Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Lords of Extraction: World Wildlife Fund’s laudable but misguided hope to get palm oil under control

It seems that everyone is enrolling in the "If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em" school these days regarding palm oil. It’s a near-useless commodity, it depletes the soil of any nutrients, and it grows in fragile areas that have to be destroyed in order for it to survive. Indeed, what’s not to love?

I’ve never seen a large international donor or NGO dispute this, and yet palm oil plays such a big part in political relations between countries (ie it makes people wildly rich and powerful and so it is in a country’s best interests to not threaten that) that the only thing these foreign (and sometimes national) entities can do is embrace palm oil and try to find some redeeming value to its cultivation.

What USAID came up with about 4 years ago was an initiative to turn palm oil waste into biofuel. Translation: it’s a horrible crop but at least we can make something from its garbage. Of course, we have to make more of it to make more garbage to make the biofuel producers (and consumers) happy, but what the heck.

See, once you’re on the palm oil train . . . difficult to get off.

Indonesia and Malaysia produce 80% of the world’s palm oil.

Lucky, lucky them.

Agencies like World Wildlife Fund sigh and say, well, okay, palm oil sucks but so do a lot of other commodities and so the thing to do is make its cultivation sustainable.

Which is like saying we’re going to make Ghengis Kahn a pacifist, but okay, I’ll bite.

What does “sustainable” palm oil look like?

Here’s what it looks like in WWF’s project areas.

Welcome to WWF’s Forest Conversion Program (Gee, I’m liking the sound of that.)

Briefly, and minus the jargon that gave me a headache: The goal of the FCP is to ensure that “high conservation value forests” and the plant and animal species that live in them “are no longer threatened by the expansion of palm oil and soy.” This project builds on a 2001 initiative called the Forest Conservation Initiative, that WWF claims to have been successful in “engaging relevant stakeholders;” and in fact it was chiefly responsible for the creation of the 2004 Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) of which I have spoken so fondly in previous posts.

“The rationale behind the roundtables is that development of criteria, their implementation and the mainstream procurement of responsibly/sustainably produced raw materials will transform the markets and thus reduce the pressure on areas with high conservation values.”

And we know what came out of that. RSPO representatives notified us that the regulations and activities were developed by the palm oil companies, and that evaluation and monitoring of any of their recommendations/best practices has yet to be done.

And I’m also still waiting to find out about the “sustainable” in “sustainable palm oil.” If we know that palm oil palms destroy the dirt in which they sit for 25 years, which is one of the reasons for such exponential expansion and forest destruction, how can this practice be “sustainable” and unthreatening to existing forests at the same time? Because sustainability, when applied to palm oil, means the enterprise, not the environment or the local community. Sure, palm oil cultivation can be sustained—as long as you keep churning up the forest to create the stuff.

But I digress.

The Forest Conversion Program believes that the RSPO will “transform the production of palm oil . . . by engaging companies that produce, trade or use products containing palm oil . . . [as well as] the banks and other institutions that finance those companies.”

What does it mean to “engage” a company or a bank? And why would a palm oil company want to be “engaged” in a way that it currently is not?

Concurrently, policy dialogues in producing countries [who is having these dialogues? God, I adore the use of the passive voice. It allows for such . . . hypnotic acceptance of whatever is being shoveled out] will lead to the adoption [by whom?] of a participatory landscape-level [I’m twitching now] land use planning methodology modeled after the high conservation value area (HCVA) concept. [And I am sure it is been vetted thoroughly with the local communities who actually own the land, or the general population who voted for the politicians who vowed to preserve the forests.]

“The project . . . will motivate producers to adopt environmentally and socially responsible practices, including the protection of areas with high conservation value. This strategy will be reinforced by local support in key producing areas aimed at testing and implementing appropriate better management practices and participatory land use planning ”

And monkeys, as they say . . .

But I digress again. I really am not being an obstinate old leftie. I am sincerely interested to know how this project will in any way motivate palm oil agribusiness to “adopt environmentally and socially responsible practices.” There is no monetary incentive. In Indonesia, the incentive is to make more palm oil, whatever the human or environmental cost. The Project could try to get a government on board and actually punish law-breakers, but that’s not going to happen any time soon in Aceh, where the top 4 wealthiest Indonesians include palm oil barons.

WWF goes on to outline its goals for the project, which was presumably completed in 2011. By 2010 most goals were to have been met, and the majority of these goals involved company “certifications” of some sort by the RSPO. Which, as we have seen (and heard from RSPO spokespeople) don’t mean diddly.


Another component is to get from 14-40% of large European and Asian buyers involved in the project through accepting palm oil only from companies that have this certification. So: wildly successful = 40% from certified companies. And crtification means: documents and policies.

WWF sees its role in all this as a participant in the roundtables to make sure that “robust and time-bound delivery mechanisms are put in place and enforced” and also to keep the commodities buyers involved in the discussion.

I would like to ask WWF how it is ensuring that the “delivery mechanisms” are “being enforced.” But that seems like kicking a puppy; there is no enforcement possible at this point.

Both palm oil and soy roundtables have the ambition to develop widely accepted criteria to mitigate adverse ecological and social effects. Subsequently, these criteria are to be implemented by producers and buyers, in order to eventually reform respective supply chains. As the initiator of both roundtables, WWF should stay involved in the governance bodies, as well as ensuring that its corporate members implement and procure sustainable palm oil and soy. This should include liaising with other NGOs to ensure that corporate members deliver and stay actively involved (good cop vs bad cop-roles).

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start cutting out pictures of the Aceh rainforest for my scrapbook, because that’s the only way we’re ever going to remember what it looked like.

For an update (of sorts) on WWF's involvement in the (surprise!) unwillingness of palm oil companies to be transparent and conservation-minded, see its November 13th article, Palm oil sustainability body boosts complaints handling, mapping requirements

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Where are they now—the Center for Community Development

Another longtime and good local NGO is about to close its doors.

