Interview with Representatives of PPHI, an Indonesian Farmers’ Co-op

Note: This content is the result of (1) Brian Gallagher’s interview with Mr. Suhairi Ery, Daily Chairman of PPHI and kratom farmer Mr. Jamaluddin Junaid, translated by Mr. Fadli Ashari, (2) Correspondence between Mr. Ashari and Brian Gallagher via email. (3) Questions written by both Brian Gallagher and Mr. Ashari and agreed upon before the recording of Episode #57 of the Kratom Science Podcast. Mr. Ashari prepared this transcript.

About PPHI

PPHI is an Indonesian horticulture entrepreneurship association (often referred to as something akin to a “farmer’s” or “forester’s co-op” in the United States), located in Pontianak, Kalimantan Barat, Indonesia. Created October 9, 2019, the members of PPHI are all involved in businesses in the fields of horticulture; such as coffee, vanilla, betel nut, cinnamon, pepper, tobacco, kratom, etc.

Members of PPHI come from all levels and positions, such as exporter, farmer, and product processor. PPHI is led by Heriyandri, S.os. MM, also a partner of Indonesia’s Ministry of Agricultural, Plantations and Trade.

Why do we choose Horticulture? Our ultimate desire is to be as inclusive as possible, so that we do not limit ourselves and our members to one specific commodity, such as Kratom, only. We are trying to offer, and open up, an alternative insight of what’s happening in our Country to the public. And much of that insight would be prevented if we locked ourselves on only one commodity like Kratom, whose future is often presented in a confusing way due to simple language barrier.

It is the hope of PPHI, that if one commodity, say for example Palm Oil, again to use as an example only, since we do not wish to be Palm Oil producers, because it destroys our Country’s precious natural resources. But that way, the many members of PPHI will still have a secondary income, and the many International public(s) we serve, will be assured we still have other horticultural products to grow without destroying our rapidly dwindling natural resources .

For example, the Kratom business in our region centers around the “Kapuas Hulu,” where half of the local communities have a very high expectation of kratom products. But when there is a stagnant event, such as what we believe we observe to be happening now, the local communities in our Country have secondary alternatives for their families’ needs. Because in this Kapuas Hulu region, if there were no kratom, then the economics won’t circulate appropriately which results in many of our members only being paid a few cents an hour for all our hard work! 

The PPHI’s greatest goal is finding alternative horticultural market commodities that will grow in such specific areas in order to empower our local communities.

What is PPHI and what is the objective of PPHI?

PPHI is the abbreviation for an Indonesian horticulture entrepreneurship association, an association where entrepreneurs and farmers gather, in a “co-op” fashion and move together on horticultural commodities under the foundation and direction of Indonesia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Plantations and Trade, with the coordination of our National Narcotics Agency (BNN). As a whole, PPHI members sell many horticultural products including kratom.

The objectives of PPHI are:

a.    To serve as the Indonesian government’s partner on the foundation, mentoring and information sources for horticulture entrepreneurs here.

b.    To fight for the interests of farmers and horticultural entrepreneurs.

c.    To develop a product information center, which will also provide market opportunities for even more horticultural products.

d.    To conduct the processing and distribution of horticultural products  

How many members does PPHI have, what areas do they serve and what are their professions?

PPHI covers all regions of Indonesia, the central board of management is in Pontianak, West Kalimantan province, and Jakarta

General chairman: Heriyandri, S.Sos. MM

Daily Chairman: Suhairi, S.Pd.

The number of registered members of PPHI are 270 people, and each of the members have their respective “fostered farmers.”

How do you grow kratom trees in Indonesia?.

Every island in Indonesia has rivers, watersheds and a tropical climate, the very best of habitats for the growth of kratom trees.

Then how do you process the raw material into ready to export products?

Because kratom is a very adaptive plant for the environment, we believe for now, that plantations are the right way to help develop the future of the kratom industry based on restrictions placed upon us to import, in places like the U.S.. By means of developing processing and trading Kratom centers, we wish to modernize more operations than we already have in the last several years. Why? Because aside from providing Kratom as a commodity to our people so that they may live prosperous lives and so that human health and safety is our number one priority.

