Tuesday, March 31, 2015

So much palm oil news today, so little to really get all happy about . . .

(c. RAN)

For those of you who follow this blog you know that there isn’t much JMD or I can hear these days about palm oil turning over a new leaf (or frond) that we actually believe to be true.

From the massive deforestation and disregard for land tenure and indigenous rights to the “regulations” regarding “sustainable palm oil” that were crafted by the palm oil companies themselves to the absolute absence of any field-based monitoring of labor conditions and environmental pollution, Big Palm has lumbered along, expanding into the rainforest, destroying pretty much anything in its path, paying fines, bribing officials, and weathering accusations with million-dollar campaigns designed to convince the public that palm oil is healthy, necessary, good for the planet, a wonderful substitute for fossil fuels, and an all-round warm and fuzzy ingredient.

So it is with a fair amount of skepticism and a teeny bit of hope that we hear, simultaneously, of Musim Mas, a large Indonesian palm oil trader who has made the commodities market equivalent of a Kim Kardashian publicity photo by announcing that it will take the Indonesian “Palm Oil Pledge,” which commits the company “to only source palm oil that is free from links to deforestation and peatland destruction.”

The IPOP is a relatively new gimmick (please forgive me, you sincere environmentalists out there who think that this is going to work, because I hope it does) that aims to force palm oil producers to adhere to zero-deforestation standards and fair labor practices by promising to purchase only palm oil grown by complying companies.  Greenpeace, who I think is behind this, notes, that The next step for IPOP signatories like Musim Mas is to take necessary measures to put their ambitious commitments into practice. These companies need to ensure there is no link to forest clearance and peatlands in their supply chains and work closely with suppliers to comply with their commitments.”

Well, that’s where the train of my enthusiasm careens off the rails into the desert of reality. What I mean by this is perhaps best illustrated by a new initiative from those investigative pit bulls over at Mongabay, who have announced a year-long Palm Oil Reporting Project, oil/?utm_source=MRN%3A+Indonesian+Fisheries&utm_campaign=MRN+Indo+Fisheries&utm_medium=email

They are asking journalists and NGOs to pitch stories to them from the field on a variety of topics. Including finance and economics, activism, food security, communities and labor, palm oil biofuels, politics, ecosystem services, etc.  They provide over 100 questions that a journalist could tackle.  Here are just a few:
  • What is the effectiveness of palm oil campaigns in consumer markets (e.g. is the claim that Norwegians’ palm oil consumption has plunged due to campaigns true? If so, how did that come about?)
  • How are plantation developers approaching communities whose land they seek?
  • How is implementation of the Indonesian Constitutional Court’s 2013 decision on indigenous land rights progressing with respect to land conflicts involving oil palm plantations?
  • Has there been any progress reducing violent responses from police and security forces on behalf of the palm oil industry when a land dispute with a community escalates?
  • Is respect for labor rights improving?
  • What are the politics behind Indonesia’s proposal to divert part of its diesel subsidy savings to its palm oil biofuel subsidy?
  • What is the status of Indonesia’s One Map initiative and its implications for the palm oil industry? What are the prospects of disclosing boundaries and ownership of all concessions?
  • Are any companies experiencing resistance from government figures who would rather they clear valuable forest than conserve it? How are these situations playing out?
  • How are the realities of oil palm expansion measuring up to rhetoric in frontiers like Africa, Latin America and Papua New Guinea?
  • How might ongoing modifications to Indonesia’s banking secrecy laws affect the palm oil industry?
  • Is the broader moratorium established by Indonesian President Jokowi being enforced and respected? Have there been prosecutions? What is the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) doing?
  • How is Indonesia addressing illegal logging and non-licensed clearing for timber as it pertains to palm oil companies? Is there a meaningful link to the Timber Legality Verification System (SVLK)?
  • How are best practices for determining Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) evolving and proliferating?

Good questions, but most point to what I think is a simple flaw in the exercise: there are few if any individuals, groups or government/regulatory agencies who have ever been to, much less lived in, the heart of the plantations, or who plan on doing so any time soon. No independent monitoring group has ever produced a verifiable report on labor conditions.  Many public relations dollars have been spent on creating sincere-sounding “standards” and guidelines for thee companies, while on the ground female laborers are regularly raped, land is stolen and boundaries changed, hired thugs patrol borders, erosion is rampant, protected forest is labeled “production” for those moments it takes a payment to be made . . .

So yay that there are going to be more inquiries into the minutiae of the vast and confusing web that is the palm oil value chain. But the only way Big Palm is going to be cut down to a manageable and sustainable size is if the Indonesian government makes some very hard decisions regarding how it wants to legitimately increase its economic strength, and how it plans to limit the continuing profits of the most powerful and wealthy people in the country--and the world.