Here is how the CCD describes itself:

The Center for Community Development and Education is a local Non Governmental Organization based in Aceh, Indonesia. CCDE was established on 30 November 1993 with the initial purpose of helping women throughout their lives. Women (in general) in Aceh are still living in a marginal position, discriminated and vulnerable and often end up as victims. This unjust treatment has brought many women into poverty. They are poor in education and have less access to economic resources. Therefore, Center for Community Development and Education was established to offer alternative responses to the problems faced by women in Aceh

Before the tsunami hit Aceh, CCDE was located in Kajhu, Baitussalam sub-district, which was one of the most severely tsunami-hit areas in Banda Aceh. CCDE which worked in 6 districts in Aceh - in South Aceh, South West Aceh, Nagan Raya, Great Aceh, Banda Aceh and Central Aceh - lost literally everything on the morning of December 26, 2004. The office building and the women's training centre building were washed away and with them all the office infrastructure, records and equipment. Even worse, the director and staff of CCDE were not spared the severe loss of beloved marriage partners and children. In addition to CCDE's material damage, 10 women's groups, comprising more than 300 women, vanished together with their houses and enterprises. The disaster forced many others temporarily to stop their operation. 

Now after the tsunami, CCDE is trying to wake up from the damage. It has started its activities again step by step. CCDE must rent a small house and purchase some office equipment and recruit new staff and new volunteers. CCDE has had some support from Oxfam, Swiss Contact and some donations from the Netzkraft Movement in Germany. Now CCDE is organized by 13 members consisting of a director (male), a program coordinator (female), a finance manager (female), an administrative officer (female), a teller (female) 3 field staff (female) and 7 volunteers (female).

I asked JMD to find out if they were still operational. Here’s the Director’s response:

I contacted this Local NGO but they are no longer at this address. I did find a staff member, though, and he told me that currently they don’t have any donors. They have a business that helps run the NGO operation, but it only has one staff there. Unfortunately the Director does not come to the office very much anymore. I will try to return to their office and hope I can meet with their director. 

What can I say? Local NGOs are not thought of very highly here. There is a lot of money for projects implemented by international NGOs who then hire local subcontractors, but to actually get a local NGO, no matter how successful or well-loved in the past, back on its feet and operational again? Forget it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

We knew the US' foreign policy with respect to Myanmar . . . it's just sad to see it spelled out

A disheartening press briefing on December 3rd from Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs

The discussion was called “U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities in South and Central Asia.”

Below is everything that she had to say about Myanmar. No one from the audience had questions on this topic. The word “Rohingya” was not mentioned. My highlights are in yellow.

We’d like to see a region that is much more interconnected, and I think we have a historic opportunity with two key transitions that are underway in the region – the one in Afghanistan and the one in Myanmar. Myanmar is not under my area of responsibility, but it affects greatly the opportunities that the countries of South Asia have in terms of, for the first time, being able to see a South Asia and a Southeast Asia join together in trade and commerce. And similarly, as we see the political security and economic transition ahead for Afghanistan, there’s a tremendous opportunity to see the countries of Central Asia connect in trade and commerce to the countries of South Asia.

When President Obama talks about the rebalance to Asia, this is fundamentally the vision that he’s talking about – the vision of an Asian landscape that is bound together in trade and commerce, a vision of an integrated trade landscape. And I often talk about the fact that the Asian Development Bank has put out this study – and other studies corroborate – that Asian economies have the potential in the coming decades to comprise 50 percent of global GDP. Now, that’s not a probability, but that is definitely a possibility.

And to make that possibility become a reality, the countries of the region need to address challenges of inclusive growth, of improved governance, of combating corruption, of diversifying their economies, and engaging in investing in the citizens of their countries. These are all areas that the United States stands ready to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the countries of Asia to ensure that that vision of Asian prosperity and Asia’s role in creating a shared prosperity around the globe is realized.

Already, we’re working with our partners in the region on major energy trade customs and people-to-people projects that support that connectivity . . ..

Similarly, as I had noted, the political transition in Myanmar creates an enormous opportunity to connect India, Bangladesh, the countries of South Asia, to the countries of Southeast Asia.

So the message from this address is that the US supports increased trade with Myanmar, so it hopes Myanmar gets stronger economically.  And it so happens that economic strength is more attainable when all groups are involved, and governments treat their citizens fairly.  But addressing serious human rights abuses solely because persecution is inherently wrong does not appear to be part of this agenda . . .

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Special Report: Thailand secretly supplies Myanmar refugees to trafficking rings

Another important story highlighting the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar . . . but again, the collective journalistic memory is limited—do not think, dear reader, that this started in 2012 as these articles may lead you to believe. This practice has been going on for many, many years, as I can attest to, having traveled with JMD staff to Aceh in 2009 to help set up a refugee camp for 200 refugees who arrived on the Aceh Timur coast. The fate of a refugee in this area is more than uncertain—when and if they make it to shore, they are making it to a region that is as poor if not poorer than the land they left. And yet the people of Aceh Timur did all they could to help these terrified men and boys. And that was four years a. This is not new. What some Thai officials have done is beyond criminal, but let us not forget that the policies that drove the Rohingya out of their homes are still in place in Myanmar, despite its “progressive” new government.

Rohingya refugees being taken to a camp in Aceh Besar

More accompanying photos here:


By Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall December 4, 2013 7:50 PM

RANONG, Thailand (Reuters) - One afternoon in October, in the watery no-man's land between Thailand and Myanmar, Muhammad Ismail vanished.

Thai immigration officials said he was being deported to Myanmar. In fact, they sold Ismail, 23, and hundreds of other Rohingya Muslims to human traffickers, who then spirited them into brutal jungle camps.

As thousands of Rohingya flee Myanmar to escape religious persecution, a Reuters investigation in three countries has uncovered a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand's immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.

The Rohingya are then transported across southern Thailand and held hostage in a series of camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay thousands of dollars to release them. Reporters located three such camps - two based on the testimony of Rohingya held there, and a third by trekking to the site, heavily guarded, near a village called Baan Klong Tor.

Thousands of Rohingya have passed through this tropical gulag. An untold number have died there. Some have been murdered by camp guards or have perished from dehydration or disease, survivors said in interviews.

The Thai authorities say the movement of Rohingya through their country doesn't amount to human trafficking. But in interviews for this story, the Thai Royal Police acknowledged, for the first time, a covert policy called "option two" that relies upon established human-smuggling networks to rid Thailand of Rohingya detainees.

Ismail was one of five Rohingya who said that Thai immigration officials had sold him outright or aided in their sale to human traffickers. "It seemed so official at first," said Ismail, a wiry farmer with a long narrow face and tight curly hair. "They took our photographs. They took our fingerprints. And then once in the boats, about 20 minutes out at sea, we were told we had been sold."

