The increasing demand for Kolbano colored stones has made residents living near Kolbano Beach in Timor Tengah Selatan, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), change from farming to collecting stones.
Local residents collect the stones along the 30 kilometer coastline for companies operating under mining permits (IUP).
“If we stick to farming, we have to wait until the rainy season to grow our crops. On the other hand, collecting stones knows no season. We can earn more than Rp 50,000 [US$5] per day,” Okto Benu, one of the stone collectors, said recently.
The beach, which is home to around 2,000 people, has long been known as a haven for surfers and it is now recognized as the center for colored stones.
The Kolbano stones, which have unique shapes and come in an array of colors, including red, gray and rainbow hues, have become increasingly popular with many local and international buyers.
The Kolbano stones, Okto said, sold for between Rp 15,000 and Rp 30,000 per 25 kilogram sack.
“In the international market, a kilogram of stones usually sells for between Rp 10,000 and Rp 25,000. It all depends on the size, shape and color,” said Okto.
“The most expensive is a gray coin-like stone, which sells for Rp 25,000 per kilogram,” he added.
He said the stones were exported to several countries, including Australia, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and on occasion even to Europe and the US.
Within Indonesia also, the stones have become sought-after accessories, particularly among hotel managers, with the stones often being used as decorative items in rooms and suites.
Despite good prospects in the stone business, locals complain about the stones’ low selling prices, particularly in the domestic market.
Matias Taopan, head of the stone mining, said he had no choice but to follow suit, as the prices had been set along with other mining owners.
“Residents often file protests because the stones sold are way too cheap. But owners also say that the price has been set that way to cover shipping costs,” said Matias.
Timor Tengah Selatan Legislative Council member, Arifin Betty, said the administration needed to impose a policy that would benefit every party.
“The Kolbano stones have penetrated the international market, but we consider that the selling price is still too low. We will demand that the administration help increase the selling price in an attempt to raise peoples’ incomes,” Arifin said.