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

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