Ismail said he ended up in a camp in southern Thailand. So did Bozor Mohamed, a Rohingya whose frail body makes him seem younger than his 21 years. The camp was guarded by men with guns and clubs, said Mohamed, and at least one person died every day due to dehydration or disease.
Bozor Mohammed from the Rakhine state in Myanmar speaks to a reporter about his leg being injured during captivity, from his house in Kuala Lumpur on November 8, 2013

"I used to be a strong man," the former rice farmer said in an interview, as he massaged his withered legs.

Mohamed and others say they endured hunger, filth and multiple beatings. Mohamed's elbow and back are scarred from what he said were beatings administered by his captors in Thailand while he telephoned his brother-in-law in Malaysia, begging him to pay the $2,000 ransom they demanded. Some men failed to find a benefactor in Malaysia to pay their ransom. The camp became their home. "They had long beards and their hair was so long, down to the middle of their backs, that they looked liked women," said Mohamed.


What ultimately happens to Rohingya who can't buy their freedom remains unclear. A Thai-based smuggler said some are sold to shipping companies and farms as manual laborers for 5,000 to 50,000 baht each, or $155 to $1,550.

"Prices vary according to their skills," said the smuggler, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group based in Thailand, says it has interviewed scores of Rohingya who have passed through the Thai camps and into Malaysia. Many Rohingya who can't pay end up as cooks or guards at the camps, said Chris Lewa, Arakan Project's director.

Presented with the findings of this report, Thailand's second-highest-ranking policeman made some startling admissions. Thai officials might have profited from Rohingya smuggling in the past, said Police Maj-Gen Chatchawal Suksomjit, Deputy Commissioner General of the Royal Thai Police. He also confirmed the existence of illegal camps in southern Thailand, which he called "holding bays".<

Tarit Pengdith, chief of the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand's equivalent of the U.S. FBI, was also asked about the camps Reuters discovered. "We have heard about these camps in southern Thailand," he said, "but we are not investigating this issue."

Besieged by a political crisis and violent street protests this week, Thailand faces difficult questions about its future and global status. Among those is whether it will join North Korea, the Central African Republic and Iran among the world's worst offenders in fighting human trafficking.

The signs are not good.

The U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report ranks countries on their record for combating the crime. For the past four years, Thailand has sat on the TIP Report's so-called Tier 2 Watch List, the second-lowest rank. It will be automatically downgraded to Tier 3 next year unless it makes what the State Department calls "significant efforts" to eliminate human trafficking.

Dropping to Tier 3 status theoretically carries the threat of U.S. sanctions. In practice, the United States is unlikely to sanction Thailand, one of its oldest treaty allies in Asia. But to be downgraded would be a major embarrassment to Thailand, which is now lobbying hard for a non-permanent position on the United Nations Security Council.


Rohingya are Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh, where they are usually stateless and despised as illegal immigrants. In 2012, two eruptions of violence between Rohingyas and majority Buddhists in Rakhine State in western Myanmar killed at least 192 people and made 140,000 homeless. Most were Rohingya, who live in wretched camps or under apartheid-like segregation with little access to healthcare, schools or jobs.

And so they have fled Myanmar by sea in unprecedented numbers over the past year. Ismail and Mohamed joined tens of thousands of Rohingya in one of the biggest movements of boat people since the end of the Vietnam War.

Widespread bias against the Rohingya in the region, however, makes it difficult for them to find safe haven - and easy to fall into the hands of traffickers. "No one is there to speak for them," says Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch. "They are a lost people."

Rohingya men, women and children squeeze aboard overloaded fishing boats and cargo ships to cross the Bay of Bengal. Their desired destination is Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country where at least 31,000 Rohingya already live. As Reuters reported in July, many of these refugees were waylaid in Thailand, where the Thai navy and marine police worked with smugglers to extract money for their onward trip to Malaysia

Hundreds of Rohingyas were arrested in two headline-grabbing raids by the Thai authorities on January 9 in the towns of Padang Besar and Sadao, both near the Malaysia border. At the time, Colonel Krissakorn Paleetunyawong, deputy commander of police in the area, declared the Rohingya would be deported back to Myanmar. That never happened.

Ismail and Mohamed were among the 393 Rohingya that Thai police say were arrested that day in Padang Besar. So was Ismail's friend Ediris, 22. The three young men all hailed from Buthedaung, a poor township in northern Rakhine State.

Their story reveals how Thailand, a rapidly developing country in the heart of Southeast Asia, shifted from cracking down on human trafficking camps to facilitating them.


After their arrest, Ediris and Ismail were brought to an immigration detention center (IDC) in Sadao, where they joined another 300 Rohingya rounded up from a nearby smuggler's house. The two-story IDC, designed for a few dozen inmates, was overflowing. Women and children were moved to sheltered housing, while some men were sent to other IDCs across Thailand.

With about 1,700 Rohingya locked up nationwide, the Thai government set a July deadline to deport them all and opened talks with Myanmar on how to do it. The talks went nowhere, because the Myanmar government refused to take responsibility for what it regards as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

>Men and teenage boys languished for months in cramped, cage-like cells, often with barely enough room to sit or stand, much less walk. In June, Reuters journalists visited an IDC in Phang Nga, near the tourist Mecca of Phuket. There were 269 men and boys crammed into a space built for no more than 100. It reeked of urine and sweat. Some detainees used crutches because their muscles had atrophied.

A doctor who inspected Sadao's IDC in July said he found five emaciated Rohingya clinging to life. Two died on their way to hospital, said the doctor, Anatachai Thaipratan, an advisor of the Thai Islamic Medical Association.

As the plight of Rohingya detainees made world headlines, pressure mounted on Thailand. But Myanmar wouldn't take them, nor would Malaysia. With thousands more arriving, the U.N.'s refugee agency issued an urgent appeal for alternative housing. The government proposed building a "mega camp" in Nakhon Sri Thammarat, another province in southern Thailand. It was rejected after an outcry from local people.

In early August, 270 Rohingya rioted at the IDC in Phang Nga. Men tore off doors separating cells, demanding to be let outside to pray at the close of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Over the last three weeks of August, more than 300 Rohingya fled from five detention centers.

The site of a suspected human trafficking camp is seen near Baan Klong Tor in southern Thailand October 2013

By this time, Mohamed, the 21-year-old refugee, could no longer walk, let alone escape. His leg muscles had wasted away from months in detention in a cell shared by 95 Rohingya men. Ismail and Ediris were shuttled between various IDCs, ending up in Nong Khai, a city on Thailand's northern border with Laos.

