Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Move over, environmental awareness! Make way for yellow journalism!

I have lots to report: the delivery of a lot of important supplies to our cocoa farmers, the (rather tiny but we have hope) possibility of USAID-funded support for our projects in Aceh Timur, and the JMD staff’s successful and triumphant participation in the Aceh Cocoa Conference last week.

But today I felt I had to share a bit of tabloid journalism with you, courtesy of TIMEWorld. I could not resist.

Abbott Adviser Calls Indonesian Foreign Minister a ‘1970s Filipino Porn Star’

Probably not the wisest thing to say in light of rapidly deteriorating relations between Indonesia and Australia

By Sophie Brown

Bay Ismoyo / AFP / Getty Images

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa delivers a statement in Jakarta on Nov. 18, 2013

An adviser to Australia’s Prime Minister has added fuel to the row between his country and Indonesia over spying allegations by reportedly saying Indonesia’s Foreign Minister resembled a 1970s Filipino porn star.

“Apology demanded from Australia by a bloke who looks like a 1970’s Pilipino [sic] porn star and has ethics to match,” said Mark Textor in a tweet that has since disappeared from his account.

Media reports in both Australia and Indonesia said the tweet appeared to refer to Marty Natalegawa, who has called on Canberra to apologize after claims emerged that the Australian government tapped the phones of Indonesia’s President, his wife and other senior politicians.

Textor has yet to clarify what it is about Natalegawa’s appearance that is intrinsically Filipino as opposed to Indonesian, or how a porn star’s ethics are better or worse than a politician’s.

What I found really interesting is that Marty’s indignation stems from the alleged wiretapping, not the comparison to a porn star. I have to say . . . in the nicest possible way . . . that he kind of does . . . I mean, in that light, with that hair . . . I’m just saying . . .

Read more: So Awk: Abbott Adviser Calls Indonesian Foreign Minister a ‘1970s Filipino Porn Star’ |

ations by reportedly saying Indonesia’s Foreign Minister resembled a 1970s Filipino porn star.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Palm Oil goes to court—and tries to buy its way out . . . natch

Proving that the palm oil companies will pretty much stoop to anything to expand into the protected forest, the company Kallista Alam, no stranger to controversy or the courtroom, has been charged with paying protestors at their much-postponed trial to “demand that the judge rule in favor of the company.” (see story below) Knock me over with a feather.

You will recall in 2012 when I reported on this hapless crew, who for all their billions couldn’t seem to cobble a few brain cells together to mount an appropriate or convincing defense, and representative lawyers showed up in the Medan court without appropriate documents allowing them to argue on behalf of their own company. Oversight? I think not. Based on the most recent articles in the Jakarta Post and End of the Icons (slogan: “Don’t Palm off my Home”), and all the websites, blogs and worldwide protests about deforestation in Leuser at the rate of thousands of acres a day, I think that Kallista Alam was getting exactly what it wanted. Hey, if they don’t find you guilty you can keep breaking the law. So the Tripa peat bog has been continually hatcheted all this time, and only last week were the company’s assets frozen.

Just another day in Aceh.

This story is receiving a LOT of press, so I’m going to re-print the most comprehensive and concise of the ones that we’ve seen.

The highlighted portions are mine, and my comments are in red.

Rogue Palm Oil Company, Fearing Negative Ruling, Initiates Conflict with Indonesian Court
November 16, 2013

Illegal loggers taking timber from Singkil Wildlife Reserve utilising illegal developed roads built with Government budgets. Although plans are still in discussion for Aceh Province many projects are already being implemented, often without permits to do so. Photo Credit : Paul Hilton / Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh


[MEDAN, NORTH SUMATRA] A large demonstration initiated by controversial palm oil company Pt Kalista Alam, who is accused of illegally destroying some of the world’s most important remaining orangutan habitat on the west coast of Sumatra, has disrupted the Meulaboh district court today where the Indonesian Ministry of Environment is prosecuting the company for environmental crimes. The potentially precedent-setting case has received international attention and is being monitored closely by NGOs, scientists, the government and industry alike.