What is the role of PPHI in the process of growing, processing and selling (local/export) of kratom products?

We answer this question above, but PPHI is a government partner in the development of horticulturural businesses models at both the small and  large business levels. PPHI always supports government policies in terms of business –  development, export/import policies, and processing governance, distribution, and even the export activities of the horticultural commodity to many foreign countries. Right now, PPHI already has shipping facilities and a special warehouse for kratom in the US.

What is the local price of kratom product in Indonesia?.

Rp (25,000, – 30,000, -) per kg. This figure shows that it is impossible, if applying GMP standards we have been told we must apply (in conferences we have hosted here for leaders in the U.S.), for this price to support families and  production costs.

What is the export price of kratom product in general?.

The price of kratom export in general which is currently valid is $ 4- $ 6 / RAW (untested) kg. This is for products that do not meet kratom processing standards as raw material for herbal medicine or food mixture. Ideally the price is $ 12 / kg. Because there must be a washing process, where the indoors is separate and free from dust and animal contamination. As well as standard food grade milling machines, which we try to purchase in order to afford together, especially considering that most people are processing  manually, by human power.

What causes the downfall of kratom sales price in Indonesia?

The price downfall is caused by the speculation attitude of sellers and buyers, especially the buyer of the USA. Those who buy large quantities in bulk as “big business” always suppresse the actual USA purchase price, preventing our suppliers from maintaining quality. If this continues to occur, it will be a threat to the kratom market in the USA, because it is now filled with low quality kratom products, many cases of bacterial contamination, (this occurs at this time of year every year, it is seasonal) because the workmanship and raw materials that are used do not meet the minimum standard market needs in USA. Again, we must emphasize that this is what we are told when we meet with business interest located in the USA.

What solution is required to solve the problem?

The solution is to stop the acts of speculative businesses and leaders in the USA on the Kratom issue. They do not coach important product standardization, standardization of prices and do not coach exporters and farmers on ways to avoid selling low quality product at low prices. We must be able to control post-harvest preparation of basic materials, especially the environment we work in, the process and the tools used (performed by each manufacturer) so that everything is done in a sanitary way for human health and safety.

Is there any ethical issues that are being faced in the process of planting and processing kratom trees?.

There are no problems of ethics in planting and processing, there are no prohibitions from the government to plant kratom. Even our assisted farmers have received the help of kratom seedlings from our Ministry of Environment through FORCLIME (Forests and Climate Change Program), a total of 120,000 stems for 35 villages from 3 sub-districts, in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan. This achievement makes us very proud.

Is there any current regulations in Indonesia that makes planting, processing and exporting kratom products more difficult?.

Until now the Indonesian government has never issued a regulation on cultivation, distribution and trade of kratom except by the Food and Medicine Supervisory Agency (BPOM) number HK00.05.23.3544 concerning the prohibition of the use of Mitragyna speciosa for a mixture of traditional herbal medicine.

Except if the government will apply the harmonization decision of the ASEAN region regarding the ban on the circulation of Kratom in 2023. Because at this, Indonesia has not implemented the prohibition of the circulation of Kratom both local and for export. We do not understand why this rumor seems to always circulate and make people in the USA, the consumer, panic. 

Is the process of kratom processing in Indonesia has followed the GMP standard?.

Kratom products in Indonesia have not fully met GMP standards, that usually why 3rd-party testing must be done in the U.S. Our members cannot afford such extensive tests here and our standards seem to have been kept low, on purpose..

What is the biggest obstacle that makes it hard to follow GMP standard?

As stated above, to meet the GMP standards we are taught by USA businesses and leaders, a very large manufacturing investment is required. But there is no certainty of kratom regulation in the USA, our largest export destination country, making kratom entrepreneurs in Indonesia delay investment and negotiations with the Indonesian government related to manufacturing. If there is clarity about kratom regulation in the USA, PPHI is very likely to get special permission for kratom export. Even establishing a kratom processing plant in Indonesia for the first time in history. 

