Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Leuser Ecosystem: "Open for Business?"

Remember how in May I reported on all this media attention being given to the new re-districting of Aceh’s forests (made possible by former Gov Irwandi’s opening up the Tripa Peat bog and his successor’s dissolving of the Leuser Foundation’s management) which were going to give big palm oil and big mining free rein to clear cut thousands of acres of formerly protected forest? Remember that after May, the press seemingly went silent? I couldn’t find any follow-ups, and letters to those who’d written the articles went unanswered.

Well, looks like the Sumatran tiger has woken up. Might not do him a lot of good, though--local government is all set to pull his teeth out.

In Indonesia, Environmentalists See a Disaster in the Making
Published: October 11, 2013

KALUL VILLAGE, Indonesia — Near a palm oil plantation here, bulldozers and chainsaws can be heard in what is officially “protected forest.” The hilly terrain is not ideal for large-scale agriculture, but with few areas left for expansion, the loggers are denuding the land anyway.

Aceh, the northern province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is a region made famous by separatist conflict and natural disasters, calamities that long held back economic development but helped preserve one of the world’s richest ecosystems. Now conservationists say the rapid clearing of virgin forest is paving the way for environmental catastrophe, turning critically endangered orangutans, tigers and elephants into refugees, and triggering landslides and flash floods.

Much of the current activity is illegal, they say, but if a land-use plan proposed by Aceh’s governor, Zaini Abdullah, is approved by the national government, currently protected forests could be rezoned as “production forests,” paving the way for logging, palm oil and mining concessions. The Aceh government argues that the change is needed to develop the local economy.

“They are very eager to build new roads and open up forests,” said Muhammad Zulfikar, of the Indonesian Forum for Environment or Walhi, a nongovernmental organization opposed to the governor’s plan. “The government must see things not only from a political or investment point of view. What would be the point of investing if it only leads to natural disaster in the future?”

Mr. Zaini’s proposal is part of a startling shift by an Aceh government dominated by former separatist rebels who once billed themselves as protectors of the region’s natural environment against outside exploitation. It also illustrates a wider problem facing Indonesia, where the tightly centralized power structure of the late authoritarian leader Suharto has given way over the past 15 years to considerable local control. Nowhere is that more the case than in Aceh, where the 2005 peace accord between the Indonesian government and rebels of the Free Aceh Movement granted the region special autonomy.

“The regional autonomy law gives the power to mayors or regents to manage their affairs, to give concessions, to issue licenses related to economic activity,” said Mas Achmad Santosa, legal adviser to a presidential working group tasked with monitoring Indonesia’s forests.

A recent study by Greenomics a Jakarta-based policy institute that researches forest management, determined that unauthorized permits for mining and palm oil plantations — meaning they were issued by local officials without approval at the national level — have affected more than 520,000 hectares, or 1.3 million acres, of protected forest in Aceh. Elfian Effendi, the executive director of Greenomics, called the proposed Aceh plan “an effort to legitimize illegal permit operations.” Protected forests currently account for about 1.84 million hectares of land in Aceh. There are about 32 million hectares of protected forest throughout Indonesia.

Indonesia has one of the world’s fastest rates of deforestation, much of it to make way for palm oil plantations. From 1990 to 2010, 20 percent of forest area was lost, according to a report by the United Nations.

In 2010, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared a freeze on new logging concessions as part of a deal with Norway, which agreed to pay Indonesia up to $1 billion for progress toward reducing deforestation. In May, Mr. Yudhoyono extended the ban to 2015.

But critics note that the moratorium applies only to new concessions, while weak governance and a complex structure of forest management leave nominally protected areas open to exploitation. For example, local governments can request that the National Development Planning Agency rezone protected areas they consider vital to economic growth.

Aceh is a case that stands out because its history of separatist uprisings eventually led to the special autonomy that has left Jakarta hesitant to intervene in how the local government manages natural resources.

“It’s quite a careful balancing act the national government has to do in accommodating Acehnese aspirations, but also imposing national law,” said John McCarthy, a senior lecturer on environment and development at Australian National University.

