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.

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