Indonesian farmers guard precious chillies against thieves

With sickles and slingshots in hand, farmers in Indonesia are guarding chilli plants from thieves, after prices for the much-loved spice jumped five-fold.

Indonesian farmers guard precious chillies against thieves

With sickles and slingshots in hand, farmers in Indonesia are guarding chilli plants from thieves, after prices for the much-loved spice jumped five-fold in the past year to boost inflation and worry the government.

Around-the-clock patrols for chilli farmers in Kediri in the eastern part of Java island have started as the price of the spicy ingredient reached around 100,000 rupiah ($11) a kilo, more expensive than beef and about a tenth of the minimum wage.

"Poor farmers are taking the whole family -- their wife and children -- to guard their chilli fields," Sukoco, a farmer in Kediri, one of East Java's biggest chilli farming areas, told Reuters.

"Now villages are empty at night, while the fields are full of people," he added.

The United Nations' food agency (FAO) said on Wednesday that food prices hit a record high last month, exceeding 2008 levels when riots broke out in various countries.

Rising chilli and rice prices helped push up Indonesia's annual inflation to a 20-month high near 7 percent in December, and spurred the country's president and trade minister to urge households to plant foods such as chillies at home.

Farmers have previously conducted patrols when chilli prices were on the rise, but this time the price increase has alerted many to beef up security, including by doubling guards at 3-4 a.m. and 6-7 p.m..

Sukoco said farmers are opting for slingshots over sickles once they single out thieves, who are mostly spotted when a chilly shrub shakes unnaturally. Thieves are responding by taking whole plants instead of picking each red pod. ($1 = 8997.5 Rupiah)

Reuters

Last Mod: 07 Ocak 2011, 16:12
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