Thu, 24 Jul 2003

Salt producers angry over imports

Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Cirebon, West Java

Thousands of small-scale salt producers along the north coast of West Java called on the local administration to take action against the sale of imported salt in Cirebon regency, which they said had badly hit their incomes.

They threatened to occupy Cirebon port, through which the imported salt has been flooding into the regency.

Local salt packaged in the traditional way is unable to compete with well-packaged salt imported from India and Australia.

The price of the local salt has plunged to Rp 65 (0.7 cents) per kilogram since May from Rp 200 (2.4 cents) per kg previously, causing hundreds of salt producers to seek work in the construction sector.

More than 1,500 salt producers, mostly women, in the districts of Mundu, Astanajapura and Pangenan have abandoned a total of 2,000 hectares of salt production sites, which used to produce 120 tons of salt annually.

"The producers have had to pile up stock in their homes due to the falling prices, and many have had to take work on construction sites to survive," said 36-year-old Sariah in her village in Mundu district.

Another salt producer, Tasim, said the producers had conveyed their protests over the imported salt to the local administration and the port authorities, but so far no measures had been taken to stop the salt imports.

Both Saria and Tasim questioned the local administration's effectiveness since it had done nothing to resolve their problem.

Kaslim, another salt producer in Pangenan district, warned the local police and military of the possibility of violent demonstrations, saying the producers had the right to seek protection for their livelihoods, and the government was obliged to provide it.

The Cirebon administration head, Thamrin, was not available for comment on Wednesday.