Category: General

Saudis get a taste of traditional Indonesian medicine

Indonesia is looking to make inroads into Saudi Arabia’s herbal drug market following its first export of jamu, a traditional medicine, to the Kingdom last week, officials said.

Sido Muncul, a publicly listed herbal producer, shipped a container of jamu — a slow-brewed herbal tonic containing turmeric, ginger, curcuma and other herbs — to the Kingdom on Aug. 10.

The shipment is worth nearly $100,000, company CEO Irwan Hidayat said.

Jamu in its liquid form is the go-to drink for many Indonesians, who value it for its medicinal properties.

Hidayat said that the company has previously shipped Tolak Angin — an over-the-counter tonic comprising ginger, clove, fennel fruit, mint and honey — to Indonesian stores in the Kingdom.

“But this shipment marked our first official export as our product has been approved by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and the product labeling is written in Arabic. It will be distributed by our local importer partner and sold by major retailers,” he said.

The term “tolak angin” means repelling the wind and is the antonym of “masuk angin” or catching the wind. Masuk angin is used by Indonesians to describe how they feel when suffering from any of the various symptoms of the flu.

Hidayat said Sido Muncul is looking to secure a distribution license for a more significant market share in the Kingdom.

“We are planning to submit more of our products for registration to the Saudi FDA. It would be good for us if we can get the SFDA’s license for distribution as it will increase our chances of securing the local consumers’ trust,” he said.

While the main consumer target will be Indonesians living in the Kingdom, Tolak Angin is already a favorite among Saudis, according to its distributor.

Kasan Muhri, trade ministry director-general for national export development said that Saudi Arabia is a “captive market” for Indonesian jamu products given the potential number of Indonesians living in the country and visiting for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage.

Indonesia has the world’s largest annual Hajj quota, with 221,000 pilgrims with nearly 1 million Indonesians visiting the Kingdom every year to perform Umrah.

“We also aim for Filipinos and other Southeast Asians, who have similar consumer behavior to Indonesians and are no strangers to herbal medicine,” Muhri said.

Sido Muncul’s first export of jamu is based on a trade deal forged with Mizanain Marketing and Trading, a Saudi Arabian distributor, during the 2019 Trade Expo Indonesia held outside Jakarta in October last year.

Muhri said the ministry is optimistic the exports will spur Indonesia’s biopharmaceutical and food sectors’ efforts to penetrate the global market, despite restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

According to Muhri, this is also a notable move for Indonesia’s trade to Saudi Arabia since the biopharmaceutical and food and beverage sectors are exempted from the Kingdom’s recent tariff increase on 500 varieties of products. Data from Statistics Indonesia showed that exports of biopharmaceutical products increased to $4.2 million or 32.8 percent year-on-year in the first half of this year — a favorable outcome despite the decline in purchasing power globally.

The original story is published in Arab News

Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

Indonesia will remain closed to foreign tourists at least until the end of the year, Indonesian officials said during recent online forums.

As the country still grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the government is not taking the risk to create new clusters with foreign tourist arrivals and to compromise its coronavirus control efforts, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir said on Saturday.

“For the time being, we are still evaluating the reopening to foreign tourists,” said Thohir, who also chairs the national committee to accelerate economic recovery and COVID-19 mitigation during an online discussion.

Earlier on Thursday, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said during an online meeting with the country’s business community that all non-essential foreign visitors will remain barred from entering the country, while the government will try to boost domestic tourism to keep the hospitality sector afloat.

“With regard to foreign tourists, I think we will not be welcoming them until the end of the year,” Pandjaitan said, shelving a plan laid out by the provincial government of the holiday island of Bali — Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination — to reopen for international visitors on Sept. 11.

Bali reopened its tourism spots to locals on the island on July 9 and started welcoming back domestic tourists from other parts of Indonesia on July 31.

According to an analysis issued in June based on the extraction of data location of 208,362 Instagram posts with hashtag #TakeMeBack, travelers revealed that Bali ranked second – with the Giza pyramid complex in Egypt ranked first – as the destination that they missed the most in the absence of traveling during the pandemic.

Dutch online reservation company Booking.com in May placed Bali among the top international destinations alongside Andalusia, Florida, London, and Paris that travelers around the world put on their wish list, based on a survey conducted on its platform in April and March to users grounded by lockdowns and international travel restrictions.

