Jongker Rumteh, The Jakarta Post, Tondan
More than 150,000 clove farmers in the Minahasa region of North Sulawesi are under pressure from Indonesia's largest cigarette company and the government to increase production despite a lagging market and low returns.
The area is recognized as the best land in the world for clove production, however, many farmers in Tondano, the capital of Minahasa, have let their clove plants go because they simply cannot make ends meet.
Farmers were let down by the Tommy Soeharto-led Clove Marketing and Buffer Stock Agency (now defunct) because it controlled the market, but Wenny Talumewo, head of the Minahasa Forestry and Plantation Office, says changing times and efforts to revive the industry could see farmers come back to cloves.
The plantation office is working hand in hand with cigarette company PT HM Sampoerna to preserve and grow the industry, but North Sulawesi Clove Farmers Association chairman, Franklin Sinjal, says the current asking price of up to Rp 35,000 a kilogram is still too low.
"Production costs can range between Rp 24,000 and Rp 26,500 per kilogram and an ideal price is when the (profit margin) is around Rp 10,000," said Sinjal.
"So the proper price should be between Rp 35,000 and Rp 40,000 per kilogram."
PT HM Sampoerna managing director, Angky Camaro, says his company provided in March 100,000 clove seedlings to farmers in Tondano "as part of the company's quality and productivity enhancement program".
"We hope through this assistance program clove farmers in eastern Indonesia, especially in Minahasa, will be motivated to return to cultivating cloves because the area has long been known as a producer of (a) high quality product," he said.
Cloves are one of the main ingredients in kretek cigarettes and the seedlings Camaro's company delivered to farmers last month are called Zanzibar -- a strong and adaptable variety.
"We are working together with the Minahasa Forestry and Plantation Office to teach farmers effective ways to maintain their plants," Camaro said.
The seedlings will be used to replace old trees which are no longer capable of bearing fruit, Wenny said.
"Farmers have not been eager to maintain their plants because of plummeting prices but now (the market) has improved, farmers are more enthusiastic," he said.
But production costs remain farmers' biggest bugbear.
General costs include the making of bamboo ladders to pick cloves; mats or tarpaulin to dry out cloves; pickers' wages, which could reach Rp 15,000 per person per liter of cloves; meal allowances and transportation.
And because farmers will not always be able to pick all the ripe cloves during a harvest, they work together with farm hands on a 50:50 profit sharing basis to ensure costs are covered.
Even then, if farmers are unable to harvest their cloves, they let them flower, leaving the plants suitable only to seed.
"Goodwill from the government and cigarette companies in Indonesia is needed to establish an ideal clove management system," Singal said.
"Because if they only set prices as they please, clove farmers will not lead a better life and the poverty rate will continue to grow."