So, Mongabay and Palm Oil Pledge, best of luck to both of you!!!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Recent TNI murders in Aceh Utara: ultimately, it's GAM against GAM

For those of you wondering if JMD is working near the area where two Indonesian military (TNI) officers were kidnapped and killed by separatists yesterday: yes and no.  The incident occurred in Sawang, Aceh Utara district, which is next door and to the northwest of Aceh Timur. JMD currently works quite far from this area, but the incident is possibly and unfortunately part of a growing issue in these northern districts, where former combatants are still feeling the effects of being completely shut off from any benefits of the 2005 peace accord.

JMD has worked in the same location as the killings; I remember Sawang very well, and my years of dodging bullets.   That area has been a hotbed of violence both during and after the conflict; there’s always been trouble there, always. Nur Salim, then head of BRA (the agency set up to address the needs of ex-combatants) asked JMD in 2006 to go to Sawang to see if we could provide some assistance the small village of Cot Calang.  A women’s group called Lena—named after his wife—introduced us to the community.  The area was notorious for kidnappings, robbery, extortion—you name it.  But our mission as to serve those most in need, so that’s what we did.  I went there with Dina, one of JMD’s program managers.  I remember being given reason after reason by the women’s group and other community members to stay overnight, even though I had intended to travel back to Banda Aceh that night.  No, no, you can’t go, there’s another meeting to go to; the women wanted to have dinner with you, no, please, just one more meeting, . . . until it was too late to go.  This happened on another occasion to Dina as well.  The reason for their stalling was that not 5 minutes away from me, World Bank official Adrian Morel was being kidnapped, and the village wanted to keep me away from that incident while it happened. Bobby Anderson of IOM was carjacked in Sawang . . . these things went on all the time in that area, and the community was, if not complicit, aware of everything that was about to happen. Pak Nur apologized to me later for that one.  And the Chief of police wanted to assign us a “security detail,” which we flatly refused. And we were soon back again in Aceh Utara, doing among other things a goat fattening project that had been awarded to IRD, who was too afraid to go there so they gave JMD the funds and told us to go—JMD was the only agency that would work in that district at the time.

Sawang was the only place that JMD ever worked where anyone tried to threaten or extort money from us, and when it happened I just looked at the thug in charge and said “No way,” and told all our staff to leave.  Fortunately the head of the village set the thug straight and we went back and completed the project without incident.  JMD was always well-liked and respected there—but due to its constant security issues, no donor would ever fund more projects there.  Even Aceh Timur is a tough sell. 

What is different about this latest incident is that it involves the murder of TNI (Indonesian military) intelligence officers.  Everyone in that area knows that kidnappings, carjackings, local violence—these things might get a mention in the paper but are considered commonplace.  (Adrian Morel, after all, was released unharmed the following day.) But if a separatist group murders Indonesia military, they do so knowing that this will unleash the fury of Jakarta.  This group, whether it is Din Minimi or some other faction, is directly provoking an attack on the Aceh provincial government, whom, you will recall, are those few ex-GAM who after the pace accord rose to top level positions, intentionally leaving the majority of their fellow combatants without jobs, security or hope for the future.  As I wrote to President Clinton in 2012, and have been repeating it several times a year till everyone is sick of hearing it: Aceh’s downfall will be GAM against GAM, and nothing could make Jakarta happier.

Friday, March 20, 2015

How are the new grafted trees and seedlings? I’m glad you asked!

After two weeks in Banda Aceh completing training and progress reports, Robert headed back to his second home in Simpang Jernih to see how the new grafts done by the women during training were holding up.

 Here he is, headed back up the river
And I’m happy to report that in all three nurseries with a total of 670 but and top grafts, 40% have successfully “taken,” and the remaining 60% are still in the running but will need a few more days to make sure the graft is holding.

60% of the 320 side grafts on mature trees in the field were also successful.
Those are pretty great results.

So this week Robert and the women will do another 150 side grafts and 210 bud/top grafts in the nursery.

Next: how JMD is doing in its quest to get funding from one of the 4 billion RFPs it has answered. 
Hint: it's not for lack of trying!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A new crop of grafting experts emerges in Aceh Timur

As I’ve said many times before here, grafting of any type is an art form.  And cocoa grafting is especially challenging, since the places where cocoa grows best are not necessarily greenhouse-like conditions.  But the women of Simpag Jernih, Pante Kera and Batu Sumbang proved equal to the challenge and during the week-long training grafted hundreds of buds and branches onto both nurser rootstock and mature trees in their fields.

The trainer held the training twice, in two different locations, for the convenience of the farmers, to eliminate additional boat trips between villages.

The trainings covered many aspects of a successful grafting process.  JMD has given this training before, but refreshers are always needed; this is one of the most important, and difficult skills foe a successful cocoa farmer to master.