Pandjaitan’s remarks also ended speculation as to whether the central government would revoke a regulation issued by the justice minister in late March banning foreigners — except those arriving for essential, diplomatic and official purposes — from entering Indonesia amid ongoing efforts to contain the virus outbreak.

Bali authorities were hoping for the regulation to be revoked ahead of the island’s plan to reopen to foreigners.

Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said industry players in Bali were ready for the Sept. 11 plan but acknowledged that the central government’s decision to keep foreign arrivals suspended “must be based on a more urgent reason.”

“There could be a macro outlook behind Jakarta’s decision, and it could be for everyone’s greater good,” Adnyana said.

According to Pandjaitan, Indonesian authorities will focus on promoting domestic tourism as Indonesians who were planning to go for holidays abroad, including those who were set to travel for Umrah, will be unable to do so this year so due to international travel restrictions.

“There is plenty of money around. No one is going on the Umrah pilgrimage, and those who used to go to Singapore or Penang for medical treatment are not going anywhere either. These are people with money to spend, and we estimated there could be tens of trillions of rupiahs. We want them to spend the money here,” Pandjaitan said.

According to Umrah tour operators, about 1 million Indonesians travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage each year, with many of them also visiting other sites in the region.

The COVID-19 outbreak has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to its national revenue.

According to Adnyana, tourism in Bali alone contributed 120 trillion to 150 trillion rupiahs ($10 billion) a year to the country’s coffers.

He also expressed concerns that the pandemic may still affect the government’s plans to revive the industry through domestic tourism as many potential travelers may be unable to make trips to other parts of the country amid concerns of contracting the disease and internal restrictions imposed as part of the response to contain the virus.

On Friday, President Joko Widodo said in his 2021 budget speech before the parliament that 14.4 trillion rupiahs would be allocated for the tourism industry’s recovery with a focus on developing several main destinations: Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Mandalika in Lombok island; Labuan Bajo on the Flores island, which serves as a gateway to see the Komodo dragon on Komodo Island and Mount Kelimutu, which has three volcanic crater lakes of different colors; and Likupang Beach in North Sulawesi.

This story has been updated from its original in Arab News

Scant internet complicates remote learning in Indonesia

Wearing masks and face shields to guard against coronavirus, four pupils hunch over textbooks and a mobile phone during a remote learning session in a poor neighbourhood near the Indonesian capital.

“It’s not easy to learn online, and it’s also boring,” says 8-year-old Aldina, dressed in a bright red-and-white elementary school uniform and a matching face covering. “I wish I could be back in school so I can be with my friends and teachers,” she adds. 

Schools across Indonesia began implementing online learning as early as after the first cases of the novel coronavirus were detected in the country, but scant internet access in many areas and limited access to devices mean that many students are struggling to keep up.

Cellular coverage is spotty in Aldina’s densely populated neighbourhood in Bogor, a city just outside Jakarta, forcing her and three of her classmates to attend online classes outdoors on the side of the shallow Ciliwung river to get a signal.

“Apart from the weak phone signal, having to buy more pre-paid phone credit is a burden for us,” says Nur Aida, Aldina’s 42-year-old mother, who accompanies the children during classes.

“We don’t always have money for it,” she says.

Nearby, three junior high school students sit on a bench on the front porch of a modest house on the riverbank, each with a mobile phone. 

They are among those who have it easier. 

In West Sumatra province, some students have to walk several kilometres uphill to receive a cell signal to allow them to take part in remote classes, local officials say.  

Parents have also bore the brunt of the situation. 

Local media report that a 42-year-old man who was caught stealing a mobile phone in West Java admitted that he resorted to theft because he could not afford to buy one to be used by his child for remote learning.  

Education Minister Nadiem Makarim, former chief executive of the country’s most successful ride-hailing start-up, Gojek, said he is aware of the difficulties students and parents are facing.  

“It’s a challenging situation for all of us, and I sympathize with the parents and students for having to adapt to this different learning format abruptly,” he told local television.

“This isn’t something we all wanted. The choice is between learning poorly or not learning at all,” Makarim said.

He has promised that his ministry would come up with an emergency curriculum adapted to the pandemic and remote learning in a few days.

He also said the government would provide subsidies worth 3 trillion rupiah (205 million dollars) to schools to allow them to provide wider internet access and purchase devices for online learning.

About 65 per cent of Indonesia’s 265 million people have access to the internet, according to the Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association. More people in the archipelago national have been able to access the internet in recent years thanks to the influx of cheap Chinese-made mobile phones and increasingly affordable data plans.

