Tackling the Problems of Salt Production in Indonesia
Interview with Umbu Paru Lowu Dawa, S.Pi, M.Sc
Shmily Evania Soen - BE’20
Elmega Gracia Elisabeth Simanjuntak - BE’20
“Let’s use our knowledge to help others detach from the conventional way of thinking, so they can move forward. After graduation, serve the community by giving the people proper education to improve their work and eventually, lead them to a better life.”
- Umbu Paru Lowu Dawa, S.Pi, M.Sc
Pak Umbu was one of the speakers for SBE UISC 2021 x FDEP Pre-Event II, “Garam sebagai Penopang Proses Industri”, on July 26, 2021. To seek solutions for salt production problems, we interviewed him for suggestions.
In 2021, the national salt requirement reaches 4.6 million tonnes. 84% of which is for industries, the rest is for human consumption. What are the differences between industrial and consumption salt?
Firstly, we must understand that salt is essential for living. Salt can be produced traditionally or modernly. Industrial salt undertakes a distinctive process of production. What differs industrial salt from table salt is how much sodium chloride (NaCl) it contains (editor’s note: table salt has the minimum requirement of NaCl at 94%, while industrial salt’s is at 97%). These standards are by SNI 2016 and 2017.
Our local salt is subpar for its impurities, including magnesium and calcium, which make the salt useless, even causing harm to kidneys. In Nusa Tenggara Timur, for instance. One million tonnes of salt are produced there annually, yet it lacks interest in the market. To make it to the market, salt quality should be the primary concern and given utmost attention; optimize the level of NaCl in salt and reduce water level down to 7%.
The government imports 3 million tonnes of industrial salt this year because our salt quality has yet to meet the requirements. What may cause the local salt to have such low quality?
The quality of local salt is low because the workers prioritize quantity over quality. Take Nagekeo for example. Their salt demand per week is one million tonnes. To produce such numbers, workers farm salt in 4-5 days, which is inadequate time for production. Aspects, such as organoleptic score, color, and smell are often overlooked. Consequently, Indonesia only manages to produce K2-K3 grade salt instead of K1 needed for various purposes: in the medical field for I.V. injection and capsule production, in fish processing to preserve fish.
Hence, the main reason we’re importing salt is because ours isn’t up to standards. Technologically, we are adequate. For instance, Cheetham company that adopts the Australian production method generates 97.8% NaCl K1 grade salt. The downside is our incapable workers. To tackle this problem, we need proper education for workers and collaboration.
How can we improve the local salt quality regarding the causes you mentioned?
We need to introduce students to the production’s technological process and system. We can’t solely know theoretically how these systems work without truly understanding it. The industrial work system should be implemented in our school’s curriculum.
Can we increase the salt quality through chemical processes?
Farmed salt still needs to go through many processes before being distributed. High-quality salt contains mostly iodine and NaCl, and a bit of magnesium and potassium. Excess magnesium and potassium are impurities and are harmful to humans. The salt produced must have the right contents to ensure its quality. To know the contents of the salt, we use the Baumé scale (editor’s note: Baumé scale is a hydrometer scale used to measure the specific gravity of liquids).
Chemical processes are crucial parts of salt production. All salt must undergo salt washing, the process of removing impurities such as magnesium and potassium in salt. Salts with inadequate contents are subjected to fortification, a method of adding essential minerals or vitamins to foods to increase their nutritional value. In low-iodine salts, fortification is done through iodization to increase iodine.
Has a biotechnological approach been taken? Like adding living beings, such as algae or bacteria, into salt farms or other biotechnology methods.
The latest technology we use to produce salt is geomembrane, which also produces the best quality salt to date. However, the traditional method of producing salt remains highly popular. So far, there has not been a biotechnological approach to increase salt quality. I think it is your job, future bioengineers, to explore this matter.