Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Part II: Preface to the $6.7million cocoa improvement project that wasn’t

The 2006 NGO Impact Initiative: An Assessment by the International Humanitarian NGO Community (preface by Bill Cinton) stressed the failure of the international community in Aceh to include local NGOs in the recovery and reconstruction process.

“International NGOs should expand efforts to recognize and promote the leadership of local communities, local aid groups, and, where appropriate, affected governments in recovery from major disasters; they should also make the strengthening of local capacity in recovery from an emergency a priority equal to that of service delivery.

As many of you know, I’ve been blathering on about sustainability in this blog because I really have come to the conclusion that the word has lost all its meaning and is just trotted out in grant proposals and political speeches to get people to like whichever project or business or candidate or product is marketing itself.  To us, in Aceh, sustainability means the continuation of a practice long after outsiders have left.  It’s carried on by future generations, who decide to stick around instead of escaping at the earliest possible opportunity from a life that has always been too hard, too poor, too boring, too dangerous.

One of the things JMD keeps asking its women cocoa farmers is: do you think your kids will want to do this?  Not only do the farmers in Aceh Timur have to want to follow tradition, they have to re-invent that tradition after its nearly 30-year coma. 

Imagine if all during your childhood you were told that your family were fishermen, but the ocean was off limits and your parents never went out on the water.  You heard about it all the time from your grandparents.  Then when you’re 30, the ocean becomes open for business, someone points you to the family boat (up on blocks and rotting) and says “okay, go continue the tradition.”  You want to.  You know it’s your legacy.  But you don’t have a frigging clue.  

Welcome to cocoa farming in Aceh Timur.

As Field Officer Robert said, “The only reason people are still here growing cocoa is that their families really loved growing cocoa.”  It’s one of the most labor-intensive crops on the planet, and if it doesn’t show you an increased return, well, after a while you just have to give it up--if not for you, for the sake of your kids. 

So ever since the 2004 tsunami, JMD has been helping people across Aceh with small projects that the communities thought were important. and then we leave, and come back every year or so to see how everyone’s doing, and if they are still doing it, or if if they have modified it to respond to natural or demographic changes, then it’s still sustainable. 

When we came back to Aceh Timur in 2009 after giving an integrated agriculture training the previous year, there had been an incredible flood that washed out one of the beekeeping projects.  That’s when the first group of women approached us and asked for some help re-starting their cocoa fields.  Since then, the projects have been community-led: JMD doesn’t decide what people want; they tell us, and we see if it’s manageable, and we develop a model that can be replicated in other parts of the district or the province, because we figure, if it plays in Peoria, it might find success somewhere else.

That’s when a company called Cocoa Ventures from Medan contacted JMD and asked us to please replicate a really incredibly successful training we had developed, in what’s called IPM—integrated pest management.  Cocoa ventures wanted to purchase large amounts of beans from a group of villages to the east, almost on the border of Aceh Utara, where the land was exceptionally fertile.  Problem was, no one was helping those farmers with any type of cultivation, harvest and pest control assistance. They had lots of cocoa trees, but no idea how to recondition and maintain them.

This was a great opportunity—JMD could take its pest control clinic on the road—possibly even set up a duplicate project in the area around Pante Bidari.

First, however, JMD researched the possibility that there had been projects in that area.  If it was so fertile, if cocoa was so important a commodity, surely some of the post-tsunami Multi-Donor Fund money would have gone there.

And sure enough, we found a project, funded by EDFF/The Economic Development Financing Facility, which was the “umbrella” mechanism set up to disburse the remaining $50 million of the tsunami assistance Multi Donor Fund/MDF.  As its title suggests, it focused more on development and less on post-disaster reconstruction.  Its object was to disburse the remainder of the fund as quickly and as easily as possible, and so its allocations were in the $3-10 million range.

Gosh, I do go on.

But first, a word about the EDFF funds.  Like their big brother the MDF, EDFF funds were primarily allocated to large foreign NGOs such as IOM, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, DAI, World Wildlife Fund, etc., the rationale being that these agencies had large enough administrative and fiscal departments to adequately track the awarded funds and to file appropriate reports.  In other words, the MDF/EDFF did not trust any of the local Acehnese agencies enough to directly award them the funds.  Instead, one of two things happened: the international NGO would subcontract with a smaller local agency (IOM did this with JMD for its coffee improvement project), or it would simply poach staff from the existing local agencies, paying them far more than the local agencies could, gutting those agencies until they folded and then turning their Acehnese employees loose at the end of the project.   As far as we know, and we have done extensive research on this, there was never any money devoted to improving the administrative capacity of any local agency so that it could continue the work of reconstruction after the foreign NGOs had left. Why?  Because those NGOs had no intention of leaving until the last rupiah was extracted from the World Bank’s coffers.  And there were billions and billions—not of rupiah but of dollars.  “But we trained Acehnese staff!” they will whine, from their air conditioned HQs.  Yup, you trained ‘em all right.  And where will they go work now?  All the local agencies are gone.  So the best talent Aceh has . . . leaves the province because there is no agency there to support them.

So the EDFF has $50 million and JMD gets busy developing proposals, based on all the successful projects they’d done since 2005: an extensive goat fattening and dairy project, a sustainable livelihoods initiative in the protected forest, a cocoa improvement project for widows and fighting age males, a Robusta coffee revitalization project that included a professional coffee consultant.

And -–funny story--each of these projects was approved and adored.
They just didn’t want dinky old JMD to be the agency to get the majority of the funds.
So they took the dairy project model and gave it to then-governor Irwandi’s wife, who thought she’d like to do something like that; they asked Fauna and Flora International to implement a community forest ranger training program with JMD’s livelihoods model, they asked IOM to replicate JMD’s Robusta project, only in central Aceh and for Arabica, and they showed JMD’s model to an agency called Action Aid Australia (AAA), and gave them $6.7 million to implement a cocoa improvement project in five districts including Aceh Timur.  All of these projects have a story.  All of them made me seethe.  But the one that is so exquisitely sleazy, the one that is indeed impossible to believe, is the story of AAA and the $6.7 million that vanished without a trace, and how no one seems to be too worried about that.  I’m going to tell you about all of them.  But tomorrow we’ll start with AAA and the 3,000 imaginary cocoa farmers.

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