The court was temporarily delayed as an estimated 150 palm oil workers, who arrived by busses believed to be paid by Pt Kalista Alam, conducted a noisy demonstration before the court, demanding the court find in favour of the controversial company. The same company had one of its palm oil concessions cancelled in September 2012, after administrational courts found the permit had been granted illegally,[you all know what this means, right? It’s called “stealing land from people who can’t fight you”] and last week its assets were frozen by the civil court as its process draws to an expected close. The final hearing has now been scheduled for December 5th where now the judges are expected to deliver a final ruling.

“PT Kallista Alam is one of several palm oil companies illegally burning forests on deep peat within the Leuser Ecosystem during the last few years” Said Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, speaking at a packed media event outside a major international RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) conference in Medan earlier today. [The problem with the RSPO is that it is comprised mostly of the Palm Oil companies themselves—they are the ones who set the rules. It is obvious that these rules have not helped conserve the rainforest or provided any type of sustainability. I personally do not see why this RSPO banner is continually waved about.] “We congratulate the Indonesian Ministry of Environment on its action against PT Kallista Alam, but also remind people that a potentially devastating new spatial plan being proposed by the Provincial Government still threatens huge swathes of Aceh’s forests and their incredibly unique biodiversity, [as we know, it ain’t so new] in addition to Aceh’s people and their economic livelihoods. If approved, this new plan is likely to lead to an upsurge of new legal cases due to the massive increase in environmental damage it will undoubtedly cause.”

“If the new spatial plan goes through it will be the end of the Sumatran Elephant” Dr Singleton concluded.

“There can only be one word to describe the situation for the Leuser Ecosytem, and it’s emergency.” warned Kamaruddin SH, an Acehnese lawyer who represented communities in Tripa with their complaints against PT Kallista Alam. “The Leuser Ecosystem is a Nationally Strategic Area protected for its Environmental Function, It is currently illegal for any district, provincial or national leader to issue permits for palm oil, mining or any other activity that would degrade the environmental function of the Leuser Ecosystem, but powerful business lobby is currently trying to undo this, not to support community, but to line their pockets with the assets of Aceh. [it’s my understanding that the governor took control of the Leuser ecosystem from the foundation and the independent organization running it. That is why it’s open for business as we speak. This is something Aceh can reverse . . . immediately. I do not see that happening.] Todays show of intimidation by Pt Kalista Alam outside the court in Meulaboh is just one example of many companies attempting to intimidate the legal and political processes of Aceh, it deserves close scrutiny from anti corruption and legal agencies.”

Landscape planning and GIS specialist, Graham Usher, showed satellite information and data analysis that highlighted the extreme sensitivity of Aceh’s environment. “Much of Aceh’s remaining forests are on steeply sloping terrain, that should be off limits to development under existing spatial planning regulations. Clearing forests and building roads in such areas is simply not safe, and potentially disastrous.

“What will happen if these forests are cleared is very clear, and easy to predict. We will see a collapse of the ecosystem, and the loss of the environmental benefits they provide to Aceh’s people. This will lead to food security problems in the future, in addition to a huge increase in flash floods, erosion and landlsides. It’s not rocket science”, he stressed. “it’s simply cause and effect. To open new roads and exploitive industrial concessions in the heart of Aceh will only result in even further destruction, and lead to a rash of new, entirely avoidable, social conflicts. It’s not only unique biodiversity that will suffer, Aceh’s people will suffer greatly as well!”

And what exactly have I been screaming about here for 3 years?????

“Aceh is currently suffering from environmental anarchy, there is next to no law enforcement, and local elites are left to take what they want without monitoring or fear of legal consequences.”