Fibre-optic internet access is still limited to major cities. 

Over 60 million students across Indonesia have been forced to attend remote classes during the pandemic, the SMERU Research Institute said in a report. While teachers in major cities are well-equipped to conduct classes online, those in villages have to travel as far as 30 kilometres to deliver lessons and homework to each student in-person because of a lack of internet access and gadgets, the institute said.

“If the problems persist until at least schools are reopened, it is highly likely that students under less fortunate circumstances will experience learning loss,” the report said.

“Learning inequality between students with different socio-economic backgrounds will also get even wider,” it said.

Around 80 per cent of Indonesians wanted schools to reopen even though daily Covid-19 cases show no signs of going down, according to the results of a survey by the private pollster Cyrus Network. 

Last week, the head of the country’s Covid-19 task force, Doni Monardo, said only schools in green zones across the country are allowed to reopen, but only 27 per cent of them were ready for physical classes.

“Some parents are happy for their children to return to school, but there are many others who object to in-person classes,” he tells a news conference. “The government leaves it to regional governments to decide.”

Indonesia’s Hajj and Umrah operators count cost of pandemic

As Indonesia faces the health implications of a surge in coronavirus cases, the country’s Hajj and Umrah tour operators have been particularly badly affected by the economic fallout from the global pandemic.

After authorities in Saudi Arabia announced that only a few thousand pilgrims who reside in the Kingdom will be allowed to perform Hajj this year, it is feared that up to 60 percent of Indonesia’s tour operators might be forced to close for good.

“The majority of Hajj and Umrah tour operators have put their employees on furlough in the absence of travel activities,” said Muharom Ahmad, secretary of the Indonesian Haj and Umrah Tour Operators Society (Forum SATHU).

“The remaining 40 percent have managed to stay afloat because they have other branches of business that can continue to thrive during the pandemic, such as food and beverages, or education.”

The group is a forum for five Hajj and Umrah tour-operators’ associations, including Ahmad’s Indonesian Association of Haj and Umrah Private Operators (Himpuh). The forum represents more than 1,300 businesses in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. All of them are accredited by the nation’s Ministry of Religious Affairs.

The Indonesian government announced the cancellation of pilgrimages on June 2. Ahmad estimates that the suspension of Hajj and Umrah travel for a year could cost tour operators about 32 trillion rupiahs ($2.2 billion).

“Those revenues would have been trickling down to our vendors and partners, such as airlines, hotels, caterers, and suppliers of pilgrims’ clothing and travel amenities,” he said.

Since March, he added, the majority of tour operators had been unable to keep their businesses running, except to process refunds.

“Even those that diversified their businesses to include food and beverages face steep competition in a market that is already saturated since that seems to be the business that everyone is turning to at this moment,” said Ahmad.

On July 14, Airlangga Hartarto, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, revealed that the food and beverage industry is one of the few sectors to record growth during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati announced that the government has allocated 695 trillion rupiahs to an economic-recovery package.

Ahmad said the pandemic is not the only reason tour operators are going out of business; the increasing popularity of online, do-it-yourself Umrah packages is another factor, as they allow pilgrims to visit Saudi Arabia and perform Umrah on a tourist visa, with no need to enlist the help of a tour operator.

In each of the past two years, an average of 1 million Indonesian pilgrims traveled to Saudi Arabia for Umrah, and the country had the largest Hajj quota in the world this year, amounting to 221,000 pilgrims. Of those 17,680 were “special pilgrims,” who use private Hajj and Umrah tour operators.

Ahmad, who has been in the tour business since 2005, said about 30 percent of the Hajj pilgrims registered with his company had canceled their plans completely. The rest agreed to postpone their trips until next year after the Ministry of Religious Affairs announced that those who had paid in full to attend Hajj this year would be placed on a priority list for 2021.

“We still managed to have about 200 Umrah pilgrims depart earlier this year before everything stopped,” he said, adding that he has no idea when pilgrimages will resume.

“Some of us, with a pessimistic view, estimate that the soonest we could be back in business is by March next year. Everything is so uncertain that it is difficult to make any business plans at the moment.”

The story was first published in Arab News

Beefed up: Indonesia’s sacrifice ritual to rake in $1.4bn despite pandemic

Eid Al-Adha festivities in Indonesia could generate 20.5 trillion rupiahs ($1.4 billion) this year, based on purchases made by an estimated 2.3 million families for the annual sacrifice.

