RONNY DIMARA

Indonesia,

Ronny Dimara is building a network of community organizations that links remote island peoples facing unprecedented threats to their natural resource base and way of life.

This profile below was prepared when Ronny Dimara was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.

INTRODUCTION

Ronny Dimara is building a network of community organizations that links remote island peoples facing unprecedented threats to their natural resource base and way of life.




THE NEW IDEA

Ronny is developing a movement to develop and protect the economies and cultures of Indonesia's remote island peoples. Indonesia has thousands of small islands, many that dot partially inhabited atolls and archipelagoes. Indonesia is also a nation of fishermen and subsistence-driven fishing communities of those remote islands that are the first to suffer when the oceans are damaged and also the first lines of environmental defense. Their survival and quality of life are closely tied to the health of local waters. Ronny is building associations of these remote fishing communities to deal with the legal, physical, social, and economic conflicts that are increasingly pitting local peoples against foreign fishing fleets and mainland businessmen.

Ronny's goal is to make small fishermen more competitive, more environmentally conscious, and better able to negotiate the use of public resources. One way he does this is by developing small businesses that preserve profits by cutting out the middleman. Transporting fish requires some kind of refrigeration; lacking this facility, indigenous fishermen have depended on intermediary buyers to take their fish to market. Ronny is helping communities to pool their resources in order to transport fish on a small scale in specially equipped boats. In addition to raising incomes, such enterprises allow local fishermen to compete without resorting to destructive fishing practices, like using dynamite and cyanide to improve their catch. This environmental consciousness also applies to the protection of native species, like tortoises and cockatoos–both of which have become prized commodities in the illegal animal trade facilitated by international fishing fleets. Ronny's model is replicable among other remote island communities faced with similar challenges.




THE PROBLEM

Active citizen participation in natural resource management is a goal of many in Indonesia, yet at this stage, there are few success stories. Policies for the management of natural resources from the seas and on small islands throughout Indonesia have not been sensitive to local economies and cultures. The people exercise little control over their natural resources, and many at the local level fear that the shift from central to regional governments, provided for by the new laws of Special Autonomy, will lead to even greater exploitation of available natural resources.

In the Raja Ampat archipelago, the political elite are planning the formation of a new district, although it is clear that the people of this area are not yet prepared to take on the responsibilities entailed by this shift. The approximately 600 islands in the archipelago are spread out, a fact of geography that makes difficult the coordination necessary to ensure that the rights and well-being of the islanders are not trampled. Work in the region is further complicated by the potential for conflict among the inhabitants of the islands. Of the five distinct ethnic groups on the islands, four claim to be the original inhabitants, while the remaining group, which does not make such a claim, holds the majority of important positions in the governmental bureaucracy as well as in business and education.




THE STRATEGY

Ronny is establishing strong community organizations on many remote islands, then linking these organizations in a network that he envisions will reach across the hundreds of islands that make up the region of Raja Ampat. He has developed a range of educational programs that bring islanders together to learn about and protect their natural resources and to solve other important problems in their villages, including gender inequity and economic insecurity.

Ronny began his activities on the island of Ayau where he is enabling the villagers to participate in decision-making with the local government. He is initiating routine meetings among islanders to raise their awareness of the challenges and opportunities that accompany development and to establish, then strengthen, the community organizations. Ronny supplies informational materials for the meetings, materials which he gathers from a range of sources and keeps in an information center open to everyone; a meeting place and study hall, the center is equipped with books, pamphlets, and other educational resources.

Through the community groups, Ronny is tackling critical issues within the villages, and he has encouraged villagers to take part in trainings held by a citizen organization with which he has developed a partnership.

Another aim of his work is economic; he is helping the villagers tap the fishing industry in ways that allow them to make more money by cutting out the middlemen. For example, Ronny has arranged meetings for representatives of the people with a large Malaysian fishing company so they can develop a more just and profitable (for the fishermen) working relationship. He has also secured funding to develop a multipurpose transportation program, which includes fishing boats equipped with small-scale refrigeration systems. Ronny hopes that these efforts will result in concrete solutions to some of the islanders' immediate economic needs.

Once the community organization in Ayau was established, Ronny began to meet with key figures on neighboring islands. He held intensive discussions with them, presented his ideas, and gained their support in establishing organizations in their areas. At the same time, he initiated communication among members of the different ethnic groups in Raja Ampat, with the goals of both helping the people unite to face external threats and eliminating ethnic conflicts. After the community organizations on the islands and the network between the islands are firmly established, Ronny plans to develop an umbrella organization to amplify the voice of the people in protecting their interests.




THE PERSON

Ronny was born in the coastal town of Sorong, West Papua. His father, a judge, presided over many court cases concerned with environmental protection, inspiring Ronny at an early age to pay attention to issues relating to the environment and natural resources management. Since he was in junior high school, Ronny has been involved in organizations, and when he was at university he was active in the student senate, the sports teams, and the dormitory organization.

After graduation from university, Ronny volunteered for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment in its Papua branch office in the capital city of Jayapura. He later pursued the opportunity to study in a highly respected training program for young activists, a program that he feels strongly influenced his ideas and his work. Eventually he decided to return home to Sorong and devote his time and energy to the area of Raja Ampat, a difficult region in which to work because it lacks the proper infrastructure to support communication and development.

Ronny is known for his openness in relating to others. This quality is evident both in the ease with which he has been able to undertake negotiations and establish networks and in his large circle of supporters.




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