|Wabou villagers holding some of their Gracilaria seaweed. The seaweed cultivation allows them now to work for less time and for a significantly greater return, and they no longer turn to the forest for sources of income. See full photo gallery.|
On this supervision mission we concentrated on two aspects: the success of the project in meeting its objectives over the last four years, and how the positive outcomes can be sustained without the funds that have been provided under the project. The end of a project is always a difficult time because the Bank's assistance has allowed so much to happen, and so much to be achieved, but now, as I repeated in meeting after meeting, "You're on your own". Of course, this is not entirely true because I will keep tabs on what happens in the months and years ahead and help where needed and possible, but the Global Environment Facility (GEF) money is exhausted (as planned).
We had scarcely caught our breath after the four-hour boat ride from the provincial capital than we were whisked away to a workshop with government agencies to discuss 'Developing a Post-Project Sustainability Strategy for Lambusango Forest Conservation'. Good news: in the main I was very struck by how well engaged the local government staff were, how they spoke positively about the activities and outputs of the project, how institutions and processes had been solidly adopted, and how many of them had ideas for how the outcomes would be sustained.
In particular, confidence in apprehending forest criminals seems to have been gained (with arrests increasing markedly and then dropping as the risks of getting caught increased). Sadly, the District Head or Bupati of Buton had a family engagement in Jakarta while we were in Buton, but we'll catch up with him at some later date to thank him for all his solid support and conviction that the Lambusango forests must be properly managed and that the Sub-District Heads must take responsibility for the forest's integrity.
One of the most positive activities under the project has been the introduction of alternative livelihoods of Gracilaria seaweed cultivation to villages near the coast where before the men had generally farmed up against the forest edge and were involved in illegal logging and rattan extraction. The seaweed cultivation allows them now to work for less time and for a significantly greater return, and they no longer turn to the forest for sources of income.
We paid our first visit to Wakoukili, the village an hour outside BauBau, the main town on Buton, where the project's Jungle Coffee is grown. We slipped and slid our way to see the customary forest which the village's traditional leaders manage and from which no tree may be taken without permission, and on the way saw the coffee groves. The Potentially Bad News is that in the credit crunch Britain's students are buying less ethical coffee and the quantities of Jungle Coffee being sold in Britain's National Union of Students outlets are less than was hoped. The distributor is looking for other channels. The project has learned so much about pricing and the project is now sharing its experiences with other groups around the world who are producing food and other goods under conservation contracts.
With a bit more support this could all really take off - luckily Operation Wallacea will continue to bring 300 students a year to Lambusango from the UK, US and Indonesian universities who help to monitor conservation progress, and the local NGO offshoot, Operation Wallacea Trust headed by Dr Edi Purwanto will remain active on Buton for at least another three years to advise and encourage because it won another World Bank contract to manage part of the Green Kecamatan Development project (pdf). The social highlight of the visit was an event and entertainment of traditional music and dancing put on by the Wakoukili leaders and villagers after which I presented the Village Head and Traditional Leader with packets of the Jungle Coffee. A film of both the customary forest and the event is available on YouTube.
We found Really Bad News when we visited the community cooperative in Matanauwe, our main cashew village. Having got everything set up with regard to the Fairtrade certification and export, there were great hopes that the cashew crop of late 2008 would find its way to supermarket shelves in the UK. The crop totally bombed. Heavy rains fell when the trees flowered and virtually no cashews were produced anywhere on the island. The community leaders told us how this was a real freak, happening perhaps only once every 20 years. One can but hope and pray that the 2009 crop will be a bumper one.