The Qurbani could involve about 117 tonnes of sacrificed meat, offering a chance to increase the country’s low beef consumption and address its malnutrition problem, if officials can address unequal meat distribution, according to a June study by the Institute for Demographic and Poverty Studies.

The study found that the middle-upper class Muslim families of the country is 9 percent, or 5.6 million of the 62.4 million total Muslim families of the world’s largest predominantly Muslim country.

“Out of those in the middle-upper class bracket, we estimated 40 percent would buy a Qurbani cattle, based on a conservative assumption that one family would donate just one cattle, either a cow or a goat, given the economic slowdown from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Askar Muhammad, a researcher at the Jakarta-based think tank.

However, about 71 percent of those families are concentrated in the capital Jakarta and other cities in Java, Indonesia’s most populated island, causing concern that there could be a surplus of sacrificed meat in some areas, also in Muslim-minority regions, such as on Papua island, where there are not enough beneficiaries.

Muhammad said a scheme is needed to help beneficiaries in remote areas of Java and other islands access sacrificed meat for the festival.

“For most beneficiaries, this could be the only time of the year when they have the opportunity to consume meat,” he said.

He said: “This is also a good window for us to improve public health and nutrition levels, considering that our average meat consumption is low.”

Indonesia’s beef and sheep meat consumption stands at an annual 2.4 kg per capita, well below the global average of 8.1 kg, according to 2019 data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“Most beneficiaries also do not have the means to preserve fresh meat for later consumption and cooking the meat would require extra costs. The meat could also spoil during the distribution process to regions where beneficiaries are concentrated,” said Ali Nurhasan, head of the Qurbani committee at Muslim charity Rumah Zakat.

Nurhasan said the group has been tackling the problem since 2003 by distributing donated sacrificed meat as canned and corned beef or rendang, a West Sumatran specialty dish of slow-cooked beef.

“Our priority is to distribute the cans to beneficiaries in areas where donators are, but we also set aside cans as a national stock for distribution to remote areas and survivors of disasters, such as the recent flash floods in Masamba,” Nurhasan said, referring to the July 13 flash floods which struck in South Sulawesi province, killing 38 people and displacing more than 14,000.

In 2019, the Indonesian Ulema Council issued a fatwa, which allowed the preservation of sacrificed meat in cooked and canned form for later use.

Read the full story in Arab News 

No sacrifice too small: Indonesian kids use savings to buy four sacrificial cows

A little goes a long way for a group of children from Bogor, a city in West Java about an hour’s drive from Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

The children, led by 15-year-old Abu Bakar Sidik, have been saving 10,000 rupiahs every day since August last year to collect a total of 100 million rupiahs ($6,700) – enough to buy four cows from a local cattle breeder ahead of this year’s annual qurbani ritual.

Besides Sidik, the group includes 23 children from Kampung Ardio, a neighborhood in the middle of the city, some of whom have participated in the initiative before.

It all began last year when Sidik and six other children raised 21.7 million rupiahs to buy their first cow.

“This year we bought four cows as we had more friends and acquaintances who chipped in after we bought one cow last year,” Sidik, who is the youngest of seven siblings, said.

He said they started to save the money toward the end of 2018. The initial motivation was to have enough to buy new clothes and go sightseeing during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday in 2019.

But a month into the initiative, Sidik says he asked his friends if they would agree to use the savings to buy a sacrificial animal instead.

“There were 13 of us at the start, but some kids backed out along the way, with only seven left in the group,” he said.

Some of the children, such as 11-year-old Fauzan, gets 15 thousand rupiahs from his parents every day, while Zalfa, 12, gets 20 thousand rupiahs.

“My friends agreed to the change of plan. My motivation is just to be able to share with others this qurbani meat, since it is also part of a Muslim’s religious observance. We also asked our parents’ permission first when we started to save, and they supported us,” said Sidik, who collects the money from the rest of the group every day.

He added that he learned about the significance of the sacrifice ritual during religious classes at school, which are part of the Indonesian school curriculum, and from his Qur’an recital lessons.

The festival marks the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia, also known as the Hajj, and is also referred to as the Lebaran Haji (the Pilgrims’ Celebration Day) across Indonesia and Malaysia.