For decades, the separatist rebellion spared Aceh from some of the deforestation taking place elsewhere in Indonesia. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed an estimated 170,000 people and left half a million homeless in Aceh alone, further stymied development. But it also paved the way for the peace accord that ended the fighting and put the former rebels in charge of the devastated region.

Irwandi Yusuf, who served as governor from 2007 to 2012, was among them. Known to make surprise visits to logging concessions and comb forests in search of illegal chainsaws, Mr. Irwandi was the “green governor” who pledged to preserve Aceh’s rain forests.

He did so by embracing a United Nations-backed carbon-trading plan that aimed to reduce deforestation and inject much-needed money into the economy. In 2007, he barred companies from clearing primary forest or peatland. Three years later, he proposed a land-use plan that would increase the amount of protected forest by 1 million hectares.

In 2011, however, he changed course, allowing the palm oil company PT Kallista Alam to develop a peat swamp inside the Tripa conservation zone, home to endangered Sumatran orangutans.

The move caused an uproar among conservationists, who alleged that the concession violated national law. Mr. Irwandi defended his decision, saying the money expected from projects aimed at reducing deforestation had not materialized, in part because of bureaucratic delays at the national level. One environmental group has taken the case to court. But it marked the beginning of a transition from a leadership focused on environmental protection to one that gave precedence to economic development.

“A lot of people in Aceh never accepted that such a large area of their homeland should be locked up by conservationists,” said Mr. McCarthy. Many had hoped to cash in by brokering deals for access to Aceh’s natural resources. He said Mr. Irwandi had supported conservation as a means of development, but when the carbon scheme failed to pay, he abandoned it.

His successor, Mr. Zaini, has proved no more environmentally friendly. Shortly after taking office in June 2012, he dissolved a management body tasked with ensuring conservation inside the Leuser Ecosystem, one of the last places where the Sumatran elephant, rhinoceros, tiger and orangutan live together. Conservationists say it is no longer possible to monitor what is happening in the forests.

“People are up to grab what they can while they can,” said Dr. Ian Singleton, the head of conservation at the environmental organization PanEco and director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program. The program’s orangutan rehabilitation center, built to accommodate about 25 animals, currently has double that number, largely because of the increase in forest clearing, Dr. Singleton said.

Mr. Zaini’s proposal to the national government would revise a land-use plan enacted in 2000. Officials who helped draft the proposal say the changes are needed to accommodate expanding human settlements and infrastructure development.

“The population has grown a lot since the previous spatial plan was drafted,” said Martunis Muhammad, the head of investment and development financing at Aceh’s development planning agency, Bappeda. “The changes need to account for changes in land-use patterns.”

>Under the proposed plan, Mr. Martunis said, some protected forest will be reclassified as production forest, allowing communities to cultivate the land they live on. He concedes that the plan would reduce the protected forest area but says it would not violate a national law designating the Leuser Ecosystem as off limits to human activity. “The spatial plan is aimed at guiding the development of Aceh, while protecting the environment,” he said.

Even if the plan is not approved, Dr. Singleton said, without decisive action from the national government, plantations will continue to encroach on protected areas. “It’s now all open for business,” he said.

Cocoa Day in Banda Aceh? Really?

This is a great slide show called “Improving Cocoa Production in Aceh, Indonesia, 2009.”

With this and many other far-reaching attempts to make cocoa a major commodity in the province, it is a mystery why this important and sustainable resource is taking a back seat (and is sometimes still pushed out of the car) by agribusiness that contributes to deforestation and poverty in the province. As recently as July 2013 a “Cocoa Day” was held in Banda Aceh, opened by the Provincial Governor himself. With representation by all the agriculture and commodities ministries, the 2-day event stressed the importance of supporting good and integrated cocoa farming in Aceh that will result in a healthy relationship between growers and buyers, a large and more stable crop, and economic strength for the province.

I’d like to find out more about this conference, if anything concrete ever came out of it, and whether the governor or any ministers talked about needing to preserve traditional farmlands so that cocoa farmers would actually have places to farm.

On the web in Bahasa at:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Aceh Timur: What's *really* out there?

The picture of Aceh Timur develops, as JMD’s intrepid field officer Robert’s good relationship with the district’s head of the Forestry and Plantation department yields the first set of answers to our questions.

