In an effort to meet growing salt demand, East Nusa Tenggara province is slated to play a larger role in producing the commodity, the government announced on Monday.
“We are preparing the province to become one of our salt production centers,” said Hatta Rajasa, the coordinating minister for the economy.
Hatta said the region was selected due to its long dry season, which is vital for the salt production process.
Despite having the second-longest coastline in the world, Indonesia is a net importer of salt. National salt production meets less than half of domestic demand of three million tons a year, with 80 percent of that needed for industry, he said.
Output last year was particularly weak due to the long wet season, with only 30,600 tons of salt produced last year, about 2 percent of average annual production of 1.2 million tons, Hatta said.
The project will start this year as part of a larger development push in the area, including sandalwood plantations, kelp and cattle farms and tourism, with a total price tag of Rp 6.6 trillion ($733 million), Hatta said.
Muhammad Fadel, minister of fisheries and marine affairs, said: “This year, 70,000 tons of salt could be produced by small-scale farmers in the province, but we hope [output] increases in line with our target to be salt self-sufficient.”
The government aims to achieve salt production of 4.8 million tons by 2014, eliminating dependency on imports from Australia, India and China, Hatta said.
Traders said the government should also improve the salt distribution network in the archipelago.
Mirato, director at trading house Mahanani Mukti Mulya, sells salt to industrial clients who use it to produce food, garments and ice. He said he had explored sourcing salt from Madura Island, but the transportation costs from East Java were prohibitive. He suspected East Nusa Tenggara would be even worse.
“This is an infrastructure problem. In some areas it’s just hard getting access to the goods,” he added.
The state signed an agreement last year with Cheetham Garam Indonesia, a unit of Australia’s Cheetham Salt, to develop a $15 million, 2,000-hectare salt farm in the province.