An unlikely source of peace from the deep waters of IndonesiaFeb 7, 2013
Against an idyllic backdrop of crystal clear waters, a group of fishermen gather on a recent morning to collect seaweed in Halmahera Island, once the scene of severe sectarian violence.
To an outsider, seaweed may seem to be only a likely source of income for fishermen but within this remote community - where fishing used to be the way of life - seaweed cultivation provides a strategy to stamp out conflict.
The fishermen in Halmahera Island’s Kao Bay are amongst thousands of people in eastern Indonesia who have benefited from a peace and conflict prevention project supported by the Government of Indonesia and UNDP.
At the national level, the project has supported the preparation of a law on social conflict management, passed in April 2012. UNDP provides expert advices and facilitates a series of consultation over a period of six years, involving at least 100 peace activists and academics throughout the nation. Indonesia is the first and only country in the world which has passed the law on social conflict management. The law empowers subnational governments and institutions to address local conflicts drawing on international standards and best practices in conflict prevention.
Launched in 2006, the project, which is funded by the Governments of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), provides technical assistance and grants to support activities that build social cohesion and promote pluralism for safe and stable communities. It also aims at strengthening the capacities of governments across all levels to better prevent and manage conflicts.
Social conflicts between various ethnic and religious groups remain a challenge in this diverse South-East Asian nation. If these conflicts are not dealt with they carry the risk of impeding and potentially reversing developmental progress. The geographical focus of UNDP’s project is in the provinces of Central Sulawesi, North Moluccas and The Moluccas. Despite the recent spike of isolated violence in Poso, Central Sulawesi, the situation in the provinces of North Molucca and The Moluccas has been largely peaceful since the signing of a peace deal in 2002 and other actions taken by the government and other interested parties.
In addition to the development of national policy frameworks to address these challenges, the UNDP project has worked with dozens of communities in some of the most conflict prone areas in targeted provinces. The project has supported a range of social programmes aimed at giving communities greater voice in their development as well as at building bridges between communities or groups of people. This includes the work being done with the fisher folks of Kao Bay in North Moluccas province.
Several years ago, Kao Bay community lost their income from fishing following the establishment of a gold mine in the Bay. Although there is no scientific research to prove the causality between the disappearance of fish from the Bay and the mine, the fishermen virtually lost their entire livelihoods due to rapidly depleting fish stocks within a year of the mine setting up operations in the Bay.
From 1999 to 2002, the provinces of North Moluccas and The Moluccas were hit by a series of sectarian violence, which killed nearly 2,000 people. The conflicts – fuelled by political and religious factors- are widely viewed as one of Indonesia’s worst communal violence in decades. The fishing community in Kao Bay is politically divided into two camps and the loss of the common source of income posed the risk of rekindling the violence in the province.
Boosting communities’ income
Not only did the seaweed cultivation bring the divided communities together, it also generated extra cash for the fishermen. Since the first harvest in 2008, the communities were able to produce on average more than 50 tons of wet seaweed per season. Enhancing the income situation of families also required the active involvement of women. Through its local partner, UNDP conducted a series of training for the women to produce finished food products from seaweed such as patties, vegetarian ‘meatballs ‘ and jelly drinks.
One fisherman, Jamal, said he was able to send his youngest son to a university in Halmahera island, thanks to the extra money he earned from the seaweed cultivation project.
"My youngest son is studying to become a teacher….I use the money to pay for his tuition fees and for his other needs," said the 40-something fisherman adding that his youngest son is the first in his family who goes to college.
Community participation is central to the project’s success of enhancing social cohesion in conflict prone areas. As part of this approach, UNDP has helped establish community discussion forums known as musrenbang. The musrenbang process has become the main vehicle for communities to articulate their development needs with the government. In 2011, 669 community facilitators were trained in four conflict-prone provinces. More than 5,000 people participated in the musrenbang consultations thanks to the efforts of these facilitators
The project’s strategy also includes other creative means of engagement with target communities. In Moluccas province, for example, UNDP is promoting the reforestation of mangroves as a platform for divided communities to come together. In Central Sulawesi province, community leaders and customary law institutions have been approached to advocate for peace building.
“Creative approaches are employed to get people interested in coming together and participating in joint community initiatives. This in turn facilitates communication between groups on issues of common concern thus eventually leading to breaking down barriers and prejudices”, says UNDP Programme Officer, Maja Suhud.
“Seaweed farming helped the two opposing groups in Halmahera community to learn to accept their differences, become more tolerant and respect each other”, she adds.
Looking ahead, UNDP plans to continue supporting the operationalization of Indonesia’s recently enacted policy and institutional frameworks for conflict management to ensure that the prevention of conflict becomes everyone’s business.