The ritual revolves around an all-inclusive principle of giving, wherein the sacrificed meat is distributed among relatives, friends, the poor and needy, with a part kept for use by the family.

Last year, Fauzan’s mother “kept the money for them.” This year, Sidik’s 38-year-old sister Ida Farida put their money in a bank.

“I was a bit concerned about having to take care of the kids’ savings but, since Fauzan’s mother said she couldn’t handle it again, I had to do it,” Farida said, adding that she was unaware of her little brother’s initiative last year until their story went viral and was picked up by national media.

“I was surprised and proud at the same time. He’s just a kid, but he has this mature thinking to buy a qurbani animal and to share (the sacrificed meat) with others.”

Sidik, for his part, said he and his friends would continue with their initiative, especially since their efforts have garnered more support with at least five more friends expressing an interest in joining the group for the ritual next year.

Yoghi Oktapiansyah, a general assistant at Bintang Tani Madani, the cattle breeder in Bogor where Sidik and his friends bought their cows, said they had no idea that the children would buy one of their cows when they visited the farm for the first time last year.

Oktapiansyah said the farm assistants thought they just wanted to “hang around and play at the barn looking at the cows just like other kids.”

“They were with an adult, their Quran recital teacher, who accompanied them. But it was the kids who looked at the cows and chose their own cow,” said Oktapiansyah.

He said they knew that Sidik and his friends would continue their initiative this year and would buy the cow from the farm again, as Sidik had been working part-time since last year as a reseller for the farm’s dairy products.

“Iki (Sidik’s nickname) never took his money from what he earned selling our dairy products as he deposited the money with us to buy this year’s cow. But we were really surprised when the kids came here and said they wanted to buy four cows,” Oktapiansyah said, adding that the farm would handle the cows’ slaughtering process before the meat is distributed to Kampung Ardio’s residents.

The story was first published in Arab News

Long road to recovery for Indonesia

The days leading up to the Eid al-Adha festival, which this year fell on July 31, were usually the busiest days of the year for Bintang Tani Madani, a cow breeder in Bogor on the outskirts of Jakarta.

The company specializes in breeding sacrificial cows, also known as qurban, for the Muslim festivities, but the Covid-19 pandemic has put a strain on the business. Sales have plunged as consumer purchasing power is severely affected, he says.

The annual feast of sacrifice obliges Muslims with the financial means to buy prime and healthy livestock and to slaughter them in accordance with Islamic protocols. The meat is then distributed to the needy.

“Sales have dropped significantly. Sacrificial cow traders have seen less than 50% of last year’s sales. We also faced competition from seasonal traders who set up temporary shops in city centers, so there was an oversupply, while the demand had weakened,” said Muhammad Arif, a manager at Bintang Tani Madani.

“[Breeders] were expecting to see a rebound in sales during this season since they lost the momentum to generate business during the end of Ramadan festivities when there was little demand for meat because we had large-scale social restrictions at the time.”

The global economic turmoil caused by the pandemic has had a severe impact on Indonesia, with most Indonesians experiencing income losses, the World Bank said in its latest Indonesia Economic Prospects report released on July 16 in Jakarta.

Mobility restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus, and caution among consumers worried about their financial prospects, have led to a freeze in tourism and empty shops and restaurants. The country’s economic growth is projected to fall to zero this year, the report said.

By some standards that would not be a bad performance, given that dozens of countries are resigned to a contraction in the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.

But Indonesia could easily end up in the red if the government has to reimpose large-scale social restrictions to combat a new wave of Covid-19, cautioned Frederico Gil Sander, lead economist with the World Bank office in Indonesia.

“We think that the economy could contract by two percent in 2020,” Sander said.

Jakarta administration has extended the transitional period of its large-scale social restrictions for another two weeks until August 13,  Governor Anies Baswedan announced on Friday.

The city has seen a surge in new cases, including in at least 90 workplaces which have emerged as new infection clusters as more employees have resumed working in offices despite city regulation that during the transitional period, workplaces have to slash by half their employees’ presence in the office.

“We will impose a progressive fine for businesses and could eventually close the establishment that repeatedly violates the health protocol,” Baswedan said.

To deter people’s unnecessary mobility, the city administration started on Monday to reimpose the odd-even license plate policy as a form of its “emergency brake” to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Jakarta remains one of the infection hotspots in the country with 22,616 cases as of August 3 and its positive virus test rate is 6.5% of all tests results, well above the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines which suggest a 5% positive rate as the maximum benchmark for policymakers seeking to resume economic activity.

