Trip helps to build closer ties

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A group of women pastoralists from the State's north say they are proud to be sending their cattle to their closest neighbour.

Last week, 10 women, including five pastoralists from the Kimberley and Pilbara, spent four days on a whirlwind tour of feedlots and abattoirs near Lampung and Jakarta in Indonesia.

They saw state-of-the art practices and management tools used by feedlotters and abattoirs, including the use of stunning and closed circuit television (CCTV).

Catherine Marriott, founder of Influential Women, said the trip had been a great comfort for pastoralists.

"These women are not only confident in sending their cattle to Indonesia, they are proud to be sending them, especially after seeing how much work has been done," she said.

After the live export ban and the introduction of the Export Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS), Indonesian importers and those along the supply chain have been investing heavily to meet the new requirements.

Santori, the biggest importer of Australian cattle, has spent more than $800,000, while PT Agro Giri Perkasa has invested close to $1 million.

At Santori's Jabung feedlot near Lampung, individual animals are tracked from the moment they enter the feedlot for 120 days, when they leave for slaughtering.

Next on the agenda is to identify and buy the best-performing Australian cattle.

Santori group head of government relations and business development Dayan Antoni said initially the industry was resistant to the changes required by ESCAS. But six months on, its value is being recognised.

Butchers can process an animal in half of the time using stunning and conditions are safer for employees.

Mr Antoni said the industry was feeling proud of implementing a system that was an international standard.

Milestones at Santori are being celebrated, including processing 50,000 animals under ESCAS.

At abattoirs, including Z Beef, highlighted in the Four Corners footage, the turnaround has been significant. Stunning is used along with CCTV and only trained animal welfare officers (AWOs) can go near cattle. The AWOs are in uniform and are trained specifically to work with Australian cattle and to use stunning equipment.

Before the trip, Helen Campion, of Anna Plains station, was apprehensive about visiting abattoirs.

"Having witnessed myself all the developments and how the Indonesians have worked hard to put policies and procedures in place, I feel very self-assured sending my cattle off to Indonesia," Ms Campion said.

"I'm a beef farmer producing protein for Indonesian families."

But the ESCAS system has not been without problems. Big feedlots are operating at a third capacity and are selling to far fewer abattoirs, while smaller feedlots, like PT Elders, are operating at 80 per cent.

The focus for importers and exporters is to create more supply chains but first they need more cattle.

"Australian cattle are seen as the most efficient for producing beef compared to local cattle, which are getting more expensive every day," Mr Antoni said.

"We reached a record high price last Ramadan, local cattle supply is actually getting harder and the quality of cattle is lower in terms of efficiency."

There is a strong push for Indonesian law to change to allow Brazilian cattle imports and reduce the reliance on Australian cattle where supply can be cut in an instant.

Freight from Australia is 60 cents per kilogram for five days and from Brazil an estimated 250c/kg for 24 days but as an extra incentive Brazil has expressed willingness to invest.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made it clear that Australia needs to invest in the industry as it heads towards self sufficiency.

Ms Marriott, who has worked as a ruminant consultant in Indonesia and as part of ESCAS, believes investment needs to be focused on local people and hygiene through the introduction of hanging lines and rails in abattoirs.

By 2014, Indonesia's aim is for imports to account for less than 10 per cent of the domestic beef market and cattle numbers to reach 14.2 million.

But there are still opportunities for Australia in Indonesia.

It has the fastest-growing middle class in the world and because of that beef consumption is expected to increase sharply.

The country needs up to 27 million cattle to turn off three to four million cattle for processing.

Even with a 5 per cent growth in local cattle, Mr Antoni said they would not be able to cope with demand.

"My message to Australian farmers is have faith - I know it's hard," he said. "The bottom line is there isn't enough local cattle to produce beef unless you want to slaughter all the females and all the young steers. But this would mean in two years we would be finished."

Politically, Australia has a lot of work to do to repair the damage but with an election next year, and one in 2014 in Indonesia, there is hope for a realistic perspective on both sides.

Fast facts *

_Indonesia: _

·Population: 238 million

·Land mass: 1,919,440sqkm with more than 17,000 islands

·Religion: 86 per cent Muslim

·Income: fastest growing middle income earning country

·Poverty: about 30 million people are below the poverty line

·Average wage: IDR 50,000 to 80,000 a day

·Government: 33 provinces, more than 400 districts

·Language: more than 500 dialects

·Beef consumption: 2kg per person per annum

·Cattle population: estimated 14 million

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