Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Update from Simpang Jernih

Junaidi just got back from doing some project monitoring in Simpang Jernih this week, and as far as I can tell he has nothing but good news to report.  Now that the rains have gone everyone’s applying fertilizer (they had to wait till a little later this year because of so much rain).  The project is now reporting a 65% organic fertilizer rate, which is pretty incredible.

Also, the rain held up a bit of the nursery grafting so the women got busy in their plantations and did 200 side grafts.  

Nursery work is hard and sometimes frustrating—all those little plants, so cute, so ready to drop dead at a moment’s notice—so the women in Pante Kera are taking extra care to replicate the good luck their colleagues in Simpang Jernih have had with a simple daily weeding schedule that keeps moisture down and doesn’t exhaust anyone.

And, of course, the cocoa trees are just beginning to flower so that means it’s monkey season (would you expect less from Pante Kera, which means, basically “the monkeys are on the riverbank”?) and farm families are now stepping up their perimeter patrols.
 This fellow might stay put in the forest if illegal logging didn't drive him farther towards the perimeter . . .

Actually, it’s Grand Central Station in the plantations this time of year, with wild pigs and loose goats nibbling at low branches (first lesson of Aceh propagation: graft higher than a goat’s head).  But Junaidi reports good things: the women are still motivated, thanks in large part to Robert, and they seem to be making lots more decisions independently.  Which is good for the sustainability of the project.  When it ends in 2016 they will hopefully have had enough of a taste of economic self-sufficiency to not only keep their business going but act as the “base” for what we hope will be other groups around the district that JMD can persuade to join the association.

Here’s hoping!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Calling all journlists: contribute to the 2016 Palm Oil Report!

Our friends at the conservation news site Mongabay announced their 2016 reporting series on palm oil  with a call to journalists to pitch stories regarding the palm oil trade and its effects on natural resources, political and economic stability, and human rights.

They list about a hundred questions to pique a journalist’s interest, on topics including activism, labor rights, biofuels, governance, legality, fiscal policy, sustainability promises, food security, and the impact on ecosystems.
We’ve asked a couple of our journalist colleagues if they want to participate in this; Mongabay also asks for feedback from local NGOs regarding field-based observations, and one of the questions they ask is something I’ve never considered before.
  • Are natural forest areas surrounding plantations suffering from edge effects, incursions of invasive species or degradation from displacement of wildlife and movement or foraging species like pigs?

JMD and the women cocoa farmers have been extremely successful in reducing the amount of damage caused by pests and diseases.  The “pests” in question are primarily monkeys and pigs (I’ve talked about this in previous posts.)  Nearly round-the-clock perimeter checks of the farms during pre-harvest season has helped salvage a lot of what used to be lost, but it’s exhausting work and the farmers have complained that there just seem to be more and more monkeys and pigs.  And now we know why: these animals are being displaced from other parts of the forest as the palm oil plantations burrow further and further into protected and public land. Robert and Junaidi predict that the elephants will start to come out of the forest next—and there’s no chasing them back where they came from.

We’re going to see if Mongabay is interested in this angle; it’s just another way that the palm oil plantations destroy the opportunity for any other small and medium-scale carbon-neutral livelihood to succeed in this part of Aceh.  Foraging animals have always been a problem, but palm oil has tripled the problem.  Hopefully these articles will help stem the expansion of what is truly an environmental disaster.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

How does one say “plus ca change” in Thai and Bahasa?

Well, In January the Thai Embassy in Washington was reporting on arrests made in the trafficking of Rohingya to be sold as slaves on fishing boats.



Thailand Focus January 26th, 2015: Arrests in trafficking Rohingya and men to fishing boats

January 26, 2015   Thailand Focus e-newsletter

Good for them . . . but apparently the global attention span doesn’t last longer than 8 weeks.  And we certainly haven’t heard any news regarding the Indonesia and Thai governments’ weeks-long investigation and crackdown on the Myanmar slave trade.  Otherwise, the stories of the past few days would include phrases like “despite massive investigations and lawsuits since 2009” and “Indonesian and Thai officials point to the hundreds of slaves they have freed since January” and “most Thai fishing boats involved in the slave trade are no longer in business, thanks to the speedy attention paid by both governments, the adequate resources placed in the appropriate departments, and the heartwarming transparency and lack of corruption involved in prosecuting the offenders.” 


And to us, waking up from our comfortable naps, it’s all new, all over again.


AND, while I’m at it: why do these current articles not mention any thought, stance, statement or activity now being undertaken by Myanmar?  Not a gasp of disbelief?  A cry of anguish?  An acknowledgement of the enormous amount of work to be done to make life bearable within the country of people who believe they have to leave it to survive?


That’s all we here from Myanmar: crickets.



