Two faces of a crisis

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS & THE ASIAN HEARTLAND: INDONESIA

There are two faces to the economic crisis in Sumatra’s southernmost province: starvation – and boom times. In the first part of his report from Lampung, DERWIN PEREIRA reports on the fishermen and planters blessed by soaring prices for their produce.

PARABOLAS sprout like giant mushrooms on the roof-tops of the attap houses of fishermen.

More surprises await indoors. Gleaming 100-cm Sony television sets, hi-fi equipment, video recorders and other gizmos sit against drab wooden walls and worn-out bamboo mats in these homes perched on slender poles by the riverbank.

It is boom-time for fishermen in Bandarlampung.

Ironically, the economic crisis has brought them enormous profits in the last few months.

Their daily catch is exported to other provinces and neighbouring countries and they have gained from the strong US dollar.

“I am so rich,” said Mr Marono, who makes at least 5 million rupiah (S$945) a week. “I just want to spend all the money I get.”

Over the last three months, while millions of Indonesians struggled to make a living amidst the country’s worst economic crisis in 30 years, he bought himself a satellite dish worth 3 million rupiah and a new car.

He did not forget his wife. He bought her jewellery.

“The economic crisis brought me luck,” he said, a wide toothless smile crinkling his weather-beaten face.

Since the crisis began last July, fish prices have risen.

Red snapper now costs 7,000 rupiah per kg, compared to 2,000 rupiah just six months ago.

Mr Marono, who sells his daily catch to a Taiwanese firm, owns two boats and employs 10 people.

He plans to buy another boat if the export orders increase.

The fishermen are not alone in their success.

Travel to west Lampung and one finds similar “parabola colonies” in coffee and pepper plantations.

The houses are bigger and newer. European cars – Opel Blazers and BMWs – can be seen on the roads.

Mr Kalim, who owns a 2-ha coffee plot, said he had gained from the crisis, making up to 30 million rupiah in profits during the recent harvest.

Prices have soared. Coffee is sold at 12,000 rupiah per kg. Before the crisis, it was sold at 7,000 rupiah per kg.

Pepper prices have also gone up.

It now costs between 25,000 rupiah and 50,000 rupiah per kg.

Some coffee farmers said they were also using their extra income towards the loans they had taken to buy their plots of land.

The general feeling among the farmers is that they are immune to an economic downturn, which they see as an “upturn”.

Said Mr Kalim: “This is certainly not a crisis for us. My family does not feel the pinch. There is also so much more to eat these days.”

But one side-effect of the new found wealth in these “parabola colonies” is its pull on criminal elements, many of whom come from north and south Sumatra.

Over the last month, plantation owners in west Lampung have lost up to 900 million rupiah to robbers.

The fishermen in Bandarlampung have not been spared either.

But that has not curbed the demand for that new satellite dish.

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