustainability will not be cut off from the older to younger generations of this nation.


Sago, Indonesia’s indigenous plant that used to be the first staple food in the country, has now become a Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS). It has even become an inferior food, losing to contemporary food more attractive to younger generations. As an NUS plant, sago will be crucial when the country is in a state of emergency. Just like during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the national food security is tested due to the pandemic happening all over the world, export-import activities are non-existent, everything must be made sufficient from within each of the countries. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Jend. Doni Monardo, who at that time was the Head of National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) and Budi Waseso as the President Director of Logistical Affairs Agency (Bulog), to maintain national resilience, highlighted that for food security, we did not need to panic and should calm down, because we still had sago reserves for our food supply. Reserves of sago essence at the time were abundant in Riau, amounting to thousands of tons, because they could not be exported to the neighboring country, Malaysia, and also to Japan. Sago farmers and crafters felt enthusiastic about sago being highlighted as the carbohydrate reserves of this country. However, as time goes by, Sago is back to being forgotten and the government program continues to Pajale program with the opening of food estate in several areas to plant horticultural and Pajale plants.


Sago, as Indonesia’s indigenous plant, has several advantages from the productivity, nutritional, and environmental aspects. From the productivity side, sago trees produce dry sago essence around 150-300 kg per tree, or equivalent to 20-40 tons/ha/year. Compared to rice, its productivity is around 6-12 tons/ha/year. From a nutritional standpoint, sago has a distinct advantage from other food, namely: 1. Gluten-free, very suitable for children with special needs, 2. Low Glycemic Index (GI), very good to consume for people with diabetes, 3. High resistant starch, good to consume for people with celiac disease or those with sensitive digestive systems. In addition, sago is also an organic food, because its plantations do not use chemicals, and its processing does not use bleaching.


Now, from the productivity and nutritional aspects, sago has a number of advantages, let alone from the environmental aspect. Sago plant, from the environmental perspective, has so many advantages compared to other food plants, namely: can grow well in both mineral and marginal lands, does not require fertilizers, has water catchment nature, resistant against floods, resistant against long draughts, resistant against strong winds, its shoot is resistant against fires, and no pest attack. Even caterpillars living in the stem of sago trees can be used as sources of protein for the local people.


Because our community has already loved rice and noodles, with technological advancement and innovation, sago essence can be produced to become sago rice (analog rice) and sago noodles, whose taste is on par with rice and flour-made noodles. So what are we waiting for, nature has already provided, in abundance, food security. It is up to us to conserve and use it well. It is sago’s advantages from productivity, nutritional, and environmental aspects that make it one of Indonesia’s solutions on food security, both during climate change and for the food of the future. Healthy Sago Food, Healthy Strong Body


Happy World Food Day, October 16, 2021: “Our actions are our future-Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life