You heard it here first, folks: first-hand responses--not surveys, reports, research articles, or data syntheses. We gave Robert some guidelines and he developed these questions himself, and reported back. My comments are in brackets, in red.

What are the main commodities in East Aceh/Aceh Timur?
Palm oil, rubber and cocoa. Communities in Eastern Aceh evaluate a commodity not only on the basis of their own cosumption but on the ease of production, maintenance and marketing.

Which of these is the easiest to cultivate and which one has the highest production?
The main commodity that communities and small and large companies are mostly interested in in Aceh Timur is palm oil. Palm oil trees are easy to maintain, have comparitively fewer pests and disease problems, and from a smallholder business perspective, palm oil is easier to market (since the production demand is so great).

But in terms of how profitable the commodity is, cocoa fetches the highest price. It’s the hardest to miaintain, however, due to pests and diseases. “That is why,” says Robert, “not many farmers are developing cocoa except those who really love farming cocoa.”

[One of the goals of this project: Give farmers in Ace Timur the tools and training necessary to be able to keep doing what they love.]

From 2010-2013, the ministry of forestry and agriculture promoted palm oil farming by distributing about 252,000 trees over 300,000HA in Aceh Timur.

[that’s less than 1 tree per HA but still, it shows that there are 300,000 HA worth of smallholders out there who are growing palm oil trees for the large palm oil companies.]

As for cocoa, in 2010-2013, the ministry distributed 20,000 seedlings to farmer groups in 5 subdistricts in Aceh Timur: Idi Tunong, Darul Ihsan, Idi Rayeuk, Pate Bidari. However, the ministry could not develop the same project to other sub districts due to land dispute issues with a farming company --PTPN 3 in Sungai Raya and Bireun Bayeun sub-districts.

[I’ve since learned that this company is a palm oil/rubber concern that somehow forced or convinced the government NOT to provide cocoa seeds in Sungai Raya and Bireun Bayen.

Translated from their (Indonesian) site: PT Perkebunan Nusantara III, abbreviated PTPN III (Limited), is one of 14 State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) engaged in the cultivation, processing and marketing of palm oil . . . and rubber plants. The Company's main products are Crude Palm Oil (CPO) and palm heart (Kernel) and the downstream rubber products. 

PT Perkebunan Nusantara III (Limited) was established by the Notary Aaron Kamil, SH. 36 dated March 11, 1996 and was approved by the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Indonesia Decree No.. C2-8331.HT.01.01.TH.96 dated August 8, 1996 which was published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Indonesia No.. 81 In 1996, Supplement No.. 8674 of 1996.. . . Around the world, Sumatra[is] known as a producer of high-quality rubber, more than 54,000 hectares of land [of] PT. Perkebunan Nusantara III (Limited) produce the best quality rubber in the world. Product quality RSS-1, SIR-10, SIR-20 and Concentrated Latex able to penetrate the international market, the largest tire manufacturer in several like Bridgestone, Good Year, Firestone, Han Kook and others.

This is my opinion only, but I would think that such a large palm oil concern would have no problem sharing space with a small traditional farming resource. Doubly troubling is a report from USAID that I just found online, which I will have to read and get back to you on—and then call USAID. Called BACKGROUND STUDY: REPLICABLE AND SUSTAINABLE USE OF PALM OIL WASTE BY-PRODUCTS FOR EMPLOYMENT CREATION, RESOURCE CONSERVATION, AND BIOFUEL PRODUCTION IN ACEH, the title alone sounds like USAID has also leapt into bed with palm oil under the assumption that it is indeed possible to appropriately regulate and monitor this industry in the middle of the jungle where no regulatory or monitoring body has yet to go. Remember my post concerning the Malaysian Palm Oil Consortium’s self-created regulations and how no agency or organization could tell us who, exactly, was going to insure that these regulations were being met? So now I learn that USAID came on board in 2009. Certainly the title suggests that the report is interested in what kind of good things can be made from production waste—but I wonder if it is at all concerned with the actual intended product and how it is produced. I mean, we can all be really happy that they make recycled purses from plastic bags and doormats from truck tires, but what about the creation of these things in the first place—wouldn’t that be the thing to study?