“The community of Aceh feels that promises have been broken” stated TM Zulfikar, former Chairman of Friends of the Earth, Aceh. While many supported Governor Zaini in his election, there is now increasing frustration and anger being expressed towards his administration. “If we’d known Aceh was going to be carved up, cut down, and sold to the highest bidder most would probably have voted differently. (the former governor started it, by gutting his Aceh Green platform, and no one seemed too worked up a it then, apart from ex-combatants who had never gotten reimbursed and so were forced to work for the palm oil companies as hired “protectors” of the well-known nefarious activities. Remember, Kalista Alam has been at this for a very long time, long before the new governor took office.)

“Recently the Aceh Government told us at a public meeting that there is no budget left for the development of the Province’s spatial planning and that it therefore needs to be approved and ratified before the end of December. But they have still not completed any environmental sensitivity analysis and key data and information has failed to be shared. I seriously worry what the Government will do in the next two months. If things happen as we hear, he will forever be recorded in history as the Governor who returned Aceh to social conflict and environmental destruction.” Concluded Mr Zulfikar. And he will have had lots and lots of help.

Gemma Tillack with Rainforest Action Network called on international consumer companies who use palm oil in their products to demand that their suppliers verifiably guarantee that the oil they supply is not connected to rainforest destruction like that taking place in Tripa. [How exactly are they going to do that??????? Companies like Wilmot and Kalista Allam are issued “sustainability certificates” and World Bank and USAID are ready to give them millions for pilot projects that turn their waste into biofuel. How hard do you think it is going to be to get certificates stating that any palm oil that anybody buys is grown by widows and orphans who fertilize it with Sumatran elephant poop?] “Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem are globally important areas. It is imperative that consumer companies take responsibility for the fact that Conflict Palm Oil like that produced at the expense of the Tripa peat swamp is making its way into the global marketplace. [Making its way?????? God, I’ve got to stop reading this article; I am running out of red ink and exclamation points.] Companies like the “Snack Food 20” targeted by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) urgently need to engage with their supply chains and implement truly responsible palm oil procurement policies that demand palm oil be produced without contributing to rainforest destruction, climate pollution or human rights abuses. That’ll teach em.

For further information please contact:

Dr Ian Singleton
Conservation Director, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP)

Graham Usher
Landscape Sensitivity Analyst, PanEco Foundation

T.M. Zulfikar
Aceh Communications Officer, Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL)

Kamaruddin SH
Lawyer for Tripa Community Coalition<

Gemma Tillack
Senior Agribusiness Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Where Are They Now: Aceh Green, We Hardly Knew Ye

Aceh Green, as many people know, was the brainchild of  former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf; it laid the framework for conservation and forest protection in the province.  Back in 2006, NGOs who wanted to work with populations in and around the forest buffer, as well as environmental agencies large and small, did well to reference and adhere to the standards of Aceh Grreen in their proposals.  By 2008  Aceh Green and its principles were  slowly fading from the public eye.  It wasn’t hard—most of the world’s attention was off the disaster and on to Afghanistan and Darfur and Somalia.  Aceh Green was still a part of provincial policy, however, and under this rubric, if you will pardon me for using that word, a multinational called Sustainable Trade and Consulting (STC) co-opted the Aceh Green name to  “conducted a strategic assessment of Aceh’s palm oil sector, under the framework of the Aceh Green Vision devised by the province’s first democratically-elected Governor, Irwandi Yusuf."

