Jakarta. The government has unveiled its strategies to cut down the dependence on imported salt, in an attempt to protect the local salt farmers.
According to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, local salt farmers still struggle to meet the manufacturing industries' standards, which requires a sodium chloride level of 97 percent. On average, the sodium chloride level of farmers' salt still falls under 90 percent.
As of Sep. 22, 738,000 tons of domestic salt were not absorbed by the industry ranging from food and beverage to mining, chemical, and drug manufacturing.
Also, local farmers harvest salt from the sea using the traditional production method that depends on weather and produces many impurities. That leads to low output. Indonesia needs at least 4 million tons of salt a year, but can only produce up to 2 million tons annually.
"Our national salt production is still low. This is why we search for the easiest way out by importing salt. It has been like this since a long time ago, and there has never been any solution," Jokowi said at a virtual limited meeting on salt absorption on Monday.
Research and Technology Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro revealed the total industrial salt import reaches 2.9 million tons.
Chlor-alkali plants or glass factories take the lion's share with 2.3 million tons of salt. Around 540,000 tons of imported salt go to the miscellaneous food industry. Mining and pharmaceuticals are said to require less salt, although Bambang did not share the exact amount.
The ministry's Technology Assessment and Application Technology (BPPT) developed an integrated industrial salt factory to increase that sodium chloride content in salt produced by local farmers.
First, the farmers' salt would be processed in a washing plant located in their salt fields to raise the sodium chloride level to 92 percent. It would be further increased to 98 percent thanks to BPPT's integrated factory, Bambang said.
Each factory requires an investment of Rp 40 billion (around $2.7 million) and has an annual production capacity of 40,000 tons. By adding 14 to 15 similar units, Indonesia can generate 600,000 to 700,000 tons of salt per year.
"We are optimistic this technology can substitute imports and [be] self-sufficient for various food salts and mining," Bambang said.
"Having these integrated industrial salt factories can also boost the price for farmers' salt as they have met the industry's required sodium chloride content," he added.
One integrated factory is already in operation in Gresik, East Java. The gov't plans to add two more units by next year.
For glass factories, BPPT is working on a technology that can recover rejected brine from steam-electric power plants into high-quality salt and drinking water. The gov't has selected a power plant in Banten to test its pilot project with an annual production capacity of 100,000 tons.
They will scale up the production capacity and expand to other power plants if the pilot project succeeds.
Meanwhile, manufacturers can directly import salt and sugar for manufacturing purposes as long as they have secured a permit recommendation from the Industry Ministry.
Industry Minister Agus Gumiwang said they would first check how much salt or sugar is needed for manufacturing. The ministry has also teamed up with the state-owned surveyor Sucofindo for more objective verification.
Any industry caught distributing the imported salt and sugar to the local market will be strictly sanctioned, Agus said.