Thailand saw its options rapidly dwindling, a senior government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. It couldn't protest to Myanmar's government to improve the lives of Rohingya and stem the exodus, the official said. That could ruffle diplomatic feathers and even jeopardize the access of Thai companies hoping to invest in Myanmar, one of the world's hottest frontier markets.

Nor could Thailand arrest, prosecute and jail the Rohingya for breaking Thai immigration law - there were simply too many of them. "There would be no room in our prison cells," Police Maj-Gen Chatchawal said.

That growing problem gave birth to "option two" in October, a secret policy to deport the refugees back to Myanmar that led to Rohingyas being sold to human trafficking networks.

A hint of the policy shift came weeks earlier, on September 13, when Police Lt. Gen. Panu Kerdlarppol, chief of the Immigration Bureau, met with officials from other agencies on the resort island of Koh Samui to decide what to do with the Rohingya. Afterwards, Kerdlarppol announced that immigration authorities would take statements from the Rohingya "to arrange their deportation" and see if any want to go home. Arrangements would be made for those who did.

By early October, 2,058 Rohingya were held in 14 IDCs across Thailand, according to the Internal Security Operations Command, a national security agency run by the Thai military. A month later, that number stood at about 600, according to non-governmental organizations and Muslim aid workers. By the first week of December, it was 154, Thailand's immigration department said.

Rohingya were fast disappearing from Thailand's IDCs, and nobody knew where they were going.


Central to the policy was Ranong, a sparsely populated Thai province whose geography has always made it a smugglers' paradise. Ranong shares a long, ill-policed land and sea border with Myanmar. Its coastline is blanketed in dense mangrove forest and dotted with small, often uninhabited islands.

The provincial capital, also called Ranong, was built on tin mining but now lives off fishing and tourism. Rust-streaked trawlers from Thailand and Burma ply the same waters as dive boats and yachts. So do wooden "long-tail" boats, named after their extended drive-shafts, which ferry Burmese migrant workers to the Myanmar port of Kawthaung, only a 30-minute voyage away.

By late October, hundreds of Rohingya were being packed onto immigration trucks and driven to Ranong for processing and deportation. Among them were Ismail and Ediris, who arrived in the port city after a grueling, standing room-only journey of 1,200 km (746 miles) from Nong Khai.

At Ranong's IDC, they were photographed and told by Thai immigration officers they were being sent back to Myanmar. "They said no other countries were accepting Rohingya, and Myanmar had become peaceful," said Ismail.

Then they were driven to a Ranong pier and herded onto four long-tail boats, each with a three-man crew of Thais and Burmese. Once at sea, the Rohingya asked the boat driver to help them. The Burmese-speaking driver shook his head and told the Rohingya they had been sold by Thai immigration officials for 11,000 baht ($350) each.

"They told us we now belonged to them," said Ismail.

After about 30 minutes at sea, the boats stopped. It was early afternoon on October 23. The vessels waited until about 6 p.m., when a large fishing boat arrived. They were loaded aboard and sailed through the night until they reached a jungle island, separated from the mainland by a narrow river. It was about 4 a.m.

Men stand in boats crossing the invisible maritime border between Thailand and Myanmar near the Thai border

Ismail said he saw about 200 other Rohingya in that camp, mostly sleeping and guarded by men with guns. The guards shoved Ismail and the others into a muddy clearing. There was no water or food. He was told he must pay 60,000 Thai baht ($1,850). Did he have family who could send the money? If he did, he could go wherever he wanted, Ismail said he was told. "If you don't, we'll use this," one guard said, showing an iron rod.

Ismail had some cash but not enough. "We need to escape," he whispered to Ediris. After an hour at the camp, just before dawn, the two men made their move. A guard fired shots in the air as they ran through the jungle and waded through a river to reach the mainland. For the next 24 hours, they survived by drinking stream-water and eating the bark of banana trees. They emerged onto a rubber plantation, their feet lacerated from the bare-foot jungle trek, and met a Burmese man who promised to spirit them into Malaysia for 8,000 baht, or $250, each.

They agreed and were driven to a house in southern Thailand, where Reuters interviewed them hours before they were smuggled by pick-up across the Malaysian border.

Rohingya women and children who arrived on a boat from Myanmar pass the time at a shelter in Phang Nga October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha


Bozor Mohamed, the third young Rohingya from Buthedaung, said he was held for 10 days at a jungle camp in Padang Besar.

He, too, said he had been delivered by Thai officials to trafficking boats along the maritime border with Myanmar. Afterwards, in torrential rain and under cover of darkness, along with perhaps 200 other Rohingya, Mohamed said he was ferried back across the strait to Thailand, where a new ordeal began.

The men were taken on a two-day journey by van, motor-bike, and foot to a smuggler's camp on the border with Malaysia. On the final hike, men with canes beat the young Rohingya and the others, many of them hobbled by months of detention. They stumbled and dragged themselves up steep forested hills.

Making the same trek was Mohamed Hassan, a fourth Rohingya to escape Thailand's trafficking network. Hassan is a baby-faced 19-year-old from the Rakhine capital of Sittwe.

He said he arrived at the camp in September after an overnight journey in a pick-up truck, followed by a two-hour walk into the hills with dozens of other Rohingya. Their captors ordered them to carry supplies, he said. Already giddy with fatigue and hunger after eight days at sea, the 19-year-old shouldered a sack of rice. "If we stopped, the men beat us with sticks," he said.

The camp was partially skirted by a barbed-wire fence, he said, and guarded by about 25 men with guns, knives and clubs. Hassan reckoned it held about 300 Rohingya. They slept on plastic sheets, unprotected from the sun and rain, and were allowed only one meal a day, of rice and dried fish. He said he was constantly hungry.

One night, two Rohingya men tried to escape. The guards tracked them down, bound their hands and dragged them back to camp. Then, the guards beat the two men with clubs, rods and lengths of rubber. "Everybody watched," said Hassan. "We said nothing. Some people were crying."

The beating lasted some 30 minutes, he said. Then a guard drew a small knife and slit the throat of one of the fugitives.

The prisoners were ordered to dispose of his corpse in the forest. The other victim was dumped in a stream. Afterwards, Hassan vomited with fear and exhaustion, but tried not to cry. "When I cried they beat me. I had already decided that I would die there."