Their website goes on to describe Aceh Green as "promot[ing] a sustainable economic recovery of the province in the aftermath of the devastating Tsunami and the long-standing conflict that ended with a peace accord in 2005.   This eight-month effort funded by the IFC/World Bank culminated in a final report, which contains a review of the constraints and opportunities in the sector and an action plan with follow-on recommendations for policy initiatives, pilot projects, and investment opportunities.  One of the key results of this initiative was the creation of the multi-sectoral Aceh Sustainable Palm Oil Working Group, which remains active. [well, er . . . no it doesn’t.  Not even under its Bahasa name Kelompok Kelapa Sawit Berkelanjutan Kerja.]
This strategic assessment  [called Planning Report and Recommendation Development Strategy for Sustainable Palm Oil to Aceh Green 2008] included extensive data collection, field surveys and stakeholder consultations throughout Aceh Province. [we wonder who those stakeholders were. We know one: Fauna and Flora International, whose Aceh branch was founded by Governor Irwandi ostensibly to promote his environmentalist policy but more useful as a vehicle whereby he and GAM supporters could move freely about the province pre-peace accord.]  Palm oil constitutes the largest plantation crop in the province in volume and economic value, and the palm oil sector has significant growth potential as a major source of revenue for food and fuel products.  The team identified 6 among 15 major technical, policy, and organizational issues requiring priority attention by the provincial and local governments, the private sector, and civil society.  In order to realize the sector’s potential, the report presented several action recommendations, including:
1. Create operational and policy support for sustainable palm oil among government, private sector, NGOs, and smallholders.
[We know the private sector was taken care of, but not much else.]
2. Support palm oil public-private investment partnerships. [That would mean: encourage palm oil companies to give part of their proceeds to the government, much like how casinos on reservations operate in the US.  However where that money goes when it gets to the government is anybody’s guess.]
3. Reduce threats to high conservation value forests and peat swamp ecosystems. Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  We’ve seen how well THAT’s going.
4. Create a provincial seed certification and distribution program. To eliminate competition from boring old coffee and cocoa.
5. improve supply chains and pricing transparency for palm oil production and processing.
Here's the link to the document [in Bahasa] :

Some interesting extractions (pardon the depressing pun) are copied below.

1.  Cute diagram showing a plan for reforestation.
It lists the “eternal forest” at 3,100,000, when it is in fact much larger.  Further, the cute green circle (which means nothing in terms of realism) stays the same in their plan.  What this diagram says is: We touch nothing.  We turn 850,000 of “degraded" land into “community forestry,” replanting of the eternal forest (which somehow does not result in an increase in eternal forest) and “land reform/smallholder plantation.”  What we know has happened is that the big green circle is now a shriveled little potato, smallholder plantations exist at the mercy of the areas palm oil agribusiness, and “community forestry” just means that the government can cut down trees.

Existing Forest 3,101,960
Degraded land 804,550
Plantation 209,703
Agriculture/coastal settlements/ urban 1,504,112
Total 5,620,325
1. Eternal Forest (existing) 3,101,960
2. Eternal Forest (replanting) 250,000
3. Community forestry Up to 350,000
4. Land Reform (Smallholder Plantation) 250,000
5. Existing Plantation 200,000
5. Agriculture/ coastal settlements & other use 1,468,000
Total ± 5,619,960

Then we have Annex 4, a nifty list of people consulted for this document. 23 from Government including the governor and his economic assistance team, BUpatis from Bireun, Aceh Utara and Aceh Jaya, Directors of Economic Development, the Aceh Plantation Authority, and Sean Stein, US Consul representative from Medan (which is as we know NOT in Aceh but had "Administrative oversight" of the province . . . sometimes.) 18 from the private sector including Chairs of agribusiness, bio energy, palm oil, palm oil, palm oil and palm oil. 17 NGOs including Muslim Aid, Orangutan Conservation program, Conservation International, UNDP, PanEco, FFI and Greenpeace. 6 Bilateral organizations including GTZ, World Bank and USAID.

I wonder what these people would say if I found them and asked them “Has this sustainable palm oil project as envisioned by World Bank, USAID,  Governor Irwandi and a host of enormous conservation agencies turned out in any way to resemble the horror show now playing in the nearly extinct rainforest?”  And another question I’d like to ask each of them is, “Did you personally tell these preparers of this document that you had concerns?  That you felt that palm oil was not sustainable and would in fact destroy the forest and the livelihoods of people living there?  Or dis you play it safe and speak of “challenges” and “creative strategies” and “the way forward for Indonesia?”

