Surya Fachrizal, Iqbal Musyaffa, Jepara, Indonesia – Farmers look forward to the harvest season as a time to reap the rewards from a year of hard work, but unfortunately this does not apply to Indonesia's salt farmers.
They cannot enjoy the fruits of their labor because the price of the commodity has plummeted this season.
This year, the price of salt has dropped to 30,000 rupiah ($2.13) per quintal at a salt center in Kedungmalang Village in Jepara, Central Java – a far cry from 2017, when it sold for 300,000 rupiah ($21.29) per quintal.
To make matters worse, even if they sell it for 30,000 rupiah per quintal, they will not get the money right away. If they are lucky enough, the soonest they will get paid is within a week.
"We do not know what to do. How can we meet our daily needs if we have zero income?" F. Razikin, the head of Kedungmalang Village, told Anadolu Agency.
There are currently around 100 salt farmers in Kedungmalang, and almost half of them make a living off fishing. Salt farmers cannot fully switch to fishing due to the bad weather.
"Besides the bad weather, we will only find small fish in the sea at harvest time," said Makhalul Zafran, a local fisherman.
The harvest season for salt usually occurs during the dry season from July to September.
This is such a huge loss for salt farmers as they have spent large amounts of money to rent land, buy specific tarps and pay for labor services.
A number of salt farmers told Anadolu Agency that they have spent 30 million rupiah ($2,129) for this year's harvest season.
They are able to produce up to 30 tons of salt each season. If the average price amounted to 300,000 rupiah per ton, they will only get around 9 million rupiah ($639) for this season.
Some farmers prefer to store their crop while waiting for prices to improve. The problem is their crop from last year's harvest is piling up in their warehouses.
Zaropi, 49, has been hoarding 250 tons of salt from last year and will most likely store a similar amount this year in the hope that the market will rebound.
"I have been hoarding salt for eight years. It seems that I have to do it again this year," he said, adding he had to get a loan to pay the laborers.
Small farmers are facing the same problem. Abdul Muid assists his wife Inayah in sewing clothes after working hard in the salt fields.
"I have 35 tons of salt from last year's harvest. However, our earnings will not be enough to pay our debts," said Muid.
On the other hand, Musoddaq, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, prefers to sell his crop even though he is clearly aware that he will not make a profit. "I do not want to owe another debt," he said.
Meanwhile, Rohmat is struggling with a damaged crop with the color of the salt turning yellowish instead of white.
The damaged salt can only be valued at 15,000 rupiah ($1.06) per quintal, so he is trying to earn more income by getting hired as a laborer in other farmers' salt fields.
Impact of imported salt
The Indonesian government has allowed the import of 2.7 million tons of salt for industrial purposes this year.
The policy of importing salt has been adopted because farmers were only able to produce 1.12 million tons of salt, while some 3.7 million tons was needed.
Ironically, 1.5 million tons of salt from last year's harvest has not been absorbed by the market.
This policy is considered the cause of salt prices falling drastically. In 2017, the price of salt reached 300,000 rupiah per quintal but dropped to 30,000-50,000 rupiah per quintal this year.
Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti said the recent importing of salt was done excessively. "The salt price is falling due to excessive imports. That is the problem, period," she said in early July.
On the other hand, Achmad Sigit Dwiwahjono Director General of the Chemical, Pharmaceutical and Textile Industries under the Ministry of Industry, said the government has been importing salt to meet domestic needs.
Indonesia is one of the countries with the widest coastlines in the world, where its salt is traditionally produced. Ironically, it has not been able to meet its salt needs even after many years.
For one thing, it is not self-sufficient in salt production due to its heavy reliance on the weather, which affects output. In addition, the salt produced by local famers is not processed based on industry needs but more for consumers' needs. It is also not considered suitable for industry needs because it is of a different type.
Under these conditions, the country's salt farmers have always been victims, suffering the most disadvantages from the current situation, while the only thing they want is a stable price so they can make a profit and meet their daily needs.