His only hope of release was his older brother, 42, a long-time resident of Thailand. Hassan said he had his brother's telephone number with him, but at first his captors wouldn't let him call it. (Traffickers are reluctant to deal with relatives in Thailand, in case they have contacts with the Thai authorities that could jeopardize operations.

Eventually, Hassan reached his brother, who said he sold his motorbike to help raise the equivalent of about $3,000 to secure Hassan's freedom, after 20 days in the camp.

Reporters were able to trace the location of three trafficking camps, based on the testimony of Rohingya who previously were held in them.

Three journalists traveled on motor-bikes and then hiked through rubber plantations and dense jungle to directly confirm the existence of a major camp near Baan Klong Tor.

Concealed by a blue tarpaulin tent, the Rohingya were split into groups of men and women. Some prayed. The encampment was patrolled by armed guards and protected by villagers and police. The reporters didn't attempt to enter. Villagers who have visited the camp said the number of people held inside ranged from an estimated 500 to a thousand or more, depending on the number of people arriving, departing or escaping.

Interviews with about a dozen villagers also confirmed two other large camps: one less than a mile away, and another in Padang Besar, near the Malaysia border.


Major General Chatchawal of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok admitted there was an unofficial policy to deport the Rohingya to Myanmar. He called this "a natural way or option two." But he said the Rohingya went voluntarily.

"Some Rohingya in our IDCs can't stand being in limbo, so they ask to return to where they came from," said Chatchawal. "This means going back to Myanmar." Rohingya at the IDCs, for instance, sign statements in the presence of a local Islamic leader, in which they agree they want to return to Myanmar.

These statements, however, were at times produced in the absence of a Rohingya language translator. When reporters visited the Sadao IDC for this story, the translator was a Muslim from Myanmar who spoke only Thai and Burmese, and thus unable to explain what the detainees were signing.

Chatchawal was also presented with recent testimony from Rohingya who said they weren't taken to back to Myanmar. Instead, they were put in boats by Thai immigration officials, told they had been sold and taken under duress to Thailand's camps. Reporters interviewed four Rohingya for this story who said they fell prey to trafficking with official complicity.

At the house where Ediris and Ismail were interviewed were two other survivors of the trafficking camps: Abdul Basser, 24, and Fir Mohamed, 28. They told similar stories. Both were arrested after arriving in Thailand on January 25, and held at the overcrowded Phang Nga IDC for about eight months. On October 17, the two men, along with dozens of other Rohingya, were driven overnight to Ranong.

"We were told we could go back to Myanmar," said Mohamed.

That day, 48 Rohingya and five Buddhist Burmese were loaded into trucks and driven to a pier. The five Burmese were put on one boat; the Rohingya were put on another. After about a half hour at sea, the captain cut the engine. "We thought the engine had stalled or broke down," said Basser. "The captain told us we could not go back to Myanmar, that we had been sold by the immigration and police," he added.

Mohamed and Basser, too, escaped after being brought to an island near mainland Thailand.

Until now, the Thai government has denied official complicity in the smuggling or trafficking of Rohingya. But in a break with that position, Chatchawal said Thai officials might have received money previously in exchange for Rohingya, but not anymore. "In the past, and I stress in the past, there may have been cases of officials taking payments for handing over migrants to boats," he said. "I am not ruling it out, but I don't know of any specific cases recently."

He said it was possible the Rohingya were intercepted by brokers and never made it to Myanmar. "Once they've crossed that border, that red line in the sea, they are Myanmar's responsibility," he said.

He also admitted the camps uncovered by Reuters exist in breach of Thai laws. He referred to them as "temporary shelters" for a people who ultimately want to reach Malaysia. The smugglers who run the camps "extort money from Rohingya" but police don't accept bribes from them, he said.

As for the trafficking way stations in Padang Besar and Sadao, Chatchawal said: "I do believe there could be more camps like these. They could be hidden deep in the jungle." (Additional reporting by Jutaret Skulpichetrat and Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok, and Stuart Grudgings in Kuala Lumpur.)

Video: Vicious Circle awaits Rohingya refugees in Thailand

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rohingya continue to be persecuted beyond Myanmar’s borders

Neighboring country officials have sunk to a new low, kidnapping Rohingya refugees and holding them until their families pay ransom. Doubly cruel, since they are the poorest of the poor, citizens of nowhere. Myanmar still has not, for all its talk of progressive reforms, acknowledged their citizenship. And we have witnessed the surge in violence against all Muslims, not just ethnic Rohingya, in Myamnar this year.

Please note that contrary to what the article below states (highlighted in yellow), this persecution of the Rohingya and “explosive” clashes have been going on for far more than one year; JMD assisted the Rohingya refugees who landed in Aceh Timur in 2009—at the same time other groups of refugees arrived in Thailand starving and nearly dead, only to be refused landing and sent back out to sea..

U.S. urges Thai investigation into alleged trafficking
December 6, 2013 11:32 AM

BANGKOK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United Nations and the United States called Friday for investigations into the findings of a Reuters report that Thai immigration officials moved Myanmar refugees into human trafficking rings.

The report, published on Thursday and based on a two-month investigation in three countries, revealed a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand's immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.

The Rohingya, stateless Muslims from Myanmar, are then transported across southern Thailand and held hostage in camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay ransoms to release them, according to the Reuters report. Some are beaten and some are killed.

"These allegations need to be investigated urgently," U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan said in a statement. "We have consistently asked countries in the region to provide temporary protection, including protection against abuse and exploitation."

Washington issued a similar call hours later. "We are aware of reports alleging that Thai officials have been involved in selling Rohingya migrants to human traffickers," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. "We urge the Thai government to conduct a serious and transparent investigation into the matter."

"We remain deeply concerned about the safety of and humanitarian conditions for vulnerable communities in Burma, including refugees and asylum seekers on Burma's borders and elsewhere in the region," Harf added.

Major General Chatchawal of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok was quoted in the Reuters report saying that there was an unofficial policy to deport the Rohingya to Myanmar. He called this "a natural way or option two." But he said the Rohingya signed statements in which they agree they want to return to Myanmar. These statements, however, were at times produced in the absence of a Rohingya language translator, Reuters found.

"The detainees also need to be informed about their options in a language they understand," said Tan, the U.N. spokeswoman. "Any decision to leave must be voluntary, and those who choose to leave must be protected against abuse and exploitation by smugglers."


