Indonesia rediscovers microbusiness as solution to unemployment
by Mathias Hariyadi
Exports are collapsing (-36% in January), and unemployment is on the rise from already high levels. With no better prospects, the unemployed are reinventing small businesses, like food carts. The government is financing projects to foster microbusiness. These also include handmade cigarettes.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - With the collapse in exports (-36% in January), the problem of unemployment is becoming more severe in Indonesia. The population is inventing small family businesses, and the government plans to help in this effort.

Official numbers show that about 38,000 people lost their jobs in the first two months of 2009, including more than 16,300 in Jakarta alone, especially because of the closure of factories that produce goods for export. Experts expect more than 100,000 more job losses by June. Unemployment was already high in the country, and the Indonesian Statistics Bureau (ISB) says that in August of 2008 this amounted to 9.39 million people. Arizal Ahnaf of the ISB recently said that "the jobless figure has reached 8.39% of the total labor force."

Many of the unemployed are falling back on small-scale entrepreneurial activities. Like the "warteg," roadside stands that serve the most traditional and popular foods and beverages, like the soybean cake called "tempeh," and plates of tofu.

This activity, which may seem haphazard, is finding strong support among city residents, who are able to enjoy familiar dishes quickly and cheaply, instead of having to go to Japanese or Western-style fast food restaurants.

Millions of people are active in similar microbusinesses, which can be opened with a minimal investment. A few days ago, Erman Suparno, the minister of manpower and transmigration, together with the education minister, launched a program called "3-in-1 kiosk": genuine microbusinesses in which the owner is both the manufacturer and retailer of the product.

New graduates, who are often jobless, are being urged to get involved in such activities. Those interested are given basic training. For example, in Malang (eastern Java), multinational tobacco company Philip Morris and other local industries in the sector have helped more than 120 unemployed people to become "entrepreneurs." In two weeks, they learned to make and sell cigarettes. Djaka Ritamtama, a local official, observes that "they could produce a homemade cigarette industry."

Suparno says that "last year, at least 1.9 million people managed to get jobs from this program." For 2009, he hopes it can help at least 2.5 million unemployed. But such a project requires financing estimated to be more than 600 billion rupees (about 39.2 million euros) in order to set up training centers, and another 200 billion for apprenticeships.