A world first – Fair trade cashews for biodiversity conservation

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ImageMuch is written about the effectiveness of encouraging alternative livelihoods in conservation. One argument runs that if you can find an alternative income for someone who currently exploits a natural resource unsustainably or illegally, then the exploitation will cease and biodiversity will be conserved.  The counter argument is that the alternative is actually used as a supplementary income, making it possible for the miscreant to buy a bigger chainsaw or truck for larger scale resource exploitation. Clearly some sort of alternative is needed, but how can it be used unequivocally for conservation?

These were the problems facing one of my projects focusing on the conservation of the Lambusango forest block, at the southern end of Buton, an island to the southeast of SE Sulawesi in the middle of Indonesia. This forest is home to many of Sulawesi’s many endemic species, especially the small but belligerent wild buffalo or Anoa.

The respected, charismatic and eloquent La Ode Abdul Syukur, a former parliamentarian, chairs the community Forest Forum.
See the slideshow.
This innovative project is executed by Operation Wallacea, the business end of which specializes in research tourism for undergraduates. Key to the project’s successes is the active Community Forest Forum it helped to set up with popular local notables, and which was then formally established by a local government decree.  The Forum is chaired by a charismatic former parliamentarian, La Ode Abdul Syukur, a sartorially-elegant man who sports jackets made from Butonese striped cloth. He is widely respected, is passionate about conservation and community needs, and speaks very eloquently.

One part of the project has been developing local businesses, especially in villages which have a history of (illegal) forest exploitation ( see the slideshow for more details on these businesses). These businesses include the cultivation of oranges, coffee, ginger, seaweed, pearls, and cashews. The village of Matanauwe has just passed a significant milestone in having finally met all the criteria and is now licensed as a producer of Fairtrade cashews – the first in the world. Their exporter in Surabaya, Java, has also just received certification as a Fairtrade trader. The label guarantees consumers that strict economic, social and environmental criteria were met in the production and trade of an agricultural product.

In addition to having the Fairtrade label, the cashews and other products originating from the project will be able to carry the new Wildlife Conservation Product (WCP) label, itself the idea of Operation Wallacea.  The first such product will be a coffee blend made from beans grown in a similar Operation Wallacea project in Honduras and beans from Buton.

The village of Matanauwe is now licensed as a producer of Fairtrade cashews– the first in the world. Two workers shell cashews before drying them.
Our project has provided village groups with the means to get their businesses started, advice, and help in finding appropriate markets. Although not an initial condition, any continued support is contingent on the village or community group involved to pass a series of regulations governing the use of the adjacent forests.

The promises are, to a cynical, experienced eye, cheap and will mean nothing unless they are enforced and if sanctions are taken against offenders. In the case of Matanauwe, the agreed sanctions include: ‘If person(s) who violate the commitment repeat the action, they will be sentenced by all village community members. The violators will have to wear clothes of leaves with full red ants, then brought out to walk around the village and to shout loudly “I am a forest destroyer, I am a forest destroyer”’.

But more significant is the sanction against the village government:  ‘If the village government is unable to stop forest crimes perpetrated by its villagers or by outsiders, the village will not receive any business funding assistance either from the Operation Wallacea or from Government’.

Rattan exploitation has been exceeding sustainable limits in the Lambusango forests. The project is working with farmers' groups to plant thousands of rattan seedlings in community forests.
See the slideshow.
The first 1.5 tons of Matanauwe cashews are now on their way to the UK, where their initial market will be hard-working British students who are the largest consumers of beer in the country (after the military) and like to nibble something ethically impeccable while drinking (and studying).

Already communities around the Lambusango forests have foresworn their previous illegal forest activities because they prefer the farming and other work opened up by the project. And the District Head has gone on public record as saying that he will fire any Sub-District Head in whose area any encroachment into state forest land occurs.

Will this be the answer to the threats facing the Lambusango forests?  It’s hard to tell, but I currently feel optimistic and hope we will be able to return to the area a few years after the project closes (at the end of this year) to discover whether and to what extent the opportunities provided to villagers have remained relevant in the longer term, and to apply any lessons to our other projects. 


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