New York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch criticized Thailand for moving detainees into established smuggling and trafficking rings, and warned Thailand could face a possible downgrade in a U.S. list of the world's worst enforcers of human trafficking laws.

Such a downgrade would place Thailand, a close U.S. ally and Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy, at risk of U.S. sanctions and put it on par with North Korea and Iran among the worst performers in fighting human trafficking.

"The Thai government has some serious explaining to do before the international community," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The U.S. State Department is gathering information for its next Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report, due to be published in June. Thailand faces an automatic downgrade to Tier 3, the lowest rank, unless it makes "significant efforts" to improve its record in combating trafficking, the State Department says. The Tier 3 designation could leave Thailand subject to U.S. sanctions.

In Congress, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pennsylvania) urged the State Department to press both Myanmar and Thailand to act. "When a minority group is consistently denied human rights, we shouldn't be surprised that they would become susceptible and fall prey to the vile crime of human trafficking," Pitts said in a statement. "I call on the State Department to do everything within its authority to work to end this heinous practice, both in Burma and in Thailand."

Sek Wannamethee, a spokesman for Thailand's Foreign Ministry, said the Rohingya issue was one of several the United States would take into consideration before deciding whether to downgrade or upgrade Thailand.

"The United States will look at the overall progress of Thailand," he said. "The focus is on persecution and convictions, and Thailand has made substantive progress."

The numbers suggest enforcement is losing steam. Nine people have been arrested in Thailand in relation to Rohingya-smuggling in 2013, including two government officials, according to police data. None of the arrests has led to convictions, however.

Thailand prosecuted 27 people for trafficking in 2012, down from 67 the previous year, according to the 2013 TIP Report by the U.S. State Department.

Clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists exploded in Myanmar last year, making 140,000 people homeless, most of them Rohingya. Since then, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled from Myanmar by boat.

(Reporting by Andrew Marshall and Jason Szep in Bangkok and Arshad Mohammed in Washington.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Celebrity Spokesperson Christmas Wish List

Well, the Thanksgiving holiday is over and our mailboxes become flooded with conscientious giving requests. I know I like giving money to an agency or organization I support in the name of loved ones who don’t need other gifts—and they do too.

And, as someone who supports one of those agencies, albeit a tiny one, I am always envious of the large humanitarian agencies this time of year. The World Wildlife Founds, the Heifer Internationals, the Nature Conservancies. . . all with their cute mini stuffed snow leopards and Peace on Earth greeting cards and T-shirts and gift memberships and adopt-a-cow . . . and what they also have, being a large brand name that has grown trustworthy over the years, is a celebrity spokesperson . ..or better yet, a celebrity band, that holds concerts and screams “protect the rainforest!” and “Stop the slaughter of elephants!” I have to tell you, some of those celebrities make me swoon. And I KNOW they would be concerned about how none of their charities, for all the wonderful work they do, is concerned with a very important but neglected part of the world where the rarest of the animals and the most fragile of the forest is in imminent danger.

JMD is too small to be able to give out a coffee mug or a stuffed Sumatran tiger with each donation of $50. At one point we had an adopt-a-goat program because JMD operates very successful goat breeding and fattening programs throughout the province. Each beneficiary group (widows and young fighting age males) tended 60 goats; there is communal caring but each beneficiary pair had their own specific goats. Again, our small size and relatively limited reach was our downfall: although many kind people donated $200 to buy a goat, we didn’t receive enough funds to give the identified beneficiaries the number of goats they’d need to be successful, and the last thing you want to do is make some people in a community mad at others for receiving benefits that they don’t. Frankly I feel that the majority of problems arising in any assistance program arise because the agency has not thought through what the assistance does for those who have not received it.

A quick look at the areas affected by international giving, as we have seen over the past few months of research, reveals little to nothing assisting the rainforests of Aceh province, and even less than that being directed to the potentially greater landmass that is rainforest but has not been classified yet as “protected,” or which has had its protected status removed.

And that, my friends, is where we work.

Which celebrity is going to think that advocating for justice and conservation in some dark corner of wildest Indonesia that is not on the tip of everyone’s electronic tongue is going to further their career, improve their reputation, or position them to successfully advocate for the next project they would like to support?

Does that stop me from making my Celebrity Christmas Wish List?

It does not.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

So for those of you who know, who like, or who are the following celebrities, here’s who I think would be a dandy spokesperson, and in the upcoming days I will tell you why:

Ang Lee
Christine Baranski
Alec Baldwin
Brittany Spears
Richard Gere
Sean Penn
Cinta Laura
Irwan Fals
Frank Langella

I’ll be waiting for you call!

In the meantime, just to show that we can do cute too:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The baskets and fermentation boxes finally arrive in Pante Kera

For those of you who live in a place where most if not all of your daily necessities are available within walking or driving distance, and for whom the concept of a “delivery” means a pimply kid with a pizza showing up at your door on Saturday night, I’d like to show you some photos of JMD’s Field Officer Robert and his recent trip to Pante Kera, Aceh Timur, where he was delivering (with a lot of help) baskets, drying racks, and cocoa bean fermentation boxes to our group of women cocoa farmers, courtesy of the Local Community Fund grant from the Embassy of Finland. Bravo, Finland

So first, Robert has to take a 13-hour bus ride to the "big city" of Kuala Simpang and get all of this equipment, which he has already ordered. Then he arranges for its 5 hour transport from KS to the river at Simpang Jernih, via many brave little trucks

and then put it on boats.

Some of the women from Simpang Jernih are kind enough to help ferry it across the river to their colleagues.

Then the women farmers (and some helpful community members) offload it and transport it to Pante Kera village

Then it gets lined up and counted

And posed with

Then Robert has to explain a little about how to use certain things—like the weedwackers.

These will be indispensable when it comes to maintaining the area around the trees. If weeds grow wild in farms they can quintuple the amount of bugs that can get in a tree, and pests, my friends, are responsible for about 80% of a cocoa farmer’s losses.

Then there is a question and answer session.

Robert loves this area and knows it well—and it shows.

