Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Cirebon
The traditional salt industry along the north coast of Cirebon regency, West Java, is in urgent need of modernization to help improve the quality of salt and the welfare of more than 32,000 salt farmers in the regency.
The farmers have complained that falling market prices of locally produced salt was affecting their livelihoods, leaving them unable to pay for their daily needs.
M. Insyaf Supriadi, chairman of a salt farmer's group in Cirebon, said at his salt plant on Tuesday that the traditional production methods farmers had used for decades were no longer effective because, besides being less productive, the product could not compete with imported salt.
""The farmers will remain poor and never be able to improve their lot if they continue using traditional methods. Therefore, the local administration, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, should take the initiative to introduce modern technology to produce quality salt with a competitive price,"" he said.
Insyaf said salt prices had dropped drastically to around Rp 100 (1 U.S. cent) per kilogram at present from between Rp 400 and Rp 500 per kilo in 2003.
""Each farmer harvests around 30 tons of salt in a three-month period but they have suffered losses because the Rp 3 million sale of harvested salt did not cover production costs, including the rent of one hectare of land, which has reached Rp 1.5 million, while workers are paid Rp 25,000 per day each,"" he said.
Farmers in the regency are holding onto their salt until March and April next year because of an oversupply in Java. The oversupply has been caused by the harvest season in north coastal areas.
Tjasmudi, 42, a salt farmer in Rawaurip village, Pangenan subdistrict, said the harvest season had not benefited salt farmers, many of whom had pulled their children out of school because they could no longer afford to pay school fees.
""Many farmers have stopped farming and sought new jobs at construction sites in urban areas to survive the difficult time,"" he said, adding that his two adolescent sons were working on a construction site in Jakarta.
Insyaf said he was lobbying the local administration to introduce modern technology and was appealing to state banks to provide low-interest loans to low-income salt farmers so as to empower them.