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The Transformation of Women’s Livelihoods on the OKI Coast

In the coastal areas of OKI Regency, women face a stark reality marked by remoteness, lack of basic amenities such as electricity, and entrenched perceptions that confine them to domestic roles. Despite these challenges, women like those in the Bintang Ratu group are breaking traditional boundaries by creating processed food products from their husbands' catches, albeit limited by lack of electricity and connectivity to broader markets.

Read: Preserving a Little Paradise on the Coast of Jakarta

The Bintang Ratu group is a women’s business group in the Simpang Tiga Abadi Village. Historically, their goods, such as shrimp paste, dried fish, crackers and pempek (Indonesia fishcake), circulated only within local confines at minimal prices. Innovatively, the women in Bintang Ratu ventured into producing presto milkfish (fish meat cooked until tender with edible bones), gaining recognition and orders from beyond their village. Yet, they were struggling with significant product loss during transportation—only 50% of the products remain edible, while the rest are damaged and cannot be sold. Unclear financial practices have also impeded their business, as they are yet to turn a profit. Sales returns are channeled toward replenishing their capital.

The MERA program was introduced to OKI stakeholders in 2021 to revolutionize their business approach by introducing products like milkfish floss and nypa (mangrove palm) cookies, offering longer shelf life and broader market appeal. With training in organizational management, bookkeeping, pricing and marketing strategies, Bintang Ratu saw a promising shift. Their production of new derivative products began to thrive—transforming previously discarded nypa fruits into profitable cookies, and milkfish from the ponds into floss that is gaining popularity.

News screenshot from Harian Kompas which covering on MERA livelihood improvement (Food produce trial: milkfish floss and nypa cookies). © YKAN

However, logistics and market access continue to pose challenges. YKAN is dedicated to expanding distribution channels for the group’s innovative products, a vital move as a renowned pempek (Indonesian fishcake delicacy) store in Palembang City has committed to off-take their milkfish floss, marking a significant step forward. Efforts to boost visibility and sales have included initiating promotional partnerships with the OKI Regency Planning Office and other governmental programs.

Despite these challenges, Bintang Ratu upheld a resilient and optimistic perspective. Their achievements served as inspiration, prompting women’s collectives in neighboring villages to follow their example. Bintang Ratu's story reflects a larger narrative of empowerment and sustainable development. Through YKAN's support in enhancing production techniques, financial literacy, and market access, the group witnessed a substantial uplift in their livelihood, notably during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations, where their sales reached new heights.

This journey from underutilization to profitable sustainability not only showcases the potential for alternative livelihoods but also underscores the critical importance of empowering coastal communities, ensuring their economic activities complement rather than compete with the preservation of their natural mangrove habitats.