Friday, January 30, 2015

JMD applies for funding from ACWW and the EC to expand the cocoa farmers' association

In our continuing struggle to get the intrepid team at JMD some more project funding, we’ve applied to two more organizations this month, on each end of the programming spectrum.  We’ve asked the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) for a small grant to expand the cocoa farmers’ association into the adjacent villages, with the hopes of being able to provide 10 more farmers with the appropriate tools and harvesting/drying equipment to take that first stab at re-establishing their farms.  They’ll also be able to take part in the trainings JMD already is giving, thanks to a current grant from the Embassy of Finland.

I know I do this each time I mention Finland but I can’t help it.

Yay Finland!

And JMD has just completed a mammoth concept application to the European Commission’s SWITCH-II Asia initiative, which is offering grants of between 800,000 and several million Euros to “promote sustainable growth, to contribute to the economic prosperity and poverty reduction in Asia and to mitigate climate change.”
Does that sound like JMD or does that sound like JMD?

There are two priority sectors; JMD is applying under #2: "Micro, small and medium enterprises support for SCP [sustainable consumption practices]  uptake and access to finance."

Projects are supposed to:
“1)  Employ a multi-stakeholder approach with strong and intensive working relationships with SMEs [small to medium enterprises];
2)  Build upon existing structures and networks;
3)  Up-scale results achieved in earlier conducted pilot-type projects. “

So what did JMD think when it read this?  Exactly: that this was its opportunity to actually do what AAA and Keumang could not and did not do—take those 1,000 cocoa farmers identified in Aceh Timur by their preliminary (and only) completed activities, and actually provide the services that the farmers were supposed to receive, and then have them join the current women farmers’ cocoa association.  Granted, a growth spurt from 31 to 1,031 might be a little dramatic, but it’s over a four-year period, and JMD can use the DSF model it developed for IOM when it implemented the coffee farmers’ assistance project in 2009-2011 (which had, coincidentally, 1,000 beneficiaries). How perfect is that?

We’re asking for nearly the minimum amount of euros because, let’s face it, that’s a lotta euros, and JMD has always been able to implement high quality projects in a very cost-effective manner.  It has since shrunk in size from its once-robust 60-person staff due to the completion of the DSF project. . . but it will rise again to the challenge!  Provided that a) this is the economy of scale the EC is  looking for, b) the EC is ready to say YES a local NGO can administer and direct its own projects for the welfare of its own communities, and c) we can figure out how to print out the document on the bizarrely-sized  A4 paper and send it air mail to Belgium in time.

So, in anticipation of rousing success, let me just say

Yay, European Commission!
(I wonder if that scores any points . . . )

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Despite the floods, cocoa farmers are hanging in there

JMD’s director Junaidi went to Simpang Jernih to do some project monitoring . . . just as the worst of the rain and floods hit Aceh Timur.  We always tease Junaidi that he would rather be in the wilderness having an adventure than stuck behind a desk in Banda Aceh, but on this trip he got more than he bargained for.

He sent me this video that Robert took of  him In a motorized skiff; they finally convinced the skiff owner to take them across the river to see the other beneficiaries.  Although the river looks relatively flat, if you look closely you will see that that is a very rough and wild current.  That boat owner was nowhere to be found when they were ready to come back.  The chicken.

Which makes me a little mad—it’s a tough crowd over there in the rainforest.  This community has been hard hit many times.  First of course by the 30-year conflict that displaced nearly everyone, and then again in 2009 with an immense flood that wiped out practically the entire village, forcing people to move a little further up the mountain.  Our first integrated agriculture project there in 2009, actually, was completely washed away.
So the type of community spirit that you expect to see in a rural area like this is still lacking.  JMD staff have had other NGO workers and district officials say to them, “You work in that sub-district?  That’s the place that no one wants to work!” People still are not too trusting of each other, and “working for the common good” has never been a phrase that has benefitted any of them.  This is quite frustrating to the local leader (the Camat) who is growing happier by the day that JMD is there to do some community development and encourage the women farmers, at least, to seek strength in unity.
And by golly, they have.

Even with torrential rains and broken boats and cowardly skiff operators, the farmers’ association managed to save all but about 200 seedlings in their nurseries from either drowning or mold—so now between the two nurseries we still have 3,000 (very hardy) seedlings, almost ready to graft.

And if that weren’t good news enough, the neighboring village of Batu Sumbang has 3 farmers who want to join the association!  Hopefully we will be able to get some funding from one of the donors we’re applying to, so we can supply these new farmers with harvest and maintenance tools as well as nursery equipment.  With 600 trees per HA being an ideal amount, and with most farmers currently only having 200 or 300 trees, we just can’t have too many new cocoa seedlings! 

