|Kerinci Seblat National Park (green) and|
"Development" and the geography of Sumatra
|From BAPPENAS masterplan|
But the island is also very rich in mineral wealth; there is a great deal of coal and rich deposits of industrial metals are scattered here and there. There's also a lot of gold on Sumatra. So mining, most of it small to medium scale, is a major economic activity here. In fact, when we look at the national planning agency's (BAPPENAS) long-term "master plan" for the nation's economic development, Sumatra figures in as a key source of raw materials, some to be used in industry on Java and some to be exported. Extractive enterprises like mining are the key to the future for Sumatra, at least according to official plans.
We can also see this reflected in the regional spatial plans that the districts formulate to guide policy and development priorities. In order to raise district revenues and increase the "prosperity of society" (kesejahteraan masyarakat), district governments are looking to mining as a key sector. In addition to this, expansion of industrial plantations, like palm oil, figures in as an important component as well. District governments try to attract investors to do exploration to gauge the size of mineral deposits which will later translate into more mining and, theoretically at least, more locally-generated revenue to fund government programs. At the same time the district governments improve or create new infrastructure, like roads, that would make it easier to get mined materials out of the district.
The trouble with commodities...
|Amidst the endless acres of oil palms in Mukomuko|
A second major problem is that a development strategy that relies on commodity extraction and agricultural extensification doesn't really address the needs of the people in this part of Sumatra. As proof of this we can again refer to the regional spatial plans, which describe in detail the weaknesses of the various district economies along with the types of policy interventions that are needed to address those weaknesses. For example, the spatial plan of Kerinci district, where I live, suggests that the most urgent reforms are needed in regional land management, agricultural extension, and value-added enterprises. The first refers to the problem of "sleeping land"; land that is useable and zoned for agriculture but is not currently under cultivation for one reason or another. Here in Kerinci we find that a major reason for not farming land is speculation and investment. The second refers to a lack of skills on the part of farmers. For the most part they don't know how to sustainably manage their land for maximum yields, and many are trapped in a cycle of debt whereby they mortgage future crops to pay for fertilizer, seeds, and pesticides. There are not sufficient training programs and other extension services for the farmers here. Most farmers here live harvest to harvest and so there is no capital accumulation. The third problem refers to the fact that there is not much processing of agricultural products here. For example, a major crop in Kerinci is potatoes. Farmers sell their potatoes to a middleman who transports the potatoes to market in Padang, 7 hours away.
|Kerinci potatoes. I lifted this picture from Antara because|
when I was writing this post I realized I have never taken
any pictures of potatoes here.
Instead of addressing these difficulties, though, the district government relies on a strategy of agricultural extensification, seeking to increase the area under cultivation. But as you might imagine this merely perpetuates and expands the problems of agriculture in the district. The district government has failed to prioritize training and extension, land reform, and agribusiness. The reasons for this, according to my observations, are complex but are rooted in local political processes. Elections for district headman (bupati) are based more on the amount of spending (legal and illegal) rather than actual political platforms. Thus the guy with the most money to buy votes generally wins. In order to get money, candidates form alliances with local financiers to form a "success team" (tim sukses). In return for their support, success team members are often given positions as heads of local government agencies (DINAS) or are given preferential treatment in tendering and bidding for projects.
This leads to district-level offices being run by people whose skills, training, and experience is not consistent with the demands of the job. In addition, civil servants are often moved from agency to agency for political purposes. I have spoken with numerous government officials that complain of being moved around from agency to agency every couple of years. Thus the typical district government office is loaded with people that aren't really suited for the positions they occupy, and many of them are not motivated to address the challenges of the job. As a result, policy formation and implementation suffers. We can imagine a continuum of public policy ranging from higher level activities, which require a great deal of coordination, skill, and commitment, to lower-level activities that are rather simple and easy to implement. Things like land reform and comprehensive agricultural extension would be on the higher end of this continuum. They are difficult things to implement, but not impossible if you have the right people doing the job. On the other hand you have things like expanded the land under cultivation, which isn't really that difficult to implement. My argument is that because of the way politics works here, there is a bias towards policy activities on the lower end of this spectrum. Making new roads would be another.
A third major problem with this strategy for development is rooted in the logic of the strategy itself. Since the fall of longtime authoritarian president Suharto in 1998 Indonesia has transferred a great deal of political and administrative authority to the districts as a reaction against the top-down authoritarian structure of the Suharto years. But at the same time the districts are supposed to generate more of their operating funds, which during the Suharto years came directly from the central government in the form of numerous grants and payments. The districts want to increase revenues to pay for the activities of government, like education, health, and other services. But the problem is that regional autonomy has greatly increased corruption at the district level, and so a significant amount of money is "lost" by a variety of means. Thus more locally generated revenue means more money lost in corruption. This is related to the political dynamic I described above; people want to be on the team success because it is a way to get control of a government office, where they can enrich themselves through corrupt practices, which further hinders policy making.
What's this have to do with conservation?
As I mentioned before (and in previous posts), I focus on Kerinci and Mukomuko because these are two of the districts that border Kerinci Seblat National Park. In fact, more than 50% of Kerinci district is covered by the park. The district headman complains that the park, which is under the control of the national government, hinders development in the district because farming, logging, mining, and other activities are forbidden there. Thus the reasoning goes that the district is economically crippled because of conservation, and development options are limited. The headman is very vocal in his criticism of the park, and his views, which are frequently covered in the local press, filter down to the people of the district, and so there is a general feeling of hostility towards the park. But the park has become a scapegoat used to deflect attention away from the political leadership's inability to promote real "development" in the district. Thus we see the false dichotomy between development and conservation being perpetuated.
This is a big challenge for the park because it can't interfere in district level politics. Moreover, because these problems are structural in nature, there is no quick-fix. Meanwhile the park is undermined by the false development-conservation dichotomy while the long-term outlook of the surrounding districts is compromised, because extractive activities and agricultural extensification and the development strategy that relies on them do not take into consideration the ecological costs of these activities, which generally manifest themselves several years down the line.