There was a little classroom presentation, in which Robert assisted:

And a bit of field-based explanation prior to the practicum:

Then the farmers went straight to the nursery to learn the proper way to prepare the shoots for grafting, and the tree or seedling for accepting the graft

Robert also took a short video of the women practicing grafting the rootstock in the nursery, that JMD willl post to its Facebook Page (unfortunately it is too big to load onto this page; we're just learning abou t how to control the file size of videos).  Even if you don’t understand Acehnese or Bahasa you can tell they are having fun; one of the great things about this project is that it takes skills the women already possess (their ability to do very delicate and exacting work with their hands) and transfers it to an economically viable livelihood. 

Each woman has been given grafting tools and tape by the program, and did many top and bud grafts in the nursery, onto which were placed plastic baggies for added protection.

Grafts in the farmers’ plantations required training in side grafting and protection.

This is the first training that our three new farmer beneficiaries, from Batu Subang, were attending.

And it’s also the beginning of a “training of the trainer” for a farmer in Pante Kera, who’s been very successful on her own farm and will act as a peer mentor to her colleagues

Was this a great training or was this a great training? 


Saturday, March 7, 2015

“Say NO to Conflict Palm Oil Month" was a success . . .

. . . but according to Rainforest Action Network, there’s still a lot to do.  So I’m posting their call to action, and hope that many of you in the California area can attend the Summit.

Don't Miss Out: Palm Oil Action Leaders Summit
 RAN’s Conflict Palm Oil Campaign is on the way to victory, but we’ll need committed and passionate activists to lead the charge and raise the stakes for the Snack Food 20. We're committed to bringing together a powerful team and giving you the skills and training you need to be effective and have fun.

The Palm Oil Action Team is making some of the largest companies in the world change their policies and their practices to protect the precious rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia. We're winning, but there is still more work to be done. That's why I am so excited to invite you to join the Palm Oil Action Leaders Summit.
When you apply to join the Summit and become a Palm Oil Action Leader, here’s what you’ll get:
  • Attend the Palm Oil Action Leaders Summit in San Francisco, CA from March 27 - 31st where you will be trained in designing and coordinating creative actions, communicating clearly to the public about campaign work, and how to incite and inspire your community to take action!
  • Put your new knowledge from the Summit into practice by organizing creative actions in your community -- publicly exposing the ills of Conflict Palm Oil and holding PepsiCo and other companies that are using this controversial ingredient to account.
  • Be part of an incredible team of activists from around the country from March to September 2015 (and beyond!) that collaborate and support each other as part of the Conflict Palm Oil campaign.
  • In summary: Make an impact for rainforests, and the people and animals that depend on them, by gaining new organizing skills, being a part of a powerful team and having FUN!
What: Palm Oil Action Leaders Summit
When: March 27-31, 2015
Where: San Francisco and Point Reyes, California
Who can join: Whether you are brand new to RAN’s campaigns or are a seasoned activist, we encourage you to apply. We will be looking for diversity in background, geographical location and experience in applicants.
click here to apply right now!

Up Next: the now 31-member women’s cocoa farm association has become grafting champions.  THEY are helping save the rainforest in Aceh.  You can too--join them!

Friday, March 6, 2015

The women work together to distribute fertilizer as another cocoa cultivation season begins

Last week the women  cocoa farmers finished their fifth training in the series funded by the Embassy of Finland. (Yay, Finland!)  Robert has taken some amazing photos of the bud and stem grafting practicums, which I’ll post as soon as we receive them.

Before the training, however, Santa came early to Simpang Jernih and Pante Kera, in the form of pre-made organic fertilizer and a growth/pest-control hormone that we are trying like mad to analyze to see how we can make it ourselves.  The contents are a more heavily guarded secret than Kentucky Fried Chicken.  But a trip to the university lab might be able to crack it.  We’ll see. The object of the project, after all, is to provide the women with the information necessary to make all their fertilizer and pest control products at home, from things pretty much lying around the house or farm or, in rare cases, easily purchased at a local shop.

First thing the women had to do when the fertilizer arrived at Simpang Jernih was to load half of it on the trusty river raft (rebuilt and safely re-tethered to its iron cable after the rainstorms and flooding of last month) for the trip to Pante Kera (and our new 4-farmer village of Batu Sumbang—woo-hoo!).

At the home of one of the cocoa farmers in Pante Kera, Robert distributed the liquid fertilizer/hormone to the group.

Here’s the association’s warehouse, complete with nifty sign indicating their name (Pilar Tani) and location.  The elected Chair of the association is making sure that each woman gets the right amount of fertilizer.  Few women in Aceh want to draw attention to themselves by acting and being seen as leaders, but this association is an exception, and JMD is working with the more outspoken and confident members to encourage other women to share in association decisions and act as peer trainers.

Of course, when it rains it pours and when it doesn't it's dry as a bone, so the application of fertilizer is going to have to wait a bit until the area gets a bit more rain.  No wonder the world is experiencing a cocoa shortage-- it's the toughest job around!