Getting to Rantau Kermas
|Sketch map of Rantau Kermas|
Like the other villages we had a really productive time in Rantau Kermas. We also were able to use our cell phones because Rantau Kermas, though out of signal range, has a "mini-tower" which relays the signal and allows you to use your phone within about 100 meters of the village office. While Tanjung Kasri and Renah Kemumu also have mini-towers, they were out of order at the time of our visit; in Renah Kemumu it had been broken for more than a year (1). For us this was inconvenient but for the local residents it is a real impediment to doing business. As an example, without a phone it is impossible to check the prices of various agricultural products in the big market centers, and so the farmers, all of whom are reliant on middlemen to get their goods to market, are completely dependent on the prices quoted by the middlemen.
|Batu Larong in Lubuk Mentalin, a village|
between Tanjung Kasri and Rantau Kermas
Rantau Kermas and the ICDP Project
Rantau Kermas also received electricity about a decade before the other two villages, which only got electricity when an NGO built microhydro generators two years ago. Rantau Kermas was the one of the villages selected to receive development assistance from a massive integrated conservation and development project (ICDP) funded by the World Bank and implemented by the WWF and local NGOs. The project lasted from 1996 until 2002 and the idea was to provide aid to villages bordering the national park to improve the local economies so that the people would have alternatives to going into the forest to hunt, harvest non-timber forest products (NTFPs), and illegally clear land for cultivation. In exchange for the grants the villages would sign agreements to cease all illegal activities and help guard the park. The villagers in each of the 72 villages (72 VILLAGES!) formed committees to select the types of projects to be implemented. In Rantau Kermas the villagers selected the microhydro generator along with orange seeds, ducks, fish ponds, and a couple of other small projects. Tanjung Kasri and Renah Kemumu, the other two villages I visited, were not eligible for the program because they are located in the park, and so no one in the World Bank, WWF, or Ministry of Forestry, which administers the park, could decide what to do there. Ten years after the end of the program it really boggles my mind that the people in charge couldn't find a way to provide electricity to the two neglected villages. This oversight triggered a significant amount of jealousy between the villages and increased the bad feelings towards the park.
|Manau, a NTFP that can be gathered for sale|
in some of the forests around Rantau Kermas
but not Renah Kemumu and Tanjung Kasri,
since they are located completely within the
I have spent a great deal of time reviewing the documents for the ICDP and talking with people that were involved in its implementation. In the initial stages of my research I felt a bit of schadenfreude deriving from the failure of the project, since, for political ecologists like myself, the World Bank is very often portrayed as a ne'er-do-well villain whose projects have, over the years led to the immiseration of millions and a high level of environmental degradation. However, as I read through the thousands and thousands of pages documenting the village development project, I couldn't help but be awed by the level of commitment and dedication on the part of the World Bank. Although some scholars have portrayed the project as a means to increase control and "surveillance" at the village level, it seems to me that the project was noble-minded.
This leads us back to the problem of social engineering. While the idea sounds all fine and good, what success requires is essentially changing the entire culture and economy of groups of people. This altering of livelihoods that have developed over generations and generations is not easy, if not impossible, to achieve within the framework of deadline-oriented development projects. World Bank and other development projects generally have benchmarks and evaluation guidelines, so for example if "x" number of farmers are not converted from slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture to market-oriented cash crop production within five years the project is deemed a failure. This type of mentality generally dooms the project before it is even implemented. This is one of the most valuable lessons I've learned in the field. My good friend Emma, head of the Sungai Penuh-based NGO Lembaga Tumbuh Alami (one of my project partners) told me that she won't accept external grant money if it comes with performance deadlines like these because they are generally impossible to achieve.
Hiking the Serampas Trail
|From our army-prepared topo map;|
contour interval is 25 meters.
The trail was tough for me, but I'm not a very experienced hiker. If you are used to mountain trekking there are lots of beautiful things to see; Serampas is quiet and serene and you will get a glimpse into the lives of the farmers here. You'll also have the chance to see a couple of ancient (how ancient, I don't know) megaliths and the breathtaking hot spring I mentioned in the previous post. If you depart from Lempur you can plan on spending 5-8 days, and you can continue on to the district capital of Merangin on the other side of Serampas.
If you'd like more information about guides, routes, and costs, drop me an email at email@example.com and I'll put you in contact with a good, reliable guide. You'll need someone that speaks the local language, and you'll need to buy a ticket to enter the park (around US$.50; cameras and video recorders are an additional charge). If you feel up to it, I highly recommend it.
(1) On the way back we stopped a second time at the Grao Sakti hot spring. Coincidentally, the technician sent to explore the problem with the mini-towers stopped by and said they should be fixed in a month or so after he reports back to the main office.