A key finding the World Bank report suggested that to support a safe reopening of the economy, having a robust health system remains the priority. A safe sustainable reopening requires continued improvements in health system capacity and readiness, including continued expansion of testing and surveillance.

To date, Indonesia has tested 841,027 people in a population of 267 million. According to the WHO in its weekly situation report on Covid-19 in Indonesia, Jakarta is the only province that has achieved the minimum case detection benchmark, or comprehensive surveillance and testing of suspected cases, of 1 per 1,000 population per week.

In any case, the business community appears eager to get on with normal life again, according to a survey conducted by the Jakarta-based pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia and released on July 23.

Despite the escalating number of cases and widespread infections, 65.1% of the 1,176 respondents are not in favor of the government reinstating mobility restrictions, although 84.7% of them remain “very concerned” about the outbreak, the pollsters found.

The respondents included businesspeople from micro-enterprises to big corporations in seven sectors across nine provinces.

“About 53.3% of the respondents prefer the government to prioritize handling the economic sector over the health sector, while 89.4% agreed with the government’s initiative to introduce adaptation to new habits,” Indikator executive director Burhanuddin Muhtadi said at a briefing.

The government has announced a fiscal package amounting to 4.3% of GDP in response to the crisis, which includes funds to improve the preparedness of the health sector and a substantial increase in social assistance.

Without a significant expansion of social assistance, according to the World Bank report, roughly 5.5 million Indonesians could fall into poverty because of the economic halt triggered by the pandemic. The stimulus package could go a long way to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on poverty if fully disbursed and well-targeted, it said.

“It is essential that the package be effectively implemented to have the fullest impact on the people and the economy,” said Satu Kahkonen, the World Bank country director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

The story has been updated from its original version in Bangkok Post

Indonesia set up special travel corridor to facilitate historic $22.9bn trade deal with UAE

Indonesia and the UAE on Thursday announced the creation of a temporary travel corridor to allow business and diplomatic trips to take place in relation to one of the southeast Asian country’s biggest investment deals.

The agreement was reached by Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi and her Emirati counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, on Wednesday evening.

During a visit to Abu Dhabi in January, Indonesian President Joko Widodo secured energy, infrastructure, and agriculture investments worth $22.9 billion in what has officially been described as the biggest trade deal in the country’s history.

“The safe travel corridor arrangement between Indonesia and the UAE is now in effect,” Marsudi said during a virtual press briefing. The minister added that travel would be allowed for essential businesspeople, government officials, and diplomats, in accordance with strict pre-departure and post-arrival health protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The UAE Ambassador to Indonesia, Abdullah Salem Obeid Al-Dhaheri, who also attended the media conference, said the Indonesian and UAE governments had felt it an urgent priority to provide an avenue for cooperation, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this regard, the two countries agreed to establish a bilateral temporary agreement to facilitate the easing of travel for business, economy, as well as diplomatic and official purposes,” he added.

Al-Dhaheri pointed out that the arrangement would not undermine mandatory public health and quarantine protocols related to the COVID-19 situation in both countries. He noted that through regular assessment and consultation with relevant stakeholders, the travel corridor might later be expanded to include tourists.

Achmad Rizal Purnama, director of Middle East affairs at Indonesia’s foreign ministry, said the travel corridor arrangement, a first for both countries, reflected the growing “trust and confidence” that had developed between the two nations following Widodo’s Abu Dhabi trip and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan’s visit to Indonesia in July 2019.

The agreement would exempt travelers from the mandatory two-week quarantine, Purnama said, but they would be required to have a negative result from a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 taken within 72 hours before departure.

“The arrangement is about ensuring that the travelers are in good health. We don’t want this pandemic to impede us in following up on the various agreements reached during the January visit and let the projects stall, which we hope would spur our economic recovery efforts,” he said.

The UAE had committed to investing $6.8 billion out of the total agreed spending package into Indonesia’s energy, logistics, port construction, mining, and agriculture sectors.

Widodo’s delegation also secured the Gulf state’s commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund, into which the UAE, the US International Development Finance Corporation, and Japan’s SoftBank would inject funding.

The fund would be used partly to finance the relocation of Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo, which has been estimated will cost $33 billion of which Indonesia has said it could only afford 19 percent.

