Indonesia in Focus
Matoa Fruit Harvest Fails: Papua
Silpa and her five-month-old baby girl Anna have been sitting at Sentani’s bus terminal corridor from 5 a.m., waiting for people to the buy six sacks of matoa fruit they brought their village in Jayapura regency, Papua. The 23-year-old woman said she was hopeful her sacks of matoa fruit, a fruit indigenous to Papua, would sell so well she would be able to buy new clothes and new kitchen utensils to replace the broken ones at her home in Genyem hamlet.
She said she had left home at 3 a.m. to reach the terminal some 40 km away, to sell her sack fruit for Rp 150,000 each.
“My husband and his brother cut the matoa and we split the yields, then I took our share to the market,” she said.
But luck was not on her side, she said.
Although the matoa fruit season reached its peak during the fasting month of Ramadhan this year, sales have not increased.
In the past three years, a kilogram of matoa might cost Rp 30,000, but in Jayapura city, some 80 km from Silpa’s village, it sells for Rp 15,000 a kilogram.
Silpa was not alone though. At the terminal, there were around 20 other women, each carrying at least two sacks each of matoa.
Good quality matoa is now priced at Rp 150,000 a sack, much less than the Rp 400,000 it sold for last year.
An hour later, Silpa gave in and sold her matoa for Rp 50,000 a sack.
“If I wait any longer, more farmers will come with matoa and I’m afraid the price might get lower and lower,” she said.
Matoa comes in colors including yellow, green and a yellowish green. Its tree can reach 47 meters high.
The fruit, which is harvested once a year, tastes like a mix of rambutan, longan and lychee and the best matoa is known as coconut matoa.
Fruit trader Ibrahim, who trades in front of a Mega shopping center in the heart of Abepura, said despite the growers’ bad luck, he was having a good time.
The 30-year-old said he had just purchased some matoa at Sentani terminal “for a very good price”.
At his shop, he said he sells matoa for Rp 25,000 per kilogram and would lower the price to Rp 15,000 a kg for those buying more than five kilos.
“I might make Rp 300,000 profit for every sack I bought,” Ibrahim said.
“But if the public order officers are conducting raids, I might lose lots of money as they would confiscate my merchandise.”
He said he usually bought first rate coconut matoa from Nafri village, some 9 km from Abepura, at Rp 300,000 per sack. He would then sell the fruit for Rp 40,000 per kg.
“A sack contains almost 18 kg.”
He said he knew when traders were enjoying good sales, matoa farmers had to work hard to earn their money.
At Nafri village in Jayapura city, the night was bright, because most residents in the village had put up bright lamps on top of their matoa trees.
Some villagers had placed two and three lamps on a single tree.
“We put up the lamps, as well as those cans, to get rid of bats,” resident Rosita Merahabia said.
“The clanking sounds of the cans would scare the bats.”
She said the farmers had also devised ways to protect their matoa on the plantation.
There are five to six kerosene lamps in each tree, another resident Yan Merahabia said.
“The lamps are placed a week before harvest time, starting 9 p.m. until the morning.”
Yan said in one week a farmer would use 12 liters of kerosene to guard a single tree.
Nafri hamlet is best known for its coconut matoa, which is green in color when young, but turns reddish when ready for harvest. Harvest time is not easy and should be done in certain way, farmers said.
In Papua, farmers just pick their fruit from the matoa tree if it is part of a plantation, but if the tree is growing wild, the would cut down tree branches to get their fruit.
The last technique, however, has been blamed for a decline in matoa in the marketplace because many trees have been cut down.
Gerson Awie Ondoafi, a tribal leader in Nafri village, said currently not all families owned matoa trees.
The fruit has become a rare commodity, forcing some village residents to purchase it from their neighbors instead of growing it themselves.
“Before, we lived on the sea, building houses with the sea under us,” Gerson said.
“At that time, the land was all plantations.
“But now, the plantations have become residential and many matoa trees were cut down to make way for houses.”
Another problem, he said, was the widespread use of matoa timber that was illegally logged.
“If a matoa tree is being cut down, we must plant another matoa tree again, not other trees, or we will not be able to taste matoa again,” he said.
Angela Maria Flassy
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