Before I take to my bed with the vapors, here’s a nice feisty blog I ran across while doing some research, called The Wrong Kind of Green, that in late October 2012 reprinted a 2003 post called

FLASHBACK | Conservation International: Privatizing Nature, Plundering Biodiversity
Corporation International
October 2003
Aziz Choudry
Conservation International's corporate sponsor list reads like a list of the US' top fifty transnational corporations. Biodiversity conservation is at the top of Conservation International's list of goals. But as the list of Conservation International's dubious ventures and questionable partners around the world grows, Aziz Choudry is starting to wonder if it is time to ‘out' this ‘multinational conservation corporation' and show its true colours.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C, with operations in over 30 countries on four continents, Conservation International claims to be an environmental NGO. Its mission is “to conserve the Earth's living natural heritage, our global biodiversity, and to demonstrate that human societies are able to live harmoniously with nature.” [1] This all sounds very laudable and Conservation International has some very high profile fans. This year Colin Powell shared the podium with Conservation International President Russell Mittermeier at the launch of the Bush Administration's “Initiative Against Illegal Logging” at the US State Department. In December 2001, Gordon Moore, who founded Intel Corporation, donated US $261 million to Conservation International, supposedly the largest grant ever to an environmental organisation. Moore is chairman of Conservation International's executive committee. Conservation International has repaid Moore's largesse by naming an endangered Brazilian pygmy owl after him. [2]

But a growing number of people are questioning Conservation International's credentials as an environmental organisation. The complex global web of partnerships, collaborations, initiatives and projects which Conservation International weaves is as expansive as it is mind boggling. Its major corporate supporters include Cemex, Citigroup, Chiquita, Exxon Mobil Foundation, Ford, Gap, J P Morgan Chase and Co., McDonalds, Sony, Starbucks, United Airlines and Walt Disney. Conservation International claims that its corporate supporters “know that their customers, shareholders and employees share a common concern about protecting the environment.” [3]

A more plausible explanation might be that a time when transnational corporations are confronted with global resistance and opposition to their activities, they are seeking to project a green image of themselves. For example, Conservation International's website boasts of its partnership for conservation with Citigroup in Brazil, Peru, and South Africa. Rainforest Action Network has dubbed Citigroup “the most destructive bank in the world” precisely for its role in financing the destruction of old growth forests. [4] A June 2003 report by the Chiapas, Mexico-based Centre for Political Analysis and Social Investigation dubbed Conservation International a Trojan horse of the US government and transnational corporations. [5] A Papua New Guinean critique on international conservation NGOs has also accused Conservation International of neocolonialism, green imperialism, and being a “multinational conservation company.” [6]

Read the rest of the article on the website of GRAIN, at

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The East Aceh Field Office

This is a great photo that staff took of JMD's new field office (and staff accommodation) in Simpang Jernih sub-district.  I've been meaning to post it for a few weeks, and since I am still organizing my thoughts for tomorrow's entry (which should be a corker) I thought I'd post it now.
I think it's marvelous, but you get the idea that this is not a bustling metropolis. It's one of the reasons why cocoa farmers here must sell their beans to the cocoa collectors--currently, economy of scale prevents the larger firms, in Kuala Simpang and Medan, from supporting a warehouse here.

Here is one of the collectors, just arrived in a village and getting ready to go to more farms to buy small quantities of beans to take to the boat that goes to Kuala Simpang.

Tough character!
JMD will be discussing with the women's group the possibility that when they get big enough to have a substantial amount to sell, that perhaps they themselves will want to sell their cocoa as a unit directly to the larger firms, bypassing the collectors. 
We'll see how that goes over . . .

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Frightening Repetition of History

Today my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Leyte province, Philippines and its capital city of Tacloaban, where Typhoon Haiyan has so far claimed 10,000 lives. It is gratifying to know that the international community, both governments and NGOs, has mobilized so rapidly to assist people who are without food, water and emergency medical assistance. I can only hope that this assistance continues for as long as the area needs it.

