Tejakula salt farmers enjoy golden harvest

BY ALIT KERTARAHARDJA ON 2012-07-17 – found in the Jakarta Post http://www.thejakartapost.com

Ketut Samba, 69, and Bagus Made Madri, 65, were once poor salt farmers in the remote village of Tejakula, 25 kilometers east of Singaraja, the capital of Buleleng regency.

They worked extremely hard, night and day, processing seawater into traditional salt using very simple methods passed on from one generation to the next.

“We worked like mules, only to earn about Rp 50,000 (US$5.40) to Rp 75,000 per day,” Samba recalled, thinking of his gloomy days.

By using the traditional method, every salt farmer in the village might harvest 25- to 30-kilograms of processed sea salt, priced at about Rp 5,000 to Rp 6,000 per kilogram.

“We could produce sea-salt every two days,” Madri added.

Bagus Made, who has been working as a salt farmer since his teenage years, said he used his meager income to support his family and to send his children to school.

But Made and his fellow farmers in the village could only afford to send their children to elementary schools. Very few children in the village could have the advantage of a junior high school education.

About 100 farmers in Tejakula have been producing sea-salt using techniques going back hundreds of years. Tejakula sea-salt is famous for the high-quality crystals and high mineral content.

“We were working under the scorching sun channeling seawater into salt ponds in order to allow the sea-water to evaporate naturally,” Made explained.

The farmers later heated the seawater until salt crystals formed on the surface. Once the crystallization process was complete, farmers would be ready to collect the salt crystals from the ponds covered by coconut trunks, or trays filtered using sand.

This traditional processing technique, according to a laboratory test conducted by a Japanese company in Japan, had many benefits because of the absence of any refining process, which allowed the salt to retain important minerals such as iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iodine.

The laboratory test, conducted in 2005, revealed that Tejakula sea-salt was among the highest quality in Indonesia, containing minerals including calcium.

Despite the time and energy-consuming work, the Tejakula salt farmers remained poor and helpless until new hope was brought in by a local company.

PT Neo Logis joined hands with a Japanese investor to sell the sea-salt produced in Tejakula village
directly to the Japanese market.

Made Widnyana, the company’s manager, said that one of the company’s objectives was to improve the living conditions of local sea-salt farmers.

“They have abundant resources and a centuries-old processing technique that has been producing high-quality salt,” said Widnyana.

But the local market price for their salt had been so low that it had made it difficult for them to lead even a modest life. “Many of them have sold their salt ponds and processing sites to investors, who built hotels and villas along the Tejakula coastline,” he said.

At present, the company is working with 26 sea-salt farmers, who produce “Garam Super Tejakula”.

The company pays Rp 60,000 per kilogram for traditionally processed salt (as compared to only Rp 5,000 per kilogram in previous years).Other types of processed salt they produce are “Garam Piramid” (pyramid-shaped salt), which is sold at Rp 220,000 per kilogram, “Garam Dice” valued at Rp 150,000 per kilogram, while “Garam Snow” is sold at Rp 100,000 per kilogram. With these rocketing prices, the Tejakula farmers are now enjoying lucrative and robust times.

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