Spiraling inflation: Poor Indonesians eating less fish

High fish price.

There was still plenty of fish at Paijo’s stall in Sidoarjo the morning Maritime Fairtrade visited.  It was not like this in the past.  Before the recent fuel price increase, he could sell 10 to 20 mackerel and selar fish to housewives from poor families. Both types of fish were considered a cheap source of protein for the poor.  However, a mackerel or selar fish weighing 250 grams now cost IDR 10,000 (US$0.67), up from IDR 5,000 (US$0.33).

Paijo said he was forced to increase his price because his suppliers charged him more now that the government raised fuel price on September 3.

Paijo’s stall.

“Immediately after the government’s announcement, the price of mackerel and selar keeps climbing.  The price has now stabilized at around IDR 10,000 for a quarter kilogram, an increase of 50 percent.  I don’t want to raise my price but I will make a loss if I don’t. What can I do?” said Paijo.  

At 9 am, there were still plenty of fish left at Paijo’s stall.  Previously, all the fish were sold out by 8 am latest.  Many of the poor in Sidoargo are now forgoing fish and Paijo reckoned his business dropped by 50 percent.  Maritime Fairtrade talked to two housewives from poor families who said they are struggling to make ends meet and they have to cut down on buying fish.


Suci, wife of a factory worker, has to care for her three children while her husband works. 

“My husband’s salary has not increased for many years even though things are now so expensive with inflation.  I now buy two fish instead of four liked I used to.  The two fish are for my children, they need the protein and nutrition.   The children are our priority.  It does not matter that me and my husband eat only white rice and salt,” Suci said.

Solar fish.

Ambarwati has two children and her husband works as a driver in a logistics company.  In order to buy the same quantity of fish for her family, Ambarwati now works several part-time jobs.  She admitted to being very tired from working, doing housework and caring for her two children who are younger than five years old.

“I have no choice.  I have to work part-time to supplement my husband’s income now that things are so expensive.  My husband works until late at night every day, so he cannot work a second job,” said Ambarwati.

“Chicken and beef are more expensive than fish, therefore we can only afford fish.  My children need the protein to grow healthily and my husband has to eat enough to have energy for work. So, even though it is hard, I have to work. I wash and iron cloth and clean the house for neighbors who need these services.” 

Both Suci and Ambarwati hoped that the government can do more to help poor people like them, like giving them cash aid.  They know it is unrealistic but they still hope fuel price will go down soon.

Leftover fish at Paijo’s stall.

Bagong Suyanto, professor of social sciences, Airlangga University (UNAIR) Surabaya, said the harsh life of the poor, made more difficult by the fuel price hike, deserved more attention from the government.  If left unmitigated, the hike may lead to a jump in the poverty rate. 

“The domino effect of rising fuel prices has triggered a series of price increases for people’s daily necessities. Those who are poor will feel the added burden and they will struggle more,” said Bagong.

“Importantly too, the government has to take note of the borderline poor.  Before inflation and fuel price increase, they were not categorized as poor.  However, now, they have slipped into the poor category and will feel a lot of economic pressure.  This is a group of people which has the potential to increase drastically.

“The government’s social aid program is not adequate.  The poor is now given a cash aid of IDR 600,000 (US$40) but is this enough to help with rising inflation? I do not think so.  I think the government has to do more to help the poor.”

All photos credit: Ibnu Wibowo.

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