Jakarta, IO – The Indonesian Government is optimistic that ours will become a developed country, one with six to seven percent economic growth, within the next few years. One way to realize this optimism is by focusing on equal investment distribution for downstream national strategic commodities.
Companies such as PT Vale Indonesia, Nickel Mines, LG Co and CATL Co Limited have invested in downstream mineral resource commodities in Indonesia. The down-streaming of mineral commodities such as nickel, gold, silver, and bauxite has become a magnet for investors. However, it is a different story with plantation commodities. Domestic and foreign investors are not interested in investing in the downstream processing of palm oil, rubber, and pine resin. Even though the government, through the Ministry of Investment/Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), has made a projected roadmap for investment needs until 2024, this Roadmap prioritizes eight commodities: coal, natural gas, minerals, oil, marine, fisheries, forestry and plantations.
In the author’s opinion, downstream investment in plantations for oil palm, coconut, pine resin, and rubber must be bolstered to ensure Indonesia becomes a fully-developed country. In fact, this is not impossible, considering that in the past few years, Indonesia has been a significant player in exporting a number of plantation commodities. An example is the commodity of natural rubber. Indonesia’s rubber plantations cover an area of 3.45 million hectares, and are the largest in the world (BPS, 2022). Even so, Indonesia is not the largest natural rubber-producing country. Indonesia is the second-largest, after Thailand (IRSG, 2021).
How could this happen? The answer is that natural rubber products in Indonesia mostly come from smallholder plantations. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2017, smallholder plantations contributed 82.78% of the total national rubber production, while private plantations and state plantations only contributed 10.41% and 6.81%, respectively. Even though private and state plantations contribute less production than smallholder plantations, the level of productivity from private and state plantations is higher than that of smallholder plantations. After an analytical study of this by the author, it turns out there are five causes.
First, most small plantation holders do not use superior clones – plant seeds obtained from vegetative propagation. Second, small plantation holders do not plant on appropriately-prepared land with sufficient agroecosystems. Third, small plantation holders do not adequately apply rubber cultivation techniques, such as tillage, fertilization, and white root fungus disease control. Fourth, weaker smallholder plantation rejuvenation results in less productive plantations. Fifth, there is a scarcity of workers with physical strength and skills in tapping: ideal tapping is carried out in the early morning, when the turgor pressure is high. It is challenging to recruit rubber plantation workers, especially those close to industrial/economic areas, where young people will choose to work in an environment where they can wear neat clothes, inside a building. Even though you work as a tapper, you can earn higher wages than factory or office employees if you work diligently. Labor costs comprise the highest operational component of crumb rubber production: labor costs 61%, processing at factories 24%, land at 9%, planting materials at 2% and others at 4%.
To answer these five causes, the government can collaborate with vocational agricultural colleges like IPB University Vocational School to prepare superior rubber clones, hiring vocational college graduates as workers. Vocational students can do their internship on a small rubber plantation before graduating.