I’ll get back to you. The thing is 91 pages long. Just when you think you know who your pals are . . . ]

Where are the Central areas for rubber?
Nurussalam, Rantau Panjang Peureulak, Indra Makmur, Idi Tunong, Darul Falah, and Bireun Bayeun [one of the no-entry districts for cocoa]. Can you name the companies that are growing/manufacturing rubber in the district?
The P3 company located at Rantau Panjang Peureulak, which is now replanting palm oil plantation with rubber. The Patria Kamoe company is located in Julok sub district. A big rubber company is PTP 1, located in Rantau Panjang Pereulak and Julok subdistricts. PTP 1 also has a palm oil department. How big are the rubber plantions?
The forestry ministry does not have any land data of PTP 1 ,P3 or Patria Kamoe since these companies never report their data to the forestry agency in Eastern Aceh. [how convenient for them.] Where are they located?
The PTPN3 company is located at Rantau Panjang Pereulak subdistrict, Patria Kamoe is in Julok subdistrict, and PTP 1 company has four locations: Rantau Panjang Pereulak subdistrict, Sungai Raya subdistrict, Bireun Bayeun subdistrict, Julok subdistrict.

How many workers are hired by these companies?
These companies do not report the number of their workers to the forestry agency of Eastern Aceh. [nice.]

Does community itself have rubber plantations?
Yes, the community-owned rubber plantations are between 0.5 Ha to 3 Ha (1-8 acres). According to the Forestry agency, in total there are 21,367.50 HA of community rubber plantations (about 50,000 acres)

What is the biggest challenge for [smallholder] rubber farmers in Eastern Aceh?
Minimal knowledge on Rubber cultivation, post-harvest treatment, pest control. Rubber seedling planted are not the best seedlings, since the good ones cost more to buy or have the government distribute. The trees are too old, and due to a pricing scheme on the part of the collectprs, smallholders cannot increase their prices. [in other words, it’s the same issue for smallholder rubber farmers as for cocoa farmers, only in the case of rubber farmers the gvernment did, several years ago, establish rubber plantations in communities. But as we found out when we talked to Bumitama in Kalimantan, rubber is not atraditional or a desired crop to grow, so these “gifts” did not prove at all worthwhile.]


How many HA are covered by cocoa plantations in Aceh Timur?
12.415,50 HA. (about 25,000 acres).

Where are Aceh Timur’s main cocoa areas?
The most central areas for cocoa are Peunaron sub-district, Sungai Raya sub-district, Rantau Panjang Peureulak sub-district, Serbajadi subdistrict, the Peudawa district, Darul Ihsan subdistrict and Pante Bidari subdistrict. [We are desperately trying to help JMD get funding to do a similar cocoa initiative in Pante Bidari, which we surveyed this past march and found lots of enthusiasm, wonderful opportunity, and not a drop of support or encouragement given—ever—to these local farmers trying to reclaim their livelihood. No, I take that back. The mistry did distribute cocoa seedlings once, but there was no training and no follow-up, and farmers there can’t take advantage of their resource.]

How many farmers are running cocoa farms?
There are 11,590 farmers all over Eastern Aceh

How many kg per HA of cocoa is produced?
Annually, Eastern Aceh produces 6,536 tons of dried cacao beans a per year, averaging 770.73 Kg (1600 pounds)/Ha.

Are there any cocoa companies in Eastern Aceh?
In 2006 Patria Kamoe grew coco in Serbajadi subdistrict, however after the conflict between Indonesian Government and GAM in Aceh, they changed the focus to Rubber and palm oil. [oy!]

Is there any exporting company that buys cocoa from farmers directly?
No, all the cocoa in Aceh Timur is purchased by collectors. We have small and big scale collectors, and small –scale collectors are located all over Eastern Aceh while the big-scale collectors are located in Peunaron subdistrict, Idi Rayeu subdistrict, Peudawa subdistrict and Pante Bidari subdistrict. The big-scale collectors sell their dried cocoa beans to big exporting companies in Medan such as Cacao Venture in North Sumatera ( Medan). [The small-scale collectors, like the ones in Simpang Jernih, sell the beans to larger companies in Kuala Simpang (Aceh Temiang ext door.]

