COVID-19 and Artisanal Miners in Indonesia’s Kalimantan Province
By Erza Winanto - May 26, 2020
Repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic have reached even the most isolated regions of the globe, among them the Artisanal Gold Council’s project in the Pudu Jaya WPR area in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The AGC project lies surrounded by palm forest about an hour’s journey from the nearest gold buying centre of Paranggean, which itself lies some 120km from the district capital of Sampit. From Sampit, it’s a three hour flight to the Indonesian export points in Surabaya and Jakarta.
The first effects of the pandemic reached Kalimantan in mid-March, in the form of rising prices for food and other staples. The outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the capital, Jakarta, had lead to panic-buying and caused a spike in food prices that rippled out through the rest of the country. At the same time the Rupiah fell some 20% in value compared to the US dollar (see Figure 1), making fuel and transportation more expensive, with ripple-on effects throughout the economy.
.Paranggean’s remote location meant prices were already elevated there compared with the rest of the country. The price shocks coming out of the capital only accentuated this problem.At the same time, the price paid for artisanal gold in Paranggean began to separate from the international price of gold. As shown in Figure 2, the international price for gold soared nearly 23% between January and April, from 700,000 IDR/g to 860,000 IDR/g. The local price paid in Paranggean, on the other hand, remained essentially unchanged over that same period, rising from 650,000 IDR/g to 712,500 IDR/g before falling back to 650,000 IDR/g in April. The net result is that gold in Paranggean, which had sold at 93% of world spot price in January was by late April selling at a mere 76% of world price.
In Paranggean, artisanal miners from the Pudu Jaya Lestari Cooperative rely on two gold shops to sell their gold. These two shops in turn sell their gold in the market hubs of Sampit or Banjarmasin. Miners who sell to these shops are never informed of the purity of their gold. Bargaining is discouraged, and miners are in any case largely uninformed of the price of gold in the international international market. The COVD-19 pandemic has only accentuated what was already a buyer’s market, providing the gold shops with the opportunity to further increase their profit margins.
Figure 3 show this increasing margin between the local price and international price, from 50,000 IDR in January to 210,000 IDR in April. There could of course be many factors aside from purely profit. Gold shops, like miners, are affected by the increases in the prices of food and other goods, particularly transportation. Uncertainty is another factor. With transportation links subject to closure, and the status of the markets in Jakarta unclear, local shop owners might simply be unsure of when and for how much they can sell the gold they’ve acquired, and might be building a margin of error into their prices.
Unfortunately, local shop owners have been quite secretive about their motives and the basis of their gold pricing. This has generated some local resentment, and could eventually become a liability. More openness would be one way for local gold shops to avoid charges of hoarding gold and profiteering. In the longer term, miners or others including the AGC may need to develop more robust and more transparent gold supply chains that better serve the interest of Kalimantan’s artisanal gold producers, the local gold market, and the government.
Editing by Shawn Blore
Erza Winanto works with the AGC’s Project in Indonesia
The Artisanal Gold Council has partnered with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) (CAD $7.4 million) to create scalable models for a socially and environmentally responsible and economically sustainable ASGM sector in Indonesia, at targeted sites in Central Kalimantan and North Sulawesi. The five-year Project (2015-2020) aims to (i) improve technical, environmental, health, and gender equitable practices for men and women involved in artisanal mining, their communities, and related businesses; (ii) enhance policy and government support for ASGM activities at local, provinical, and national levels in Indonesia; and (iii) increase the trade of and social investment in responsible ASGM gold in Indonesia.
For more information see the AGC’s Indonesia Project Website: https://pers.no-hg.org/welcome/
Prices of gold in Paranggean from local miners.