Founders Story and Motivation to Start the Business
Our Farm is under Water
That statement, although correct, would not be reason for concern for the Bali
Coral Farm and its owner and manager Wieke Endang. While the operation is financially thriving, the actual farming of live coral happens under water; in a shallow lagoon located off the south end of the Indonesian Island of Bali, to be precise. While happy tourists enjoy the beach, they don’t realize that in a protected cove nearby is the hidden gem of an ocean based coral farm. The workers place small coral fragments on tables under water and grow them to size. Those coral then get packed and shipped all around the globe to aquariums and ornamental fish tank wholesalers.
The Indonesian native grew up in a small farming community on the main island Java. Her father is now retired from a long career as school principal, her older sister works in finance and her younger sister went into the fathers footsteps to become a junior high school teacher. Her mother sold farming crops in their town and on the local market. Wieke wanted to do something meaningful and interesting after her studies at the university Yogyakarta, but had no clear vision of what that might be. Her sister had a job at a local coral exporter where she could find work and learned about the trade. She was fascinated with the intricate profession and its environmentally sensible way to propagate an otherwise endangered and protected species. She decided early on that this is her calling. The coral farm business would determine her future in more than one way. She worked for a different coral farming operation in Bali where she met her husband. Now they are happily married and raising their son. The entrepreneurial Wieke Endang started her own shipping operations and shortly thereafter signed the first contract with the government on her own leasehold claim to raise coral. Just when business started to pick up and she managed to build up a good clientele of wholesale buyers overseas, the unthinkable happened.
The most difficult times
In 2018 the Indonesian government put a moratorium on all coral exports. “That was by far the most difficult time in our business,” explains the bright eyed entrepreneur. “We had to maintain our underwater operations to not lose our crop and leasehold claim of the farm, so I had to continue to employ my staff. I also did not want to lose my qualified workers, which are very difficult to find and recruit. Raising coral is a real art form. There is so much that can go wrong, and then months, if not years of work can be wiped out in an instant. During the two year hiatus we had no means to generate revenue. We were living of savings and I was lucky to had the means to keep all our staff.” The determined business woman finds herself extremely fortunate to be able to continue with her operations through this tough time. Many similar small farming outfits had to close shop and lost everything. Even well established operations had to conduct massive layoffs, and experts calculated the island nation lost around 12,000 jobs during the coral export ban.
Even after the export resumed it was not all easy for Endang. A worldwide health crisis brought her business to a virtual standstill. Her shipping option dwindled away when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the travel industry. Without international flights her usual shipping routes vanished. Her staff worked countless hours to find obscure airline routes to bring the precious cargo to their far flung destinations in a timely manner. What was previously a daytime job, became a 24 hour endeavor for the packing crew. Many times coral had to be prepped for an important night time flight and sleepless nights were a small price to pay to keep a good business alive. The administrative efforts had been increasing significantly with the international cites export documentation and the new requirements by the government. All coral that is being raised has to be documented on an ongoing basis so every single specimen is accompanied with a seamless documentation of its origin.
The logistical workload has exploded since the government mandated export hiatus. She praises the endurance and dedication of her staff. “My guys are the best!” She explains with a broad smile. “They knew I was there for them during the hiatus and made sure they had food on the table. They had my back and continue to do so ever since. I would not have made it through without them.” She continues:”If you treat people well, they will treat you well. That’s how I see it.” A simple philosophy in a complicated world. With all the success she had in an industry dominated by men and wealthy corporations, she stayed humble. Her house is small, even for Indonesian standards. Its location is on the outskirts of the island’s capital, far away from the expensive tourist spots. But she splurges on paying a family friend to drive her around between shipping facilities, the airport, the farming operations, her son’s school, and home. After all, the traffic in the little island can only be described as severely chaotic under western standards.
Advice To Other Business Owners
When asked if she had a bit of advice for people starting a business she answers quickly: “Start early on and don’t give up. Try to get the best education early on. When daily life gets in the way it is hard to catch up on things. I wish I had English in school for longer. I now have no time to perfect my writing. My customers are forgiving and nice about it. I wish it would be better but I have to learn as I am talking to people. Start your business as soon as you feel confident about what you know and what you can do.” It seemed to have worked for her as she navigated difficult times and a demanding business. “There is almost never the right time to start something new and take on the scary risk to venture out on your own. Do it early when you are young. It takes time to get something going. I worked very hard and had to learn many lessons. I am still learning every day and I still feel after so many years that our business is always changing.”
Coral Farming for Environmental Protection
The owner of the Bali Coral Farm believes in giving back in many ways. Some of the coral she raises are donated for reef restoration projects. “We all rely on the environment and the beautiful waters. Tourism, fishery, our coral export business – many industries and large parts of the local economy are tied to our environment. What we can do is to prevent coral being harvested in the wild. And we can help to rebuild what has been lost due to Climate Change with its warming ocean temperatures, pollution, and tourist impact.” While her small company is a for profit operation, she sees her role as an aquaculture business woman also as a way to preserve her environment. Her family background in a small farming community has left its mark. Farming comes naturally. It is a way of life for many in this diverse nation. In a sense it is part of a national identity in an emerging modern economy. Her version of farming diverts from the tradition of the rice fields she grew up around, but she is still close to her roots. She still owns a family parcel in her home town that is maintained by neighbors and bears two harvest of rice each year. The fascinating work in a sustainable ocean based farm operation embraces modern technology and logistics as much as it relies on tradition and manual labor. It’s painstaking work that requires skill and knowledge. But most of all patience. Lots of patience.
For many visitors the location of Bali with its luxury resorts, the tropical setting of its lush vegetation, and its rich cultural history, is a place that resembles paradise. It is one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world with Millions of visitors every year. But for some it is the perfect place to do unique and amazing things. It can be the spot to carve out a place for yourself. Bali is home for Wieke Endang. It is the place where she realized the wild dream of becoming a farmer, right under Neptune’s watch.
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