The Guardian reported today:

It's worth reiterating that for all the obvious destructive power of sustained wind speeds of almost 200mph, it was the associated storm surge – the rush of water into coastal areas – which caused the worst damage in Tacloban, and most likely many of the deaths. The storm surge in Tacloban was estimated at 6m, sweeping away even concrete buildings, and bringing the sort of devastation so reminiscent of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

The Philippine national and local government should also be commended for its response to both the capital and outlying areas, although as the reports indicate, the devastation is so widespread that the national emergency assistance force will need an incredible amount of outside assistance, including UN security forces.

When disaster relief agencies begin to evaluate how much and what type of assistance to give to this province, they should remember Aceh: after nine years, it still has not healed.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of a hero

Cut Nyak Dhien, depicted on a 1998 series 10,000 rupiah banknote

Cut Nyak Dhien (Tjoet Nja' Dhien: 1850 – November 6, 1908) was a leader of the Acehnese guerrilla forces during the Aceh War. Following the death of her husband Teuku Umar, she led guerrilla actions against the Dutch for 25 years. She was captured in 1901 and exiled to West Java because the Dutch were afraid she would once more mobilize the resistance of Aceh people. Her daughter, however, escaped and continued to assist the resistance.

She was posthumously awarded the title of National Hero of Indonesia on May 2, 1964 by the Indonesian government.

She is also the hero of many young women in Aceh, including Qori Sandioriva, Miss Indonesia 2009, who represented Aceh without wearing the headscarf demanded by extremists (you go, Qori!)

Ramon dan Qory (Foto: Rama/Okezone)

Maybe she and actor Ramon Tungka would like to be JMD’s celebrity sponsors?????

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Letter to the New York Times

Well, this is what I would have written to them, if I were allowed 500 words.  (I posted the referenced article a few days ago). As it was, I had to pare it down to 250, and maybe they'll print 125 if I'm lucky.  But as Julia Child would say, there's no one writing your blog but you, so here's what I wanted to say:

Dear Editor:
As President of a foundation that supports one of the only local sustainable livelihoods agencies in Aceh Province, Indonesia, I read  Sara Schonhardt’s October 11 article, “In Indonesia, Environmentalists See a Disaster in the Making” with great interest and relief. Then I began to remember sadly that every time, no matter how much press, social media campaigns, and international and Jakarta-based environmental group pressure is put on Indonesia to curb deforestation in Aceh, the result has been nothing more than sympathetic platitudes and lip service.  Since 2009 the Indonesian government (and, in increasing and terrifying increments, the Aceh provincial administration) has been assuring us through surveys, conferences, studies, and workpapers—but never by actions or actual initiatives-- that it is committed to a green and sustainable future, while simultaneously ripping open the province to outside extraction interests with which the government can “partner.” Currently palm, rubber and mining concerns in Aceh are touting their “sustainability certification,” when in fact the regulations outlining compliance are developed by the companies themselves and, the MPOC roundtable notwithstanding,  the actual and reliable monitoring of these plantations and mines by objective third parties has yet to occur.  And will not occur; palm oil companies “choose” not to share any of their data with appropriate ministries, and have blocked initiatives that assist smallholder farmers who do not want to be part of the deforestation machine in their community.  (This is what in Aceh is called a “state owned business.”) Jakarta’s complex and unhealthy relationship with Aceh, the grinding poverty of local communities living on the forest buffer, and the lack of concern for the thousands of separatist fighters living in those same areas who have never received any type of compensation—none of this is conducive to the government specifically addressing the obscene amount of destruction, employee abuse (including forced labor and rape), and disregard for the fragile ecosystem that has the incredibly bad fortune to lie in an area where the only rule  followed is: get as wealthy as you can and get out.

I just don’t know who to be more angry at—the schizophrenic provincial administration that broadcasts its conservation record and holds sustainability conferences while leaping into bed with big palm oil in the name of “economic strengthening”—or the international NGOs who since 2005 have done little to develop and educate strong local agencies and leaders who are committed to protecting the resource and their communities long after the last Chief of Mission paycheck has been cashed.