 (this photo courtesy of Michael Bachelard)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Flooding wipes out bridge, capsizes boat in Simpang Jernih

Here is the river in Aceh Timur between Simpang Jernih and Pante Kera where the raft cable broke, leaving people stranded on either side with no way to cross.  Robert and Junaidi are currently in Simpang Jernih and now stuck there like everyone else (with time to take scary videos like this). They reported that yesterday, a wave hit a passenger boat on the way from Kuala Simpang just as it was approaching this area, breaking the boat apart and sending 15 people into the river. Luckily, no one was badly injured, but this is another example of how difficult it is for people in this area to accomplish things that most of us take for granted, like getting to the hospital if we need to, or going to the next town over for supplies.  Nothing doing here until the rains stops, the river goes down, and the raft cable gets fixed. 

Are you wondering why this area never received a dime of reconstruction assistance?
Me too!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Life near the rainforest isn’t getting any easier this season

 Junaidi wrote me that Robert called the Camat’s office (the subdistrict administration) in Simpang Jernih got an update from one of the sub-district officers about the extensive (and unusual) flooding in Simpang Jernih and Pante Kera villages (Aceh Timur):

“Jalan menuju Kecamatan Simpang jernih semakin parah, masyarakat harus mencangkul badan jalan untuk  dapat di lewati oleh kenderaan roda 2 dan roda 4 ( Mobil)
The main road to SPJ is more worse now, communities started repairing the road by themselves to make motorbike or car would pass (Photos courtesy of Robert, who's stuck right along with everyone else):

Curah hujan yang sangat tinggi  di SPJ untuk bulan Januari ini
Rainfall level is getting higher in this January.

Debit Air sungai semakin  tinggi  dan arus yang sangat kencang
The water level in the river is getting higher again and it flow very strong.

Rakit penyeberangan antara Desa Batu sumbang dan Desa pante kera putus di bawa arus sungai,
The raft is broken and it wire rope broken (disconnected) because of strong water flow in the river.

Rakit penyeberangan antara Desa Batu sumbang dan Desa pante kera putus di bawa arus sungai,
Again, the cocoa farm that in Pante Kera village that located close to the river was sat by flood water.

Saat ini masyarakat desa Pantekera tidak dapat melakukan akses ke simpang jernih, untuk penghubung antara Desa pante kera dan Simpang jernih masyarakat harus menumpang boat.
Currently, people in Pante Kera village could not cross to SPJ and they have to take boat.”

This last means: in order to leave the village to get supplies or medical needs met, the river crossing is the only way out—and there is no boat because the cable has broken and the water is too high.

 The floods extend all the way down to the border of Aceh Tamiang.  That is supposed to be a road.

Will this community ever get a break??

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2015: the year that cocoa farming rules Aceh Timur?

This is the year for taking the bull by the horns—or at least the cocoa leaves, in Aceh Timur, so I’m helping JMD apply for several grants to expand the women’s cocoa farming association.  The aim when we first started assisting women farmers in 2009 was to give this under-served and under-appreciated district some much-needed assistance to being it back to something resembling its former glory in terms of a strong cocoa farming contingent.  A force big and strong enough to make the provincial and national government see that carbon-neutral farming is so much more beneficial and productive than the ever-expanding and all-too-frequent illegal practices of the palm oil industry.  Of course, palm oil will never go away.  The Bupati of Aceh Timur, with whom we do not exchange Christmas cards, has a large investment in palm oil in the region, so he’s not going to bend over backwards to support the “competition.”  But the idea that cocoa is competition is laughable.
Or is it?

Is there really the beginning of a nervous undercurrent running through Big Palm these days, what with the anti-palm oil campaigns, the increasing global awareness of the continued destruction of the protected forest in Aceh, the movement (however minimal) of President Jokowi towards a more populist administration that pays attention to things like conservation and climate change?  If that’s the case, obscenely wealthy corporate heads and shareholders need a slap in the puss. They can move over and make room for another commodity—and one that helps the majority of the population in both the long and short terms, and saves the planet at the same time.  The billions of dollars that palm oil as a global commodity rakes in every year will never diminish enough to warrant anyone’s selling of their third home or keeping last year’s Mercedes. And yet on the ground, in the thick of it, the little guy is seen as a threat.  These hard working residents on the forest’s edge are people for whom an enormous windfall from cocoa means that a child can go to school for a year.  