JMD is very lucky to have him—and so are the cocoa farmers.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Where Are they Now? Sadly, no Eye on Aceh

For those of you keeping score re: how many NGOs and trade associations are still active in Aceh, I am sorry to report that another has gone to that great roundtable in the sky: Eye on Aceh.I wrote to Dr Aspinall of ANU Cllege of Asia and the Pacific, regarding a 2009 paper he co-wrote for Eye on Aceh called “The Golden Crop?  Palm Oil in Aceh" which I’ve referreed to (and linked to) in a previous post. I also asked him to direct us to any local NGOs that he knew were still active, or any groups of NGOs who met regularly (as they used to do via the NGO Forum, during the post-tsunami days when the concept of information sharing seemed to get more support than it does now).

He referred us to Leslie, with whom he worked who was directly involved with Eye on Aceh, who reported that“Eye on Aceh has, unfortunately, closed its doors. You're right, the local NGO sector in Aceh is much weaker, especially in the areas you mention. You might try Walhi (environmental...not sure whether they might be doing livelihood work), Kontras (human rights) and LBH (legal aid). There are some other small NGOs but I'm unsure how active they still are.” 

She is no longer working in Indonesia (a common refrain) so I gave this info to JMD’ Director and he set out on a month-long quest to look up the contacts mentioned by Leslie and Dr A, see what happened to the NGO Forum (Forum LSM), and look up information on the Aceh Institute, After about 2 weeks of hanging out at their offices, trying to get the right person n the right day, and speaking to a representative from the Ace Institute, which was the only NGO I could find on line, and its focus is human rights.

Well, Junaidi, JMD's Director asked around and no one ever heard of the Aceh Institute but he found many colleagues who were more or less in touch with the NGO Forum, although many either were not joining or were no longer participating. (It was then that he located a member of the Aceh Institute, who was a member of the Forum.) It seems that the NGO Forum, like so many groups in Aceh, felt that it had to be super-formal and institutionalized, and so has a mission, vision, rules, regulations, application forms, and a specific political goal (if some of its members can be believed) that puts some agencies off. When Junaidi told me about some of the contortions that NGOs went through to either join or not join, participate or not participate . . . . “I’m not joining because that agency is a member, and they have a track record of doing X; “I am frightened of joining because we do agriculture and not women’s rights;” “Some of the agencies are too political; the scream about orangutan rights and we don’t want to be associated with them;” and on an on. It was like family members invited to a wedding—Aunt Mavis threatening not to come because “that woman will be seated across from me and you know how I hate her . . .” My god. JOIN ALREADY! I told him. But it is not that easy because of the forms and the phone calls and the blood tests and the security clearance . . . now I am just making that up. Suffice it to say, he could only find about 10 local NGOs in Banda Aceh, and he knows people from 4 of them. So if the NGO Forum cannot get its act together and actually allow a (very rare) local NGO to show up and participate, JMD is going to start its own informal local NGO coffee klatch.

Which does not help the sorry state of now-defunct local NGOs, but it gives those few remaining a shoulder to cry on.

Remember: Today is Giving Tuesday!  See my previous post, and GIVE!!!  You will feel so much better!!! 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Be Part of Giving Tuesday! Plus: Cocoa improvement help comes to Aceh . . . and makes a sharp left when it hits Aceh Timur

First things first: Giving Tuesday is tomorrow! JMD is a part of Giving Tuesday, a daylong national event designed to help charities raise money online. “Thousands of the nation's charities are hoping you have a lot of money left over after the first big days of holiday shopping and have an urge to consider the needy,” reports the LA Times. “They are also hoping to make the second iteration of "Giving Tuesday" as big an event in philanthropy as Black Friday and Cyber Monday are for shopping.,0,7120468.story#ixzz2mLZPduAt

PLEASE visit JMD’s Facebook Page and link to Razoo (the fundraising portal) to help our friends in Aceh support women cocoa farmers in the area where no one (except forest creatures, bulldozers, and people with guns) wants to go.

Speaking of which:

Catch this and paint it green, as my father used to say:

JMD staff attended the Aceh Cocoa Conference on November 19th-21st, which was a real blessing. I’m so glad they got to network with government officials and people working with and supporting cocoa cultivation in the province. Interestingly, the only other NGO present was the sponsor of the event, SwissContact. Now, this agency has done a lot of good work in the province in cocoa and coffee rehabilitation, and are really the only large agency still focusing on Aceh. However, there comes a time (actually, the time was about 5 years ago) when all international NGOs should have been spending most of their time resurrecting and training local NGOs, and that just has not been done. As a result, SwissContact implements its own projects--using Acehnese staff, to be sure, but these staff are not part of any provincial agency and so must find work elsewhere when the project is finished, or wait for SwissContact to get another grant. They do not learn how to administratively and fiscally maintain a NGO. They do not become leaders or experts in local agencies because those agencies are long gone. The most they can hope for is to be hired by the government, which as far as I know is not falling all over itself to provide more field representatives.

It’s my fervent hope that SwissContact takes the high road and unlike its colleagues decides to support, encourage, fund and provide capacity building for the assimilation of all sustainable livelihoods into local NGOs.

Ah, but if wishing made it so . . .

Where was I?

The cocoa conference.

Some good things came out of it, namely that the governor of Aceh seems to be on board with helping make Aceh the biggest cocoa producer in Indonesia by 2020, and has granted official approval to a medium export/ import port in Lhokseumawe district (to the north), which will make it easier for commodities in Ach to be traded and shipped globally.

Other than that, some nice pronouncements: a hope to triple the cocoa production per hectare, an acknowledgement that the government needs more ag extensionists with expertise in cocoa (ya think?), and a sort of sound-bite plea for a large investor to create a corporate cocoa farm similar to the palm oil plantations with which we are so familiar. Currently there are no companies growing cocoa in Aceh—only smallholders. Since this is such a fertile market, one can only wonder why. Oh, I remember—they all get chased off by palm oil and mining concerns. Cocoa’s a tough crop. Palm oil is easy. There is no company that wants to take enough corporate responsibility to make the better product at less of a profit and a whole lot less of an environmental impact.Someone else interesting was at the conference: USAID, in the guise of its IFACS cocoa improvement initiative, a $500,000, 1,600 beneficiary improvement project to be implemented in Aceh Tenggara (to the northwest) and the Gayo district. Most of the province’s cocoa grows in Aceh Tenggara. It is also where the Leuser ecosystem is. It is also where SwissContact works. It would make sense that USAID would want to back a relative winner in the economy-of-scale department. They are also interested in the reduction of greenhouse gases.