What is the biggest challenge for cocoa farmers in developing cocoa farming business in Eastern Aceh?
[Robert did an extensive survey report in March of this year: these are his findings:]

Farmer Problems Identified by Farmers

  • The implementation of appropriate Cacao Cultivation technology is needed.
  • There is still a practice of fertilizing the tree without paying attention to the age of the cacao tree and the needs of the cacao tree.
  • Fertilization process is conducted once a year, with one tree receives 1.5-3 kg
  • Fertilizer used is still a chemical fertilizer
  • Cacao Productivity is still considered low
  • Harvest and post-harvest treatment has yet maximized.
  • Farmers who market their produce without drying their cocoa beans sell with only Rp. 3000 – Rp.5000 /kg
  • Farmers do not do Business Farming analysis when cultivating their cacao tree
  • Cacao Quality is still under the export standard
  • Cacao plantation is still considered as the part-time livelihood
  • The smallholder owned cacao plantation has to be saved as they have converted the land to other plantation; farmers are tired of treating their cacao trees from the attack of pest and disease.
  • Lack of Human resources at the forestry and plantation agency that understand cacao cultivation practice.

Palm oil

How big is palm oil plantation in eastern Aceh?
According to data in the forestry ministry, eastern Aceh has 19,797.50 HA of palm oil plantation. [However, this is just the amount of land owned by smallholders, since Palm oil companies never gave data on how big their lands are although they have License to Perform Business.]

Why do they not give out this information?
The forestry department says it “does not know.” [Well, I can guess!]

How many palm oil companies are in Aceh Timur?
There are 15 companies with License to Perform Business to develop palm oil plantation in Eastern Aceh. 6 of them own plantations and factories to process palm oil, while five companies are middle-scale companies owning only processing factories and collecting palm oil, four palm oil companies do not own factories processing palm oil.

Palm oil Company name
Karang Inoeng
Tualang  Sawit 
Rantau Peureulak
Bireun Bayeun
PT. Mapoli Raya
Aluer The
Bireun Bayeun
-but let’s assme
PT. Damar Siput
Damar Siput
Rantau selamat
It’s all in the
PT.Patria Kamoe
Gajah Mentah
Rantau selamat
tens of thousands . . . ]
PT. Wira Perca
Bukit Angkop
Ranatau selamat
PT. Banda Aceh Jaya
Rantau Peureulak
PT. Beurata Maju
Bandar Baru
PT. Dani Putra Nugra Utama
PT. Arco
Aluer Buloh
Bireun Bayeun
PT. Atakana Company
Rantau Pereulak
PT. Bayu Puba Sawit
Alue Dua
PT. Aceh Loka Makmur Sentosa
PT. Bumi Flora
Idie Rayeuk
Idie Rayeuk
PT. Blang Kara Rayeuk
PT. Para sawita

How many workers palm oil companies hire?
NO data

Do palm oil companies in Eastern Aceh receive produce from community–owned palm oil farms?
Yes, farmers sell their palm oil produce to collectors in villages, as well as to collectors in subdistrict centers, and farmers who own more than 5 ha land of palm oil sell their produce directly to companies

What is the biggest challenge for farmers in relation to palm oil companies?
There are conflicts between communities and palm oil companies [which I will get into later]

Are palm oil farmers happy with palm oil companies in eastern Aceh?
Farmers are happy in that they are able to sell their produce to the companies.

Is there a conflict in the community, especially among the rubber growers, cacao farmers and palm oil farmers with companies , especially on large land managed by companies?
  • Community land grabbing by companies
  • Land dispute with communities
  • Community eviction by corporates from villages caused by unclear land borders of Right to Perform Business (RPB)
  • No assisstance from farming companies for farmers in Eastern Aceh

Remember, the majority of this information came from the ministry in charge of this type of agriciulture.