What is the solution so that the kratom product from Indonesia can have  GMP standard?

For us in Indonesia it is an easy case to make products according to GMP standards with several conditions:

  1. The certainty of buying with prices according to goods that meet GMP standards.
  2. The buyer can convince his government that the Kratom is needed by the population of the USA,
  3. The USA government gives import kratom permission for companies that have permission because they follow all rules and regulations to protect public health and wellness..
  4. Permissions are not general (Terms and conditions apply to exporters and importers)

What is PPHI hope and expectation for kratom export-import in the future?.

Our hope is to maintain the continuity of quality goods to the USA with discussion limited to B to B (business to business) and G to G (government to government) in our Country.. Because to maintain quality, quantity must be limited according to user requirements in the USA. The market requirements are always very large, there is often over-supply, which becomes speculation, drops prices and makes the USA government agencies’ jobs, especially that of the FDA, very difficult to supervise the distribution and use of kratom.

What message do you want to get out to kratom consumers in the USA?

Keep kratom legal in your country, avoid excessive use that causes negative effects. Don’t give the FDA a loophole to record more cases of kratom abuse. Because every case that goes on record will be the reason the FDA goes to the door of ban (Schedule I).

Will the decision in Thailand have a positive effect on Indonesia as far as keeping kratom legal? Since it’s part of the ASEAN region?

Since Thailand is from ASEAN, there must be positive and negative impacts.

The positive:

 (a). There will be many countries struggling so that Kratom does not enter into (Schedule I) as the FDA is now submitting to WHO. 

(b). For farmers, it will be a barometer (the reason for Indonesian farmers) to maintain the status of kratom as it is now, if BNN plans to set the status of kratom to be Illegal.

The negative:

Is that there will be other competitors as kratom suppliers to USER Kratom countries.

Will the BNN ban kratom in 2022? Please explain this law.

The plan to ban the circulation of Kratom in 2022 did not come from BNN or Indonesia. But on the basis of a joint decision of ASEAN friendly countries (in the ASEAN AREA HARMONIZATION agreement) in 2009, in the context of preventing the circulation of Narcotics in the ASEAN region. At the meeting, only Indonesia had not declared banning the circulation of kratom. Malaysia and Thailand have already banned the circulation of kratom in their countries long before this meeting was held (now the Parliament is aggressively going to cancel the law prohibiting the use of Kratom in the community). several countries in ASEAN have previously issued laws prohibiting the circulation of kratom in their countries.

You can imagine what will happen at the ASEAN Harmonization meeting scheduled for 2022 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, if Thailand and Malaysia release the Act prohibiting the circulation of Kratom. Then Indonesia did the opposite. Closing the circulation of kratom. Even though 95% of Indonesian kratom is for export needs (not circulating in Indonesia).

In Indonesia, BNN does not have the authority to make regulations or laws. BNN only has an execution function if there is a violation or abuse (in the case of drugs and narcotics). But BNN has the right to submit a law but the decision remains with the ministry of health. In the Regulation of the Minister of Health No. 4 of 2021 concerning the Classification of Narcotics, Kratom is not included in the Narcotics group. So it is not forbidden to trade.

Is there disagreement in the government in Indonesia as to the legality of kratom?

In Indonesia, kratom is never discussed at the ministry level, because Kratom is not a major export commodity and its impact is not significant on state revenues.

How long has kratom grown in Indonesia – is it hundreds of years old, thousands?

Kratom tree is a native and endemic plant in Southeast Asia. So the kratom tree has been around for hundreds or maybe thousands of years since the formation of rivers in mainland Asia. Because the habitat of kratom is a watershed (watershed)

Is there a traditional use of kratom in indonesia like there is in Thailand?

The ASEAN region has basically the same civilization, exchanged habits, and experience. Likewise, the use of kratom as a traditional medicine. In traditional communities, the kratom tree gets the title of the God Tree. Because the leaves have medicinal properties for many diseases.

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