Mother-of-six Bathsheba stands over her outdoor stove in the morning sun, surrounded by palm trees that have yielded their sap for the sugar syrup she is producing. Her youngest daughter plays nearby as she patiently stirs the sap and reduces it down into a thick syrup. Once it has cooled, she bottles and sells the honey-coloured sugar syrup to families in her neighbourhood.
Bathsheba didn’t go to school, but thanks to the palm sugar syrup business they set up with the help of a small loan, Bathsheba and her husband are able to provide their children with an education.
I didn't go to school and my husband only finished primary school, but we have been able to send our children to school. Now we can buy the uniform, the books and all of the stationery for our children to use in school."
While Bathsheba doesn’t know her exact age, her identification papers suggest she is around 43 years old. With six children to support – ranging in age from 20 to just one year old – Bathsheba and her husband previously farmed seaweed as their primary income source before taking out a loan to start the syrup business.
Seaweed is an environmentally friendly crop with a long tradition in Indonesia, one of the largest producers of farmed seaweed. However, crops are seasonal, prices are volatile, and seaweed crops and equipment are susceptible to extreme weather events – like Cyclone Seroja that hit the East Nusa Tenggara region in 2021. This makes it hard for seaweed farmers to generate a sustainable income.
Bathsheba and her husband tried their hand at making palm sugar syrup to improve their income, but needed access to capital in order to properly establish the business and increase production.
As well as the 2021 cyclone wiping out their seaweed harvest and equipment, the family faced further challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as lockdowns and restrictions on movement in the community meant nobody came to buy their sugar syrup.
They turned to their seaweed business for income during this time, struggling to survive on the low income it provided. “If we didn't reduce our food [intake] then we wouldn’t have been able to eat at all,” Bathsheba’s husband says. “We just bought a little food and ate little by little every day during the pandemic.”
Their oldest child now runs the seaweed business, while they look after the palm sugar business.
When Opportunity’s local program partner expanded to her remote village on the island of Rote, East Nusa Tenggara, Bathsheba jumped at the opportunity to take out a loan of A$285 to build her palm sugar business. Although the remote community doesn’t even have access to the internet, thanks to the generosity of Opportunity International Australia’s supporters, Bathsheba’s family and others in her community have been able to access financial services including loans as our local partner continues to expand its reach.
She and her husband rise at 3am to avoid the hot sun – her husband climbs the palm trees to extract the sap in the cool of the morning. He scales the trees with ease, reaching the top by placing his feet in small grooves cut into the trunk of the tree; a simple tool and bottle to collect the sap attached to a belt around his waist. While he collects the sap, Bathsheba cooks for her children and wakes them for school. When the children are in class, she cooks the sugar syrup and collects water for their daily needs.
Since the peak of lockdowns, demand for palm sugar has grown again, and they are producing to meet the demand, saving everything they can for their children’s future. They see a lot of potential to grow their sustainable production of palm sugar over time and are focussed on helping their children continue their education. “The money we are saving from selling the palm sugar will be enough for us to send our children to university.”
Learn more about our microfinance program - supporting more than 1.4 million families in Indonesia to pave their pathway out of poverty.