People living on the buffer of rainforests in Aceh do not want to be sharecroppers. And all the international hand-wringing and Save the Orangutan campaigns and Indonesian bureaus of global environmental groups is not dissuading the people making the money from making the money.  The wildlife is being eradicated and the soil is eroding and the indigenous communities are starving and on the other side of the world we are about ready to run out of oxygen and we all know that the Sumatran elephant in the living room is the unwillingness of the Indonesian government to yank itself into developed nation status and curb the tsunami of corruption at the ministry level.  But really, why should it?  If the international community wants to truly help, we will move heaven and earth to support and train local conservation and community development efforts.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Despite the rainy season, cocoa farmers harvest and dry their beans for the best crop yet

This time of year, this is a typical day in Pante Kera village.

Robert sent me a photo of the only access road, but you would not recognize it as a road.

One of the things I have been advocating for since 2009 is the construction of a good, permeable access road to Simpang Jernih subdistrict, that does not wash out yearly and that retains wildlife crossings. They need about 12 kilometers. Anyone out there want to write a check?

The women are really taking advantage of the new tools that JMD supplied them with, courtesy of the Local Community Fund grant from the Embassy of Finland. Also included in the new harvest methodology were several portable drying racks, which as you can see resulted in far more beans not going to waste. JMD’s Field Officer believes that the women probably realized the biggest quantity of beans ever during this harvest, and the quality is necessarily better due to good pest management and the drying process itself.

One thing that every farmer has on her wish list, though, is a wheelbarrow. A very happy farmer is posing here with one of the 2 wheelbarrows in the entire village. JMD currently has a Razoo campaign to get a wheelbarrow for each of its current beneficiaries; they cost about $45 each. What a lifesaver on 2 acres of cocoa fields!

I do believe that that agency is saving the rainforest, one cocoa farmer at a time.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Interlude, with Liberty Mutual

Add this to the “Where Are they Now?” follow-up: documents that CR (corporate responsibility) departments put out extolling the virtues of the new “sustainable” palm oil business, but who all remain silent when I ask them if they have followed up or if they have an accurate way to determine if any of the regulations are being followed.

Sent at the end of September:

Dear Liberty Mutual/Responsibility Project staff:
Our foundation supports the only local sustainable livelihoods agency in Aceh province, Indonesia. I just read your 2010 article entitled “A Better Future For Palm Oil.”  I’ve been researching this topic extensively, since the Acehnese agency that we support (Jembatan Masa Depan/ has been implementing a women’s cocoa farmer project since 2009 adjacent to one of the largest “protected” rainforests in the world.  The area is currently being decimated by those same palm oil concerns that have reportedly received “sustainability certificates” from RSPO, the body to which your article refers.  While an admirable effort, the regulations that RSPO has established are difficult if not impossible to monitor, and do not take into account the smallholder farmers living in the area.  We’re wondering, then, if your staff ever has a chance to follow up on these articles to determine, for example, if in fact the Dutch pledge to import only “sustainable” palm oil really did translate into better economic conditions for indigenous residents and better stewardship of natural resources or, as we are finding, is mostly just words on paper.
I’d love to send you more information about a truly sustainable initiative on the buffer of the rainforest, if your department would be interested.  Thanks for your time.

So far, no response.  Surprise!

Where Are They Now?

One of the reasons, as some of you may recall, that I started keeping track of what was going on in Aceh Timur/East Aceh as part of this blog was to get my own facts straight so that BBF could help JMD find more funding to do its small scale cocoa improvement project there. I wanted to make sure that we could tell potential donors the truth about what could be accomplished, how it would be monitored, what had prevented success in the past, and what people living in Aceh really felt about their current and future economic and social situation

As you know, I sort of went down the rabbit hole.

