Iwan Mucipto is setting out to create a union of all those helping the increasingly marginalized coastal populations, both the fishermen and their communities, of the islands of Indonesia's poor Eastern half.
In Eastern Indonesia, as in much of the world, the coastal zone is fundamentally different from the inland areas ecologically, economically, and therefore sociologically and politically. Governed until recently by somnolent local custom and largely ignored by others, this coastal region is suddenly experiencing a series of profound changes, many beyond the grasp not only of the local people and rule but also of the newer institutions springing up to help.Iwan is setting up something between a framework and an association to bring together and help all the widely differing groups working to help fishermen and their coastal neighbors across Eastern Indonesia, especially East and West Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, and Irian. It is designed to reinforce local organizations, community groups, or producers and their associations.First, Iwan wants to strengthen the smaller, more local groups. Second, it seeks to provide services and allow effective action on the regional and national levels that are beyond the reach of their local constituents, but that are now essential as larger forces come to bear on the region. More especially, he wants to encourage the private voluntary organizations (PVO's) to do what they do best, to innovate. To do so they must break free of the conformist thinking he feels increasingly characterizes the emerging PVO sector in Indonesia. That, in turn, means that the institution he builds must be carefully structured not to become a vehicle that encourages common thinking but instead truly strengthens and respects local innovators.Second, he'll provide a framework where those working in the many different organizations in the field will be able to obtain, and contribute to, common services. Training and mutual help consultancy are two examples. His association will organize training sessions, very much expecting the participants to share their expertise as well as learn. This service then flows naturally on into groups that have mastered a needed skill e.g., how to build and place artificial reef-like structures to inexpensively attract fish, help those elsewhere in the region master it.By functioning on a broader plain, moreover, his organization will be able to give its constituents longer reach. He envisages, for example, helping these small, geographically remote organizations reach out more effectively to funders. This will also facilitate their having an impact on national and regional policies, suddenly quite essential. Iwan's organization can help collect information, identify risks and opportunities, and concert parallel or collective initiative.Iwan has a number of specific ideas he plans to pursue while building this new institution. One example illustrates his sense of the importance of reaching out beyond the PVO community's collective thinking. Because PVO's commonly see the "patrons" or owners of fishing boats as businessmen and even explorers rather than the poor these organizations seek to serve, they generally don't work with them. However, Iwan believes that helping them be more efficient offers major opportunities and that working through the patrons may be one of the most effective ways to stop harmful practices (such as bombing the coral reefs with dynamite to drive more fish into the nets).
The Indonesian government has decided to boost the development of Eastern Indonesia. It has naturally focused quickly on machine and especially fishery development.The government's efforts are chiefly focused on increasing GNP. So far that has meant increasing production by investing in large-scale, "modern" fishing industry i.e., large companies operating trailers, cold storage facilities, etc.This approach has succeeded in increasing yields over the last several years. In West Nusa Tenggara Province, for example, the catch grew 14.4 percent, from 48,000 tons in 1987 to 55,000 tons in 1988. The government projects that contribution to GNP has climbed a further 50 percent in 1989, from U.S. $20 million to U.S. $30 million.However, as one newspaper report after another documents, this progress is leaving the fishermen and their communities even more impoverished than before. The new travelers sweep up vast numbers of fish, especially the most valuable species. Even though a few local people may get crew jobs on a few trawlers, many times that number lose their livelihoods. The losers are not only the fishermen but also those that supported them with everything from boats and nets to food and all those engaged in processing and marketing the catch. Another casualty has been the resource base that ultimately sustains the catch. Some of the damage is a direct consequence of trailers either dragging the bottom and/or extracting fish at an unsustainable rate. Some of it is indirect: As others are driven to the economic edge, they are tempted to desperate measures to increase the catch in the short term, e.g., reef bombing.Less dramatic than such reef bombing but probably more serious has been the corrosion of customary restraints that had ensured the long-term health of local fisheries. Over centuries of experience each part of the coast had developed rules for example, not to fish in certain areas during key spawning periods. However, at least so far, there's no way the trawlers could obtain this information even if they wanted it. As the local fishermen's competition ignores these restraints, they in turn are tempted not to deny themselves what their competitors do not.The government has several programs designed to help. One program tries to provide some fishermen with modern boats and equipment. However, the numbers are limited and even they are not equipped fully. An earlier program focused on small-scale fishermen, but it is now suffering neglect. Its narrow focus on the fishermen versus the bordering coastal economy, even before, limited its impact.Although Iwan hopes eventually to change government policy, he knows he has to start building with those who are still concerned with the mass small fisherman and their communities their own organizations and the PVOs. Fortunately, over the last decade a handful of PVO's working in different parts of eastern Indonesia have developed skill in integrated coastal-area development and have gained credibility with the coastal people. Other smaller PVO's, increasingly including some organized locally, are beginning to sprout up. That's the resource that will provide the leadership to innovate and help make practical, more hopeful alternatives for the coastal peoples.However, these organizations are scattered, limited in scope and often in understanding, and vulnerable. Something more is needed.
Iwan has already won over the four most important coastal zone PVO's in Eastern Indonesia. They will join together to create the initial core framework for the new association. Their collective experience, expertise, credibility, and contacts should allow a quick, strong start.As the association begins to give training sessions, puts together mutual help consultancies, helps its members raise funds, and organizes cooperative advocacy, it will be demonstrating to hosts of other groups the advantages of banding together.As the number of groups associated in the common endeavor to improve the quality of life for citizens of the coast increases, the value of each individual experiment increases. The association will not only help the experimenters succeed, but it will also provide a perfect channel through which each idea can reach precisely the people in the region most likely to understand it and temperamentally likely to adopt and champion it.
Brought up in a highly educated family, Iwan studied political science in Bandung. He edited the student paper and was elected head of the student body.His social commitment led him to work for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a project sociologist. His four years there gave him a broad grasp of both the technical and institutional dimensions of working on coastal and fishery issues. It also left him feeling uncomfortable with the UN system's high overheads.In 1986, he went to work with YLKP, a coastal zone and fisheries PVO working chiefly among the islands to the east of Bali. Here both his education and his contributions continued. He helped the organization shift to a more decentralized structure, a creative process that contributes significantly to his organizational concