Documentary highlights REEEP efficiency project in Indonesian tempe industry

30-06-2014, Jakarta, Indonesia

If you’re interested in energy efficiency, improving health and livelihoods, and environmental protection, it’s time to talk about tempe. What is tempe? It is a firm soy-based product similar to tofu and the most consumed protein source in Indonesia. It contains antioxidants, and has numerous health benefits, including reducing cholesterol and preventing hypertension. Tempe in Indonesia is a €700 million per year industry, yet the majority of producers are micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs), most of which still operate under sub-standard, unhygienic conditions and use mainly firewood as fuel.

With co-funding from the European Commission and in partnership with Mercy Corps Indonesia, REEEP supported a project called “Scaling up energy efficiency in Tofu and Tempe MSMEs in Indonesia.” Mercy Corps recently released a video demonstrating the success of this project, the focus of which is a modern, sustainable pilot factory in southern Jakarta which serves as an example for the great opportunity for improving the environment and livelihoods throughout the sector in Indonesia.

As discussed in the video, the boiling drums used in traditional production breed bacteria and are prone to rust which can contaminate the soybeans. Liquid waste is disposed of carelessly and wood fuel burning is inefficient and endangers the health of workers, filling the production area with smoke and ash. In addition, the traditional tempe industry in Indonesia produces approximately 29 million tonnes of carbon each year.

Since 2012 Mercy Corps has facilitated the shift to a modernized tempe industry, with key transitions from wood fuel to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and from oil drums to stainless steel barrels. The pilot tempe factory featured in the video boasts a productivity level equivalent to twenty-two traditional enterprises. Production wastes have been consciously managed, even converting liquid wastes into biogas which can be reused in the production process, reducing the use of LPG by 35%. Overall production is more hygienic and follows strict quality measures, ultimately producing a better product.

Furthermore, the transition to modernized equipment has proven to be cost effective. Despite the initial investment, stainless steel barrels need only be replaced every 10 years, while oil drums require replacement every 4-6 months, ultimately incurring a higher cost. Likewise, switching to LPG is not only more cost effective than fuel wood, but more efficient in worker’s time finding the wood and downtime due to associated health consequences.

So it is clear: investment in the modernization of the tempe industry in Indonesia has economic, health, and environmental benefits while producing a better consumer product. Producers from all over the world have visited the Mercy Corps pilot factory to learn from their example, which has great potential for scaling up and accessing new markets such as restaurants and hotels.