One of the things I did find out definitively, though, was that, well, facts are hard to come by in Aceh Timur. The inaccessibility and isolation of the region makes it nearly impossible for even the most well-meaning of organizations to actually put Doc Martins on the ground and say with any type of authority, “Yes, that company is treating all its workers fairly,” or “There hasn’t been any illegal logging done in that quadrant since 2009,” or “no private smallholder land has been usurped by agribusiness.”

Indonesia, like Afghanistan, has some of the best environmental and human rights regulations on the books, but it is safe to say that if there is no sunlight pouring into the rainforest, the toadstools stay hidden and protected.

One of the things I’ve been meaning to do is compile a list of organizations and entities who were here, who had been operating in Aceh, when I first arrived in 2005, and find out what happened to them. Many large NGOs left soon after the initial humanitarian crisis was declared “over;” it was far too dangerous, given the economy of scale, for them to keep people here. JMD cut its teeth on these abandoned projects, finishing many of them at the request of the agencies that were called back to HQ. But in the wake of their leaving was also the wreckage of local NGOs who had been gutted by their international partners, never to recover. Sometimes I feel like I’m in one of those post-apocalyptic movies where a lone survivor roams the countryside trying to find others who have managed to hang on. As far as I know, JMD is currently the ONLY local sustainable livelihoods NGO operating in Aceh. Other larger international organizations still administer projects, usually in education, health and environmental issues, and all of them depend on talented and experienced Acehnese staff to assist them. But close to none are ever required to partner or subcontract with a local NGO--probably because the donor community knows that now none are left.<

The WikiTravel website reports that “There are approximately 65 NGOs currently operating in Banda Aceh . . . [t]hese NGOs include various UN and EU agencies, USNS, Care, Americare, Islamic Relief, International Federation Of Red Cross and Red Crescent, Australian Red Cross, Turkish Red Crescent, Kuwaiti Red Crescent, French Red Cross, IMC, IOM, WHO, Japan International Cooperation System, Habitat, Medecins sans frontières, Japan Platform, USAID. At the peak of the post-Tsunami aid effort there were 850 NGOs . . .”

Did you see any LOCAL or Indonesian NGO mentioned in that list?

So as an exercise, and as a prelude to my rather obvious thesis (that the only way to insure sustainable enterprises and environmental protection is through LOCALLY-DRIVEN initiatives) is to list the entities, working groups, and initiatives with whom we worked post-tsunami, and one by one find out what they are doing now.

I think I’m going to start with the list below, since I know the answer to some of this, and have reported on a few of them in previous posts. I’m hoping that by putting it all down in one place I can get a better picture of where all the assistance went in Aceh, and why, and give you an idea, too.

  • The Aceh Recovery Effort
  • Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi (BRR) / Agency for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias
  • The Aceh Reintegration Agency (BRA--Organization of Ex-Combatants)
  • Aceh Monitoring Mission
  • The Multi-Donor Fund
  • SwissContact Aceh
  • Eye on Aceh
  • Unicef Aceh
  • Care Aceh
  • Red Cross Aceh
  • USAID Aceh projects
  • Green Hands
  • The Leuser Foundation
  • Muslim Aid Aceh
  • Islamic Relief Aceh
  • The UN Office of the Recovery Coordinator for Aceh and Nias (UNORC)
  • Flora and Fauna International
  • World Wildlife Fund
  • Kencamaten Development Project/ Aceh Village Survey
  • Aceh Research Institute, University of Singapore
  • SSPDA Aceh (Strength through Sustainable Peace and Development; UN)

It’s not going to be pretty.

In other news: I’ve been told that one of my blog posts has made it to the big leagues: a sustainable forestry paper ("The Timberland DSS Source -- Ideas about Sustainable Forest Management and Timberland Investment") has shared our “tweet share” of yesterday’s post; we’re right alongside talking about palm oil and deforestation. How about that!!! Since I’m a skeptic by nature . . . eyes on you, Timberland!!! Hope you really are concerned about global forest sustainability . . .