Indigenous leader speaks out on Ulu Masen: “We’ve never seen anything from REDD. It’s like the wind. We can’t see it, can’t touch it”
On 6 February 2008, Ulu Masen became the first REDD project to be validated under the Climate Community and Biodiversity Standards. Last month, five years later, it became the first REDD project to lose its CCB validation status.
Today, the Ulu Masen REDD project is at a complete standstill. “Ulu Masen is like a dream. It is unclear,” Anwar Ibrahim, the Head of the Mukim Association in Aceh Jaya, told REDD-Monitor in December 2012. “We’ve never seen anything from REDD. It’s like the wind. We can’t see it, can’t touch it.”
How did it come to this? In 2008, when Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood validated the project under the CCB, the project’s three proponents were the Provincial Government of Aceh; a major conservation NGO, Fauna and Flora International; and a dynamic new carbon trading company, Carbon Conservation, led by Dorjee Sun, a young Australian whose Internet company earned him his first million before he was 30. “The project will probably be of great value to the understanding of REDD projects in Indonesia and elsewhere in the world,” SmartWood wrote in its Audit of the project.
Things turned sour in May 2011, when Carbon Conservation sold 50% of its shares to East Asia Minerals Corporation. According to a 2010 document from the Department of Mines and Energy, three Jakarta-based companies, each 80% owned by East Asia Minerals, have exploration permits for Miwah, inside Ulu Masen. The three companies share the same address in Jakarta and the same director, Bakhtiar Harris. Each exploration permit covers 10,000 hectares – the maximum area allowed for a mining area inside a protected forest.
But this is only an exploration permit and East Asia Minerals has tried everything it can to get the forest re-classified, including buying Carbon Conservation, which was supposed to “facilitate a smoother process for approval of, and support for, mining permits”. In January 2013, the company announced that it has received extensions of its licences at Miwah until 30 November 2014.
The Ulu Masen project area consisted of 428,757 logging concessions and 310,991 hectares of protected forest. The logging concessions were inactive and in its Audit, SmartWood notes that “protection is weak and ineffective”.
The logging concessions were not active because of the logging moratorium introduced in 2007, by then-Governor Irwandi Yusuf. Mukim leader Anwar Ibrahim explained that there was also pressure from villagers and NGOs to prevent the companies from restarting the concessions. “Even without REDD it was their decision to keep their forest,” he said.
“The Forestry Office wanted to reactivate the companies. NGOs and villagers wanted to stop the Forestry Office from reinstating the companies. The idea of the Forestry Office was to use the timber to supply the Aceh reconstruction. The communities rejected the idea.”
The land tenure implications of changing logging concessions to protected forest and implementing protected areas were not resolved when the Project Design Document was produced at the end of 2007. In its audit, SmartWood notes that,
The PDD is not definitive about how the project has evaluated the potential legal contradictions of land tenure issues which may emerge through the forestry re-design.
As Göran Eklöf points out in his recent report “REDD plus or REDD light”, unresolved land tenure is not necessarily in breach of CCB Standards when the project is validated:
The implication for Ulu Masen is that all outstanding land tenure issues must thus be resolved before the first verification, which has to be completed before 5 February 2013.
(Under the CCB system, the Project Design Document (PDD) is first validated against the CCB Standards to determine whether what the project proponents say they will do complies. Verification takes place when the project is underway, to determine whether the project proponents are in fact implementing what they said they would in the PDD. No verification has taken place at Ulu Masen.)
Land tenure is a crucial issue for communities and the fact that it was not resolved raises questions about free, prior and informed consent and Ulu Masen. (FPIC was included in the second edition of the CCB Standard – Ulu Masen was audited against the first edition, which did not include a requirement for FPIC.) Eklöf asks how communities can be expected to give their “prior” and “informed” consent to a project where the consultations on key issues (like the benefits that the project will bring them and land tenure) have not yet been concluded?
During the audit, SmartWood found that, “key staff at FFI had not seen or new very little about the PDD”. This should have raised serious questions about how much detail the communities knew about the project and the implications for their livelihoods.
Anwar described how he first heard of REDD:
“In 2007, Frank Momberg of FFI organised a meeting in the Hermes Hotel in Banda Aceh. This was when the discussion turned to carbon and the idea that people would get money if they keep their forest. The idea of Ulu Masen came from FFI, acting as a go-between between the Government of Aceh and investors. Since then we keep hearing about REDD, REDD+, REDD++. But don’t ask me what it means, because I don’t know.”
In 2009, Anwar was invited to an international seminar about free, prior and informed consent in Riau province in Sumatra. “This was the first time I was introduced to the concept of FPIC,” he said.
“FPIC wasn’t what happened in Aceh. FPIC has never been done 100%. There are some documents on REDD but I’m not aware of the process. REDD was agreed and FPIC came later.”
The PDD does not deal adequately with the risk that under the Ulu Masen project, farmers would be prevented from converting forest into farm land without the project providing any adequate alternative livelihood. “Predicting the future of communities in the project area over 30 years is an exercise in educated guesswork,” the PDD states and makes no attempt to compare the income of farmers with and without the project. SmartWood comments that, “it would not be realistic to expect these from the project in its design phase”.
Yet the PDD produces precise calculations about the rate of deforestation with and without the project. SmartWood appears oblivious to the fact that these are based on a combination of “educated guesswork” and pure fiction.
In November 2010, Anwar took part in a training meeting in Jember, East Java, organised by FKKM, the Indonesian Communication Forum on Community Forestry. The meeting was titled, “Involvement of stakeholders in MRV of carbon stock changes in the forest community”, or as Anwar put it, “measuring carbon, so that the communities are not cheated”. Anwar told me what he heard heard from another participant, who was also frustrated with REDD: “Those who buy never come. Those who come never buy.”
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 Adrian Sri Adhiati for translating. Any mistakes are, of course, my responsibility.