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“Is REDD going ahead or not?” Indigenous leaders complain about the lack of information about the Ulu Masen project

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The NGO Yayasan Rumpum Bambu works with villages inside and near to the Ulu Masen project area. We met Pak Sanusi, the head of YRB in the organisation’s office in Banda Aceh.

Since 2010, YRB has been helping provincial authorities in Aceh Besar and Aceh Jaya to hold meetings with Mukim leaders to talk about natural resources, including REDD. (Mukim are the leaders of several villages, and part of Aceh’s customary legal system.) “REDD is a strategic opportunity,” Pak Sanusi said. “The principle of free, prior and informed consent is integrated into REDD and this helps communities. It gives an opportunity for capacity building.”

“But,” he added, “with the new governor in Aceh, we’ve not seen anything on REDD.” He told us that communities are asking, “Is REDD going ahead or not?”

Pak Muhibuddin is a Mukim and head of an organisation called Lembaga Mitra Alam Lestari. In 2011, he travelled to Lombok for an international conference on Forest Tenure, Governance and Enterprise. He told us that at the conference the REDD+ Task Force in Aceh said that free, prior and informed consent came first. “But since then, I haven’t heard anything from the Task Force,” he said. “They’ve not been here.”

In 2010, Fadmi Ridwan, head of the REDD Task Force commented that,

“The government’s position is that we do not want to raise people’s expectations about what benefit they will get from REDD before we ourselves have a better idea of both what is possible, and when it is likely to happen.”

This is quoted in a report about Ulu Masen by Lesley McCulloch published by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES). McCulloch comments that,

Sadly, there has been no free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, nor the full (or even partial) support and involvement of local communities. There is a real danger that the REDD process will repeat the mistakes of past experiments with centralised forest management strategies based on enforcement.

Pak Muhibuddin is not in contact with Fauna and Flora International. “Is FFI still in Aceh?” he asked. He had never heard of Carbon Conservation.

In her report, McCulloch interviewed Pak Sabibasyah, a Mukim leader from Geumpang in Pidie District, who told her that,

“We have been told very little about REDD. FFI has been here to discuss with us, but mostly in the context of protecting the forests and rivers for our downstream neighbours. We are wondering whether FFI staff themselves understand REDD because information is far from clear. What we want is very simple – do not treat us as children in our own territory. We are the most important stakeholder in the REDD project – why do you have information that we do not have, and how can that be so when the REDD project is about our lives, not yours? That is our question to FFI.
 
“To our own government, I don’t know why it’s only FFI that has been talking to us about REDD. Perhaps it is their project, and our own government – like us – does not understand.”

In Aceh, we met T. Camarud Zaman, the head of Sarah Raya village. “The village is inside Ulu Masen,” he told us.

“But it is not clear what Ulu Masen is. It is not clear where the border is or what the zoning will look like.
 
“I am calling for more information so that villagers don’t use the protected forest. But if villagers feel that their rights have been breached, they will want to appeal.”

He said that there had been at least five consultations on REDD, but he still had a series of questions. “What’s next?” he asked.

“What is the process of REDD? We’ve heard that carbon has been sold. Where’s the money? We’ve heard rumours that the map produced with support from FFI wasn’t accpeted by the government because there are community areas inside it. Community members were involved in the mapping but don’t know what the follow up is.”

He told us that the communities get their information about REDD from the media. “The government is not taking the initiative to explain what REDD is,” he said. One of the problems, he explained, is knowing where to find out about REDD. “There is no REDD office. There is no contact point,” he said.

In May 2008, the consulting firm Development Alternatives wrote a report looking at the potential for USAID’s Environmental Services Programme to enter the carbon markets in Indonesia. “At the governmental levels there is no capacity to implement a carbon market project,” Development Alternatives concluded, adding that, “Fortunately, these projects will likely be implemented either by private parties or in a public-private partnership.”

Development Alternatives notes that when the Ulu Masen project promoters brought potential investors to Aceh, they took them to the Community Watershed Forum in Aceh Besar. The Forum was part of the Environmental Services Programme and not part of the Ulu Masen project. “There is almost no capacity in Aceh to mobilize communities around the environment outside of the ESP experience,” Development Alternatives commented.

Development Alternatives’ report includes a list of issues that the Ulu Masen project had not publicly addressed (quoted here in full):

  • The many and critically important land tenure questions;
  • The benefit distribution questions – related to the how much, who, what, where and when of the financial flow;
  • The agreements between the project proponents. There is a non-transparent process with the project proponents stipulating what their agreements are; and
  • The field level activities with communities, over 750,000has, have not been described or defined other than in general terms.
  • The transparency of the actual US$9M sale to Merrill Lynch. Who is the agreement between, it is not publicly stated, and when asked, all parties claimed confidentiality. Rumor stipulates the deal is between Carbon Conservation directly with Merrill Lynch. If the communities doing the work haven’t yet been trained, much less identified, it seems prudent to transparently announce how the financial flow and distributions will function during implementation.

All of these issues are crucially important. Development Alternatives and USAID are not opposed to carbon markets, nor are they anti-REDD. These issues were raised in a report published three months after Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood had validated the Ulu Masen project as complying to the CCBA standard. Five years later, none of these questions have been satisfactorily answered.

On our trip to Aceh in December 2012, the further we travelled from Banda Aceh, the less the people we spoke to knew about the Ulu Masen REDD project. The closer the people lived to the project area, in other words, the less they knew.
 


I travelled to Aceh Jaya with Down to Earth and Jaringan Komunitas Masyarakat Adat Aceh (Network of Indigenous Communities in Aceh – JKMA). I would like to thank Zulfikar Arma for arranging the trip and Adriana Sri Adhiati for translating. Any mistakes are, of course, my responsibility.

This post is part of a series about Aceh and Ulu Masen. REDD-Monitor gratefully acknowledges funding from World Rainforest Movement and the Samdhana Institute to cover the costs of the trip.
 

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