For those of you following this topic, let me be clear: the opinions expressed here are mine as the president of BBF, which is a donor of JMD, and as a private citizen. I am deeply vested in the success of JMD and so I am concerned with their ability to do good and lasting work in the field. But this blog represents MY opinions and not those of the JMD staff, associates or beneficiaries. I am told that it may be quite dangerous to investigate big palm oil and the attendant destruction it causes in the rainforest. I obviously don’t have all the facts yet. As you can see, something pops out of the woodwork every day, like the document from USAID, and it adds to my understanding of this complicated issue. But these forays into destructive agribusiness are at my discretion and in no way represent the opinions or actions of Jembatan Masa Depan.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Letter to Friends of the Earth (in as much space as the form on their website would allow . . . )

Dear Friends of the Earth:

The REDD monitor reports that the Banda Aceh Administrative court, which is not in Aceh at all but in Medan, North Sumatra, overturned the revoking of a permit by a palm oil concern in the Tripa Swamp (Nagan Raya District on the west coast).
It went on to say that “Friends of the Earth will assist the Acehnese government in appealing this decision.” Can you provide us with any updates to this case? We are gratified to learn this, but surprised since the Aceh government has been pro-palm oil all along. Can you also tell us what the provincial government has formally decided to do about the re-zoning, of protected forest? As far as we know it’s still up in the air. I suspect that this has not impeded big palm oil and big mining from continuing its assault, especially in Aceh, where they think no one's watching and no one cares. But we are watching, and we care.

Jembatan Masa Depan (JMD) is the only local sustainable livelihoods NGO operating in Aceh. It is currently focusing on assisting women cocoa farmers in Aceh Timur. I work for one of its donors providing administrative support and we have been gathering as much information as we can about the palm oil concerns in the region, as they are destroying the resource and the livelihood of the people living on the buffer of the rainforest. Aceh Timur is the province’s best hope for economic leadership through cocoa, and due to the protracted civil conflict and now the “re-zoning” of protected forest, plus government complicity, palm oil will be steamrolling over the entire district. The foundation hat supports JMD has been trying to investigate the root causes of this and frankly we are stumped. We.want to develop an expose of Big Palm Oil’s eradication of cocoa and cocoa farmers from Aceh Timur.

I received a helpful reply saying they get hundreds of emails (which I'm sure they do.)  Maybe they will respond. 

In the meantime, I am not disparaging them--here's a recent article on their website--enough to make your stomach turn:

Is your money in palm oil?

Wilmar International, the largest palm oil producer in the world, has been rated the world's least sustainable company for two years running by Newsweek.  Wilmar couldn't exist without the shareholders and banks that finance nearly ninety percent of its assets.

Many of us don’t know who actually manages our money, let alone what they do with it.<

Check the following list to see if your money could be invested in Wilmar and stay tuned for more opportunities to speak out against the financing of forest destruction!

The following North American investors enable Wilmar to keep destroying tropical forests:

BlackRock: $112 million in Wilmar
Bank of America has extended credit to Wilmar exceeding $106 million
Baring Asset Management: $22.7 million in Wilmar
Bank of New York Mellon Corporation: $1.5 million in WIlmar
Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec: $9.9 million in Wilmar
CalPERS: $24.9 million in Wilmar
Canada Pension Plan Investment Board: $6.3 million in Wilmar
Capitol Group International: $39.6 million in Wilmar
Charles Schwab Corporation: $1.6 million in Wilmar
Citigroup has extended credit worth $43.7 million to Wilmar
Dimensional Fund Advisors: $8.11 million in Wilmar
Fidelity Investments: $28.22 million in Wilmar
Geode Capital Management: $5.91 million in Wilmar
Global X Management: $.94 million in Wilmar
Goldman Sachs: $1.75 million in Wilmar
Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Company: $1.4 million in Wilmar
IndexIQ Advisors: $.92 million in Wilmar
INVESCO: $6.5million in Wilmar
Jefferies Group: $.84 million in Wilmar
J.P. Morgan Asset Management: $24 million in WIlmar
Northern Trust Corporation: $7.8 million in Wilmar
State of Wisconsin Investment Board: $3.3 million in Wilmar
State Street Corporation: $16.9 million in Wilmar
TIAA-CREF: $14 million in Wilmar
Toronto Dominion Bank: $1.03 million in Wilmar
Van Eck Global: $268.41 million in Wilmar
Vanguard Group: $54.75 million in Wilmar
Wellington Management Company: $3.59 million in Wilmar

- See more at:

Friday, October 11, 2013

More reporting from the Rakhine State a day later

Myanmar: Buddhists Kill Woman, 94
Published: October 1, 2013

Buddhist mobs killed a 94-year-old Muslim woman and burned more than 70 homes on Tuesday as sectarian violence again gripped Rakhine State, despite a visit by the president aimed at resolving the tensions, officials and residents said. More than 700 rioters, some swinging swords, took to the streets in Thabyuchaing, the police said. An elderly Muslim woman was stabbed to death, a police officer said, and 70 to 80 homes were set on fire. President Thein Sein arrived in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, on Tuesday, his first visit to the region since sectarian violence broke out more than a year ago. Since then, more than 240 people have been killed and more than 140,000 have fled their homes.

--from the New York Times Asia Pacific Section

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Last Week: A Revival of Attacks on Muslims in Myanmar

Violence against Muslims continues to spread in Myanmar, leaving 6 dead and dozens of homes destroyed last week in Muslim-occupied areas that have previously not been targeted.

Nothing is changing, despite the government’s protestations to the contrary. The persecuted Rohingya have not been assisted; their plight has just gone underground and Myanmar is getting better at keeping it out of the news.

Published: October 2, 2013 NY Times Asia Pacific section

Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

A Muslim man searches for his belongings in his burnt home outside Thandwe.

BANGKOK — A resurgence of religious violence in western Myanmar this week has left six Muslims dead and dozens of homes destroyed, a senior police officer said Wednesday.

The deaths and the burning of houses in and around the city of Thandwe occurred Tuesday, just hours before President Thein Sein arrived in the restive area on Wednesday as part of a scheduled visit to cool religious tensions and criticize “extremism.”

“There are casualties and damage on both sides,” Mr. Thein Sein said on state television.

But according to accounts from the police officer, Lt. Col Kyaw Tint, and a villager who witnessed some of the fighting, the violence followed a disturbingly familiar pattern: sword-wielding Buddhist mobs rampaging through Muslim neighborhoods.

“All the people who were found dead were from the Muslim community,” Colonel Kyaw Tint said.

After flaring up last year in western Myanmar, anti-Muslim violence has spread to areas around the country this year, leaving dozens of people dead, almost all of them Muslims and some of them children. Buddhist nationalist groups have called for a boycott of Muslim shops, and radical Buddhist monks have stoked anti-Muslim feelings in sermons across the country.

The International Crisis Group, a research organization, released a report this week saying that more clashes between Buddhists and Muslims were likely because of “the depth of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, and the inadequate response of the security forces.”

Colonel Kyaw Tint said tensions remained high between Buddhists and Muslims around Thandwe; the police have imposed a curfew, he said.

U Nyi Lay, a Muslim and grocery store owner in Thandwe, said Buddhist mobs attacked his neighborhood and set fire to houses. “We defended ourselves with whatever we had,” he said. Police officers fired their weapons into the air to try to disperse the attackers and told villagers to stay inside their houses, he said.

“We are living in fear,” Mr. Nyi Lay said.

Hatred and mistrust are especially deep between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh. Last year, more than 150 people were killed and well over 100,000 were forced from their homes in the state. The majority of the victims and those displaced were Rohingya, an ethnic group numbering around one million people that is not officially recognized in Myanmar and whose members have been largely denied citizenship.

But unlike last year’s violence, which largely occurred in areas closer to the Bangladesh border, the attacks this week were on well-established Muslim neighborhoods farther south that have existed side by side with Buddhists for generations.

“This kind of violence has never happened in Thandwe before,” said Colonel Kyaw Tint.

Many of the Muslims in the area are from the Kaman ethnic group, which, unlike the Rohingya group, is recognized by the Burmese government.

Officials in Rakhine do not hide their disdain for Muslims. A spokesman for the Rakhine State government, U Win Myaing, blamed Muslims for this week’s violence but did not offer specifics. “You can see in all the recent conflicts that Bengalis sparked the incidents,” he said using the government’s preferred term for Rohingya. “The problems always begin with them.”