However, when JMD staff told me that the application period was 9 days (plus weekends) I sensed ta ringer. Couldn’t prove it. But there’s IFACS. There’s SwissContact. No one else from any NGO is at the conference, except JMD and they were only there because I found out about this conference by going down the palm oil rabbit hole. Someone had to be thinking that they had a contractor but had to advertise anyway. JMD asked me if I thought it was worth it for them to work night and day on an application that was probably already awarded to the agency that not only has local staff but staff in Jakarta and in its own HQ, with fiscal directors and marketing executives and researchers and program planners and, well, while I was in New York and in Jakarta and on the phone and emailing my head off for the past 4 years about how USAID Jakarta should advocate to USAID DC to put funding towards sustainable livelihoods in Aceh, especially cocoa, and have projects run by local agencies, namely JMD, funny thing—they were listening. To half of it, anyway.

They just never told us about it.

Now, my suspicions could be entirely wrong.

So we wrote to the IFACS Chief of Party for the Aceh Project.

Dear Mr. Merrill:

Your Burlington office gave me this email address in order to ask you about the recently (Nov 21) published RFQ for assistance to cocoa farmers in Aceh province.  [Building Bridges to the Future] provides administrative support to Yayasan Jembatan Masa Depan (JMD), a nationally and provincially registered NGO that has been working with women cocoa farmers in Aceh Timur since 2009.  The project is small but growing, and is quite successful.  This IFACS RFQ was brought to the staff's attention when they attended the recent Aceh Cocoa conference on November 21.

Due to the extremely short turnaround time for this grant, I am assuming that you already have a subcontractor in mind —would that be fair to say?  The preparation of such a proposal is a large undertaking, especially for a local NGO.  JMD is the only local sustainable livelihoods NGO operating in the province.  They have asked us to help navigate this RFQ because it is the project that they have been advocating for USAID (Jakarta ad Washington) to fund since 2008.  We are all extremely grateful for its implementation.

If there is already an agency in mind to which you would like to award the contract, could you entertain the possibility of an adjunct pilot project in Aceh Timur (which JMD has already developed, based on an extensive study conducted this mast March), to demonstrate that cocoa improvement can and should be done in this district as well? As you know, Aceh Timur has remained "off limits" to most organizations due to perceived dangers associated with competition with palm oil concerns.  It is this very factor, as well as the presence of a significant number of ex-combatants who call Aceh Timur home,  that makes the promotion of cocoa cultivation so extremely important here, where a significant portion of the province's orangutan, elephant and tiger population live. The rainforest in this area, unfortunately, is poised to become a statistic with the proposed re-zoning of protected forests.

JMD realizes that economy of scale and the proximity of the well-known Leuser Ecosystem insures that Aceh Tenggara would be your ideal location for a project of this scale. JMD has conducted many integrated livelihoods projects in Aceh Tenggara since 2005.  I was wondering, however, if as a small part (or as a subcontract) of your $500,000 funding amount for your outlined project could be reserved for an ancillary pilot project such as this in Aceh Timur.   It would serve 1,200 community members across four villages and increase cocoa production and production farm size by 50%, at a cost of less than $20,000 for one year (JMD had developed a 3-year model as well).  In this way, IFACS can make significant and extremely important inroads into a district that desperately needs its smallholder farmers to feel that organic cocoa production, as opposed to deforestation,  can be a major component of the economic and social health of the district.

As I mentioned, JMD is more than willing to prepare a proposal for services included in the RFQ; but before they expended a significant amount of staff time and energy I wanted to make certain that you had not already had some discussions with a preferred contractor.

Thanks so much for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you soon. 

And he was quick to respond:

Thank you very much for your correspondence and congratulations for the important work you are supporting through Yayasan Jembatan Masa Depan. Per the published RFQ released on November 21, 2013, Tetra Tech ARD is inviting organizations to submit quotations to the USAID IFACS office in Jakarta by December 2, 2013, by 17:00 local time. The RFQ is for quotations and not full proposals. The RFQ was announced publicly through various list serves widely used in Indonesia’s conservation and development community, and The RFQ was also announced at various public forums in Aceh. I can confirm that there is strong interest in this award.

Please note that the USAID IFACS project is funded by USAID and is a partnership between the US Government and the Government of Indonesia established to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia’s forest and land-use sectors. Since 2010, the USAID IFACS project has been working in eight landscapes across Indonesia with the most significant peat land and high conservation value (HCV) forest, and thus the most significant potential for reducing GHG emissions. Landscapes are in northern Sumatra, west and central Kalimantan, and along the northern and southern coasts of Papua. In northern Sumatra, USAID IFACS works in two contiguous landscapes in southern Aceh, within the Leuser ecosystem. We work in the focal districts of Aceh Selatan, Aceh Tenggara and Gayo Lues. While we certainly recognize the significance of areas outside of the landscapes in Aceh and across Indonesia, we are required to focus our limited resources to within these current landscapes. As such, USAID IFACS is unable to provide support for work in Aceh Timur.

Thank you very much for your request. I will keep my ear to the ground if I learn about any opportunities to support cacao livelihoods development in Aceh Timur.

And so we sent a gracious reply.

Dear Mr Merrill:

Thanks so much for your prompt response.  I believe JMD was questioning the short lead time due to the relative complexity of the project model proposed as well as the established staffing plan and attendant budget calculations.  However, we wish you all the best on the implementation of this project and hope that it is extremely successful.  Aceh Tenggara is certainly one of the leaders in cocoa production in terms of land currently farmed and infrastructure to process and ship it.  JMD is in fact planning a field trip for some of its beneficiary farmers to one of Aceh Tenggara's more successful farms, as part of its current women's cocoa farming improvement project funded by the Embassy of Finland.  We are hoping, as I mentioned, to strengthen the resolve of farmers in Aceh Timur, a district that as you know has been neglected on many levels and for many reasons.  We understand that USAID's parameters rely in part on an economy of scale that JMD and Aceh Timur cannot meet. We are hoping that this changes in the future, and I thank you in advance for letting us know of any opportunities available to locally based sustainable livelihoods agencies in the province.

As you know, I am not necessarily a fan of the gracious reply. But I was outvoted. And I am fully prepared to seethe with a white fury if I find out that SwissContact not only is the awardee but was the only agency applying. It is one thing to have to admit you’re a tiny agency fighting for a tiny group of well-deserving but forgotten people. It’s another thing to realize, and then accept, that the fight is fixed from the start. I just don’t think I can accept that.