The story was first published in Arab News

A coal road project could put endangered Sumatran tigers’ habitat in peril

Conservationists on Tuesday slammed a decision by the Indonesian government to allow a mining contractor company to build a road through a restoration forest in South Sumatra.

Critics claim the project could damage the sensitive ecosystem and threaten the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, the only tiger subspecies left in the country after two other subspecies became extinct in Java and Bali.

“This is contradictory to the government’s said commitment to restore forests and rehabilitate the ecosystem, that could serve as the natural habitat for wild species and a top predator such as the Sumatran tiger,” Yoan Dinata, a member of Forum Harimau Kita (Our Tiger Forum), in Jambi, said.

Once completed, the road would cut across the Harapan rainforest, a 98,555-hectare wildlife haven in South Sumatra and Jambi provinces managed by Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia (REKI) as the concession holder.

The forest is the first ecosystem restoration concession in Indonesia based on a collaboration led by Burung Indonesia, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and BirdLife International.

Dinata said the existing road network built by companies managing various concessions in nearby industrial forests had already put a barrier between conservation areas inhabited by tigers.

Opening the forest for a road project could escalate human-tiger conflicts in Sumatra, he added, as tigers often entered human settlements in search of food as a result of deforestation and habitat loss.

“Forest restoration is also aimed to increase the tiger’s population. If their natural habitat is shrinking, they would not be able to breed, and we would not be able to increase their population.”

There were at least 20 tigers in the Harapan forest based on a 2015 research, according to REKI data. But camera traps installed inside the forest, which represents 20 percent of the remaining lowland forest in Sumatra, have captured tiger sightings over the years.

01_Harimau sumatera, salah satu satwa kunci Hutan Harapan, tertangkap camera trap
A camera trap photo shows a Sumatran tiger was roaming the Harapan forest in Musi Banyuasin, South Sumatra in September 2019. Tigers are among the vulnerable and endangered species that inhabit the forest. Photo: Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia

Hospita Yulima, REKI’s spokeswoman, told Arab News that the company so far never received formal notification from the Forestry Ministry that they had permitted the coal transport company to build a road that cuts through their concession, allowing the company to use 424 hectares of land in the forest, on which some parts of the coal road project would be constructed.

The designated areas are part of the Asian elephants’ track and the tigers’ home roaming range.

“If this permit is really issued, it is difficult for us to say that the forestry ministry supports the Harapan forest restoration.”

Arab News tried to contact the ministry for confirmation but failed to receive a response in time. Meanwhile, Diki Kurniawan, a director at the Jambi chapter of the Environmental Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHL) said that activists had urged the company to use an existing road network that goes around the forest or has been constructed by other firms in the area.

“They could negotiate with those companies to use the road, instead of opening the forest just to construct their own road,” he said. The forest is also home to an indigenous, semi-nomad community, the Batin Sembilan, who have made the forest their home for centuries.

Although some members of the community have settled in permanent dwellings inside the forest, they still rely on the forest for their livelihood by harvesting non-wood produce such as honey, resin gum, or rattan. Kurniawan said the YLBHL and 36 other civil society organizations that formed a coalition called South Sumatra-Jambi Anti Forest Destruction to reject the plan is mulling over assisting the indigenous tribe – as the party directly impacted by the project – to challenge the ministry’s decision through a legal channel.

“The road project could open access to poachers and illegal logging. We have seen from previous practices that companies that open the forests could not prevent the forest from the devastating impact,” Kurniawan said.

Read the original story in Arab News

Indonesian police foil attempt to smuggle 36 endangered sea turtles

Indonesian authorities have detained seven people for allegedly attempting to smuggle 36 endangered green sea turtles, police said Sunday.

The police in Bali nabbed the smugglers in the waters off Serangan, a small island on the south-eastern coast of the resort island known for its turtle conservation.

The seven were transporting the green sea turtles – one of the world’s largest species of turtle – in an outrigger boat when they were intercepted, said director of Bali water and air police Toni Ariadi Effendi.

“They were going to hand over the green turtles to someone in Serangan,” Effendi said.

The police have taken the turtles to the local nature conservation agency to be kept as evidence while investigating the case and prosecuting the smugglers before they are to be released back into the wild.

A green turtle weighs up to 132 kilograms and is about 80 to 150 centimeters long.

Six out of the world’s seven sea turtles species are found in Indonesia, which is part of the turtles’ migrating route from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa. They are hunted for their hard upper shells to be made as accessories or preserved as taxidermy.