Indonesia tea industry struggles against Covid-19

Tea Field, Wonosari, East Java

Since the first two Indonesian patients of Covid-19 were confirmed on 2 March, the infectious disease has spread to all 34 provinces in Indonesia within two months. As of 10 May, the total number of sufferers increased to 14,032, and 5,190 cases were reported in Jakarta, the nation’s capital. Under these circumstances, two provinces and 16 municipalities and regencies across the country have imposed partial lockdowns that started in Jakarta and its surrounding cities on 10 April. Additionally, the fasting month of Islam called Ramadan began 24 April, followed by some festive days, which are the highest traveling season for the largest Muslim population of the country. Therefore, taking preventative measures to reduce people’s movement, president Joko Widodo banned all inter-city travel, and the Indonesian Transport Ministry has suspended all air travel between 24 April and 1 June, and sea travel from the same date until 8 June.

So far, the agricultural sector including tea production, continues following safety requirements such as social distancing. The Indonesian tea industry responded quickly and took necessary actions when the outbreak began to prevent the pandemic from disturbing the supply chain of tea.

PT Kharisma Pemasaran Bersama Nusantara (KPBN) is the marketing agent for the agricultural commodities produced by the government owned plantations such as palm oil, rubber, sugar, and tea. KPBN conducts the Jakarta Tea Auction every Wednesday, but they decided to move to an online auction in the end of March. They have already established an auction platform and started selling off-grade teas in 2019. Therefore, 18 March became the last manual “open-cry” tea auction in Jakarta, when KPBN informed all attending buyers that they were going to switch to the digital auction for main-grades of teas beginning with the next sales. KPBN communicated with individual buyers directly with details and commenced the e-auction for all teas since 25 March.

A private tea producer and a trader, PT Indoglobal Galang Pamitra, started teleworking in late March, prior to the lockdown imposed on Jakarta and its satellite cities, including Bogor where their office is located. Bogor is situated about 50 kilometers south of Jakarta and coming up and down to attend the Jakarta tea auction in a heavy traffic jam or by a tightly packed train had been tough on Pamitra. The e-auction greatly reduced their travelling time.

However, Vladimir Mosyagin, a Russian origin associate business partner of the PT Indoglobal, mentioned its merit and demerit, “Of course the online auction saves time on travelling. On the other hand, it was nice to meet with the auctioneer and other buyers face-to-face in the venue. Now it is not practicable.” He also pointed out the limits of teleworking as a tea trader. “Remote work is not easier. In the daily business, we need to do so many things which cannot be available through internet. Some of us still go to the office when tasting, blending and sampling need to be done. For the time being it is impossible to make the whole business processes under computer control and to archive all documents in a convenient way.”

PT Indoglobal is involved in tea production in Wonosobo, Central Java, obtaining 50% of the share of a plantation company, PT Perkebunan Tambi. The other 50% share is owned by the Wonosobo municipality government, and they manage three tea plantations; Tambi, Bedakah and Tanjungsari. All are certified by the HACCP and the Rainforest Alliance, so they have been practicing hygienic requirements in order to avoid contamination of bacteria or foreign materials. In addition to the existing food safety norms, now they have introduced social distancing and reducing the workforce to keep their employees away from the new virus.

According to Mosyagin, the main difficulties of the Indonesian tea trade due to the Covid-19 are on the logistics side. Quarantine, customs, port, and shipping companies all are operating slower than their normal efficiency. – Yumi Nakatsugawa

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