But they’re also the people with whom the majority of Acehnese citizens—and the rest of us—can identify.  And I’d like to do whatever I can to make sure their numbers increase exponentially, across the district.
So we’re putting in proposals to do just that—from small 10-farmer expansions with the foundation ACWW (Associated Country Women of the World) to a 5-year, 400-farmer initiative using those would-be beneficiaries of the AAA/Keumang project for EDFF that never materialized, and I hope the Norwegian government’s NORAD program thinks it’s as great an idea as I do.  Also in the mix is another project to expand the association but this time with an emphasis on integrated pest management (IPM) through the Conservation, Food and Health Foundation (CFH). 

Wouldn’t it be great if we got all of them?  It would mean that at last, after ten years of the international community funding, well, itself, to do projects in Aceh, it finally realizes that if you find a local agency to address a local issue, you improve your chances of success exponentially.

I’d love to tell ‘em to do it for the tigers

But really, who’s cuter than your fellow human being?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

JMD and Aceh the focus of 3 tsunami anniversary stories in the Portuguese press

In November I wrote about a Portuguese journalist, Andreia Nogueira, from the news agency LUSA, who traveled to Aceh to cover the 10-year anniversary of the 2004 tsunami and ensuing peace accord.  She was hosted by JMD staff, who drove her to various communities in the province to speak with survivors, local officials, and recipients of some of the earliest projects JMD completed during those first years after the tsunami.
I’d spoken to her before she made the trip, as she was very interested in my thoughts about how effective the reconstruction efforts had been, and if the reintegration of the ex-GAM combatants had been successful.  At last—a journalist after my own heart!
Three of her pieces were published this week, in Noticias ao Minuto, Sapo Noticias, and Journal i, and she pulled no punches when reporting on the state of Aceh after reconstruction in terms of basic needs, economic gain, and peace/security issues.

The January 7 article, Peace gained after the Indonesian tsunami may be at risk covered the failure of the provincial government to provide compensation to the majority of GAM fighters that was promised in the 2005 MoU.  This allocation was later reiterated in an agreement with the Multi-Donor Fund that would channel specific relief funds to ex-combatants though the BRA—funds that were never delivered.  She even mentioned our white paper to Bill Clinton, bless her heart, which filled him in, at his request in 2012, on the state of Aceh’s security with respect to GAM.  While the article seems to portray the ex-combatants in a bit of a more consistently thuggish light than I think is fair, it’s a pretty interesting take on the state of the province as seen from the point of view of those who, as they see it, gave up their struggle for the good of a nearly-destroyed province, only to have their “reward” be further marginalization and less of a political voice than before.

Indonésia Paz conquistada após tsunami pode estar em risco

Portugal e o Mundo ao Minuto
Quarta, 07 de Janeiro de 2015, 14:43:31

A December 23rd article touched upon the plight of local NGOs in Aceh and reiterated what I have been saying here: that local NGOs were either left out of the reconstruction process or gutted to provide staff for international NGOs, who sometimes took up to 80% of donated funds back to their respective countries in terms of salaries and administrative costs.

This article quite faithfully recalls JMD’s first year in Aceh, when I helped start the agency, and the corruption and unfairness some of us saw at the government and international level with regard to disbursement (and use) of the funds. Andreia also managed to speak with current provincial governor Zaini Abdullah, who acknowledged that there is "still much work to do", "especially in education and economy."

ONG em busca de fundos e louros prejudicam reconstrução - fundação
NGOs seek funds and support for reconstruction

The story that first caught Andreia’s eye when she was researching post-tsunami activities Aceh prior to her visit was that of the great number of houses that were constructed for survivors that were designed by people who had no concept of the climate,  geography, or culture of Acehnese citizens and so created colonies of buildings that still stand vacant today.  In a 5-year documentary of JMD done by ABC (Australia Broadcasting Company) I am heard confessing that I, too, began by constructing houses that I thought people would like, but fortunately I was living in the community and listening to what people wanted, and they very quickly told me that what they could live in, and what donor agencies thought they should live in, were two very different things. Andreia and JMD staff traveled to Lamno and were met by JMD’s ABC project coordinator  Rosie, who was one of our  first beneficiaries, and who is quoted at length in this article.  Another community member reports that thanks to JMD, the community was also involved in housing construction, earning wages, and was the first community to leave its temporary housing and move into the ir new homes. 
Andreia also managed to ask Governor Zaini about the housing situation,to which he responded, "We have to do a study on it to really find out if there is a problem and then . . . take all measures to ensure that [people] can live in a better houses."

Tsunami/10 anos. Habitantes de Aceh ainda aguardam por casas prometidas
Tsunami / 10 years after: People of Aceh still awaiting promised houses

So to all Portuguese speakers interested in helping Aceh to move past the issues compounded in part by the reconstruction, support its rural and marginalized populations, and preserve its vital natural resources, we say Obrigada.

And an abraco to Andreia Nogueira of LUSA, who had the courage to write about these things.