Nias struggle to oil trading wheel

Friday, April 8, 2005
By nias

Friday, April 08, 2005 Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Gunung Sitoli

On a day when she was supposed to tap latex on her five-hectare rubber plantation, Ameria Hura, 32, was instead sitting and chatting with her relatives in Hiligodu village, 12 kilometers from the town of Gunung Sitoli in north Nias.

It's been eight days since the earthquake halted the economic activities there.

Tapping latex — the main source of local revenue in Nias — is her family's only way to earn a living. Some other farmers earn a living from copra and cocoa.

"We're out of money. However, tapping latex nowadays is useless because after the quake, no rubber traders come to the local market to buy our latex," she said.

Her family usually earns about Rp 60,000 (US$6.66) a day from selling 15 kilograms of latex.

Amosi Lase, who owns a rubber trading company Rejeki, said that he was not buying latex from the farmers because he still had 150 tons of latex sitting in his storehouse four kilometers from Nias island's main seaport in Gunung Sitoli.

"The quake did not ruin my storehouse. However, the seaport is now closed for trading. There is no shipping company to transport my latex to Sibolga," he said.

Meanwhile, Yanto, the owner of shipping company PT Gunung Silewi, said he had three ships and three trucks ready to transport Nias' produce to start the economic wheel, but he could not access the port, which is crowded with relief aid and panic-stricken Nias residents who wanted to leave the island.

"If the authorities can arrange administrative procedures at the sea port for trading, the trading could restart," he said.

Vincent Antonius Kurniawan, 26, who runs his family's rice supply company in Gunung Sitoli, also urged the authorities to designate space at the seaports in Sibolga and Nias for trading to fill the rice supply gap in Nias.

"My customers from several districts in Nias have contacted me to buy rice. I sold some of my stock to them from my warehouse. But the supply is quickly dwindling and it will finish in two days, meanwhile my customers are waiting for more," he said.

Vincent said that besides rice from aid, some customers who still had money preferred to buy rice rather than depending on the uncertain aid.

The young entrepreneur said his family's store in the main business area was wrecked in the quake. His parents are still recovering from some injuries in Medan.

"My family told me to rest in our house in Medan. But I remembered my workers here. They would be out of work if we leave Nias. Meanwhile, my customers here also need supplies," he said.

Vincent said that some of Nias' economic players, most of whom are Chinese-Indonesians, left Nias to recover from the trauma of the quake.

"I'm sure they will be back soon though," he said.

Meanwhile, he is struggling to restart Nias' economic wheel because once the wheel is running, the people of Nias can quickly stand on their own feet to rebuild the island.

"We cannot depend on relief aid forever," Vincent said.

Local markets in Gunung Sitoli opened three days after the quake, selling the existing supplies of salted fish, rice, instant noodles and kitchenware.

However, restarting business at the time when distribution of aid is not well channeled, security at the seaports and storehouses becomes an important issue.

"I have spoken to the local trade and industry authority here to ask them to help arrange security and transportation," he said. "Just give us a permit to assign one ship, only one ship, for trading," he said.

"But I haven't got the answer yet," he added.

Meanwhile, the Gunung Sitoli port administrator, Sudirman, said that trade and industry officials from Jakarta and Medan had come to him to talk about the possibility of opening the port for trading.

"We have talked to the government's transportation company PT ASDP here to start receiving goods," he said.

PT ASDP, which has three trading ships in Nias, is now using the ships solely for passengers and relief aid.

PT ASDP official Junjungan Siahaan in Gunung Sitoli said the trade and industry officials had talked to him about it.

"If the traders want to load latex onto the ships, they are welcome. But they have to use the aid trucks from Sibolga, which were used to transport aid here," Siahaan said.

"They cannot use their own trucks because I'm following orders to concentrate on transporting relief aid."

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