Doing Development in Conflict Zones

An article titled “Doing development in conflict zones” Bb Jeremy Allouche appeared in the Guardian at the end of September, and while its thesis stems from the current conflict in Syria, I thought it summed up perfectly the double bind in which JMD and other small local NGOs in Aceh find themselves.  Supplanted by international NGOs with large donor bases and funding streams, local NGOs can no longer afford to pay the high salaries to which competent staff become accustomed, and their ability to administer projects, provide accurate financial reporting, and compete for large grants is weakened.  At the same time, their local knowledge and expertise is largely ignored by their international colleagues who, as the “face” of development in Aceh, fail miserably to grasp the cultural, social and political context in which they are working.

 The highlighted areas are my emphasis.

Donors and aid agencies working in Syria, Somalia or Afghanistan must be more prepared to take risks and help local partners lead interventions

 Debates over development and security have long been very polarised. However, as shown in the recent debates over Syria, the question is not whether diplomacy, development and security should be linked but rather how and for whose benefits.

The example of Syria also shows again how policy processes are becoming more uncertain as the influence of traditional donors wanes. Recent experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia highlight the important role of regional players such as Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. Newly important donors such as China, India and Brazil also exert considerable influence, which sometimes runs counter to the interests and principles of OECD donors, diverse as they are. The western community has failed to realise the limited influence, capacity and knowledge it can have through development-security integration. This is the time to rethink security and development approaches beyond stabilisation. Enabling the safety and security in people's everyday lives is what development is fundamentally about.

Local community and civil society groups are therefore critical to the success of efforts to restore security in conflict-affected countries. Their understanding of local people's needs, the causes of conflict and local political and power dynamics means they are more able to exert influence and bring about long-term change.

The challenge for international donors and aid agencies is how to work more closely with these groups and help them to lead interventions. It requires an approach which is more flexible and less risk-averse, and potentially difficult to achieve against the backdrop of the current 'results' and 'value for money' agendas.

Learning from the ground: negotiating and building trust

In fragile and conflict areas, the fragmentation of power and authority makes it difficult for outsiders to operate. These hybrid political systems, which include a constellation of non-state actors, are a key challenge for development workers.

In a new report published by the Institute of Development Studies, we argue that development and security actors from OECD countries need to find ways to respond effectively to local security dynamics even though their influence in these settings may be limited. Our work with partners in Kenya and Sierra Leone suggests that adopting such an approach, underpinned by the concepts of entrustment and brokerage, is essential and can reap benefits.

Entrustment involves transferring to local actors the powers to make decisions, define and assess problems, and the resources to act on this. Brokerage involves actions to build a shared understanding among actors whose interests may vary significantly and whose capacities to act in support of these interests may be unequal. Facilitating negotiations, trust-building and supporting conditions for dialogue to continue are all roles that local development partners can fulfil, provided the right external support.

A new deal

A new deal is required to reshape development – security integration in light of these developments – one that recognises both the limits of understanding, influence and capacity to act in insecure environments and the importance of local providers of security and basic services. Renewing commitments to local partnerships and redirecting resources to strengthen these is risky but essential to build and sustain innovative responses to complex challenges that transcend simple categorisation as development problems, political crises or security challenges. Aid agencies have not gone overboard in linking development and security. They have in fact tinkered at the edges. What is needed is a reinvention of development in fragile and conflict-affected areas.

To operate effectively, aid agencies need to (1) commit more staff to the field in recognition of the localised nature of the issues, (2) recruit staff with complementary skills in security, diplomacy, brokering and negotiation, (3) be prepared to take more calculated risks, finding ways of pooling risk with other actors to minimise political fallout at home but not so that accountability is weakened, and (4) resist rotation of staff. The lack of intimate local knowledge of is a major impediment to reinventing development in ways that promote the security of the poor.

Inadvertently, donors have contributed to the problem by moving to establish in-house professional cadres, with technical advisers rotating every few years. What is often required alongside technical expertise is a more rounded knowledge and understanding of the polities, societies and histories of particular places.

Time for a radical reinvention

The current pressure to spend increased volumes of aid in fragile settings but with less staff, begs the question about whether it will be possible to deliver this level of change? However, without a radical reinvention of development in conflict-affected countries the lives of some of the world's poorest people will continue to be blighted by poverty, insecurity and violence.


Jeremy Allouche is a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and co-author of 'A New Deal? Development and Security in a Changing World'