Fri, 17 Mar 2000

West Java handicraft makers unite for fair price

By Des Price

JAKARTA (JP): In West Java, as well as in more remote parts of Indonesia, small handicrafts associations make mostly traditional items for international markets. Fair trade organizations around the world buy from developing countries where the producers get a fair return for their labor.

Fair trade organizations usually sell the products at their own retail outlets, which may be just backstreet lock-ups in grim neighborhoods, while other organizations like Trade Aid in New Zealand have chainstore boutiques all over the country.

The producer groups in West Java mainly use locally grown raw materials which are then turned into a wide range of household products and ornaments that will eventually adorn homes in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

Working in associations allows small family businesses to flourish, operating in an environment of guidance and cooperation and economic viability. The associations in turn supply a Jakarta based company, Pekerti Nusantara, that doubles as an export company and development foundation.

In the small village of Cibatu, near Sukabumi, Daddan Komaruddin is the coordinator of 10 workers' cooperatives comprised of between three and 10 people in each group. Daddan has built up the business by allowing full participation of the members in planning and decision-making: members of the cooperatives attend regular meetings with the other producer groups and Daddan. Important issues like pricing, savings and loans and other managerial concerns pertaining to the business are discussed.

Daddan has developed and diversified the business since he inherited the workshops from his father some 10 years ago. Originally, they produced wooden kitchen utensils that were sold locally. Now they produce a wide range of items from ornately decorated walking sticks to picture frames, incense stands, cupstands, magic cards and the traditional Javanese game called congklak. The items are finished and quality control-inspected in Daddan's workshop before being shipped to Jakarta.

Mutual benefit

Daddan has been successful in using his influence at a local level to establish this network of producers, to the mutual benefit of many families who would otherwise struggle to make a living.

Eti, a 35-year-old woman, lost her husband a year ago while the family was living in Batang, Central Java. With the loss of the family's breadwinner, she made the decision to return to the city with her 14-year-old daughter and father. She found part- time work as a maid but the income from her job was not enough to make ends meet. When told about the association, she quickly joined and started making magic cards: a brainteaser game made of small wooden pieces linked together with ribbon.

Eti continues to work as a maid, but also works at home for a few hours each day, along with her father and daughter. Together they earn more than enough to pay for their necessities and are, because of this, able to save money, too.

Eti has plans for the money that she is saving: "My dream is to buy a little house for us to live in. We rent this place at the moment, but even so, I can save money and hope that it won't be long until we buy a place. My father is 72 and he enjoys the work; it's light work, so it's not a strain on him."

The magic cards will be exported to a fair trade organization in the Netherlands.

Charitable acts and neighborly deeds are common with members of the association. They have recently built a house for a family that was previously homeless and whose youngest child suffered from malnutrition.

Domestic market

In the town of Sumedang, Enjang Sudrajad has opened two workshops and employs 16 men. The export products include didgeridoos and drums. Enjang has also developed a domestic market and makes fancy wooden pens that are sold in Bali, and furniture which he sells in Bandung and Jakarta.

His business has not always been successful: Enjang tells about his early experiences in the trade when he sold goods produced by other craftsmen: "In the 1970s I sold to foreigners at Tanjung Priok Port, but the police wouldn't allow me to sell there and officials always demanded money from me.

"I spent my time running away from the police and paying off officials. It wasn't very profitable. I then started selling door-to-door in Jakarta. Later, I sold furniture in Bandung, Solo, Jakarta and Bali.

"Then, I decided that it would be better and more lucrative to start a workshop and make the items myself. We developed a domestic market and then moved on to exports through Pekerti in Jakarta. We had to improve the quality of our products for the export market."

Enjang is able to pay his employees more than local factories but admits that he does this to keep them. He also offers small extras such as meals, and a holiday allowance following Ramadan.

Street beggars

On the streets of Indonesia's cities and towns, disabled people can be seen begging for small change from motorists and passersby. Often these people have no family support networks and are unable to find employment.

Yamin, from Tasikmalaya, West Java, lost his sight when he was three years old. He is thankful that he has been spared the degradation of begging. His love of music -- coupled with his ear for tuning instruments -- landed him a job tuning angklung for Papertas, a local handicrafts association with members producing a large range of products for domestic and export markets.

Yamin says that his job provides him with a reasonable living for himself, his wife and two young daughters. Although not entirely content with his daily tasks, Yamin feels fortunate that he has employment:

"This job is a bit like a hobby; at school I got interested in music and learned to play the guitar and drums. I've been tuning angklung for 11 years and, well, to be honest I get a bit bored with it at times, but I have no real chance of finding another job.

"I'm a trained teacher but couldn't get a job at the school for the disabled, so I started music groups that performed at parties and other festivities. Now I've got this job and we live reasonably well on my pay which is Rp 15,000 per day."


Working in the same association, Ibu Ocoy now aged 66, has made mats since she was 10 years old. She remembers having a brief respite during the Japanese occupation when they, the Japanese, commandeered the mendong -- the raw material used by the producers to make the mats.

Ibu Ocoy joined a Papertas subgroup just one year ago and as a bonus of being part of the group she shares in the distribution of free rice to participating families, receiving a quota of 200 kilos every three months.

Now that she is working on mats for export, the quality of the mats has risen: There are two kinds of mats," she explains, "those for export and those for domestic sales. Mats made for export must be of a very high standard, while we pay less attention to detail and quality for mats sold in Indonesia. There are three harvests of mendong per year. The mendong for export mats must be cut in the dry season and stored in dry conditions and kept free from moisture. These mats when woven get extra stitching, to ensure their ruggedness."

Venturing out of the center of Tasikmalaya to the outskirts of town in the association leader's vintage boneshaker minibus, mendong can be seen growing in the fields on both sides of the road. Dudung Suparli is upbeat about the association: "After 15 years I see the results of my work. I feel happy working with the community and increasing people's knowledge and skills."

Pekerti Nusantara in Jakarta uncompromisingly invests in development work, assisting in the formation of new producer groups. Some years ago they sent a field worker to Tasikmalaya. He has subsequently stayed on for nine years and successfully built up the Papertas association as well as other initiatives in the area. With the help that the locals got in the formative years, they now have a strong footing in the domestic/export marketplace.

While Indonesian handicrafts makers busy themselves turning locally grown raw materials into fancy items, retail outlets such as Trade Aid in New Zealand gladly sell the exotic goods to curious customers. In one of Trade Aid's street shops, Maria, a 25-year-old visitor to Auckland, admires an angklung. Asked why she shops at Trade Aid outlets she replied enthusiastically that they had a wide variety of interesting goods and that she was also greatly impressed by the concept behind the industry: "There is so much talk about acting locally and thinking globally, but the people making these things, and Trade Aid, are really doing it."