Read the story below:


Thailand Focus January 26th, 2015: Arrests in trafficking Rohingya and men to fishing boats

The Department of Special Investigation arrested two Thai men last week for luring other Thai men to work on fishing boats where they were subjected to forced labor and abuse, while police in southern Thailand arrested a man allegedly involved in the trafficking of nearly 100 Rohingya migrants from Myanmar.  
The arrests were part of a crackdown on traffickers by the police, an essential component of the government’s wide-ranging response to the human trafficking problem.   
The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, meanwhile, launched a campaign to solve the problem of street beggars, who are often victims of traffickers.  Police will provide protection to beggars who have fallen into the hands of trafficking gangs, while attempting to break up the gangs themselves.  The ministry also organized a meeting to coordinate anti-trafficking measures in Chonburi province on the Eastern Seaboard. 

At a press conference last week in Bangkok, Department of Special Investigations chief Suwana Suwannajutha said her agency had arrested two of three suspects – middleman Montri Makkhapol, 53, and fishing boat captain Pamon Chanto, 52 –in Samut Sakhon province for luring Thai men into slave-like conditions aboard Thai fishing trawlers in Indonesian waters.  A third suspect is on the run, she said.
Their victims included adults and minors who were lured with promises of well-paying jobs only to find themselves subjected to forced labor and assaults. The DSI said it was enlisting the help of the Anti-Money Laundering Office to seize the assets of the suspects.
Police in Phangnga province also arrested the third of five drivers who were transporting 98 ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar through Thailand to be delivered to traffickers in Malaysia.  The trucks filled with Rohingya were discovered at a checkpoint on January 11 and two drivers were arrested at that time.  Two more drivers are still at large.  
Meanwhile, hospitals along Thailand’s border with Myanmar said they need more financial support for the care and services they are providing to migrants and stateless people.  Huge numbers of migrants from Myanmar regularly make their way across Thailand’s long and porous borders with its western neighbor in search of better economic opportunities or fleeing conflicts.
According to some estimates, as many as two million migrants from Myanmar are living and working in Thailand, and many of these are illegal.  But the Thai government has been working to register all migrants and legalize their status.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Who out there besides me is pretty sure the Thai fishing boat slaves are once again Rohingya?

Okay, so by now everyone has heard of the Myanmar slaves found on Benjina island, Indonesia, off Papua, who had been forced to work on Thai fishing boats and kept in prison on the island, some for over 10 years.  (the most complete account is in the Jakarta Post:

The AP story comes after a year of reporting.
Do we remember why it took a year of reporting?
Because in June 2014 the world press repeated the SAME story, only this time the island was Ambon.
And in 2013 ethnic Rohingya were already being reported as being sold into slavery on Thai fishing boats.

Do these look familiar?

Special Report: Thai authorities implicated in Rohingya Muslim smuggling network (Reuters, July 2013)


Thai Slave Traders Supply Costco Shrimp (The Guardian, June 2014)


Slave labour in fishery could cost Thailand dearly (Bangkok Post, June 2014)

Are slaves catching the fish you eat? Thailand could face US sanctions for human trafficking (AP, June 2014)


Special Report: Traffickers use abductions, prison ships to feed Asian slave trade (Reuters, October, 2014)

And today, follow-up articles are “reminding” us that there are tens if not hundreds of islands across Indonesia on which upwards of 4,000 slaves are still held captive by Thai fishing corporations.

To quote Kamonpan Awaiwanont, the surprised Thai Fisheries Department representative to whom this was reported a few days ago, "This is still happening now? [pause] We are trying to solve it. This is ongoing."

This is absolutely unreal.

And although these latest articles are not saying who exactly constitutes this newest Myanmar slave population, I will guess that the slavers are extracting the same desperate people from the same impoverished, neglected, marginalized, communities: those where the Rohingya live.

 Meanwhile, back in Myanmar the legislature is toasting another successful exodus of residents who have been decreed “non-citizens.” 


And I used to be such a fan of the Buddhist way of life.

So now we have another island on which slaves are being held, and Jakarta claims to know nothing about it?  The articles claim that Benjina is a tiny island of 3,500 inhabitants.  The only Benjina I know of is the airport, on one of the larger of 90+ Aru Islands off the coast of Papua, right in the line of travel to Freeport, the world’s largest copper mine.  A small island, tucked in the lee of two larger islands not 20 miles to the west of the airport, is also called Benjina. The Aru islands are all in the shipping lanes, and the airport is heavily used by Freeport and other corporations.  No one saw anything odd when flying in, like little huts with bars and skinny men in shackles? The newest AP story reports slaves yelling for help constantly—those waters off the coast of Papua must have been filled with cries for assistance . . . and in what is probably the most heavily trafficked marine area in the region, no one from Freeport, no one from the government, no one from groups that supposedly should have been on the lookout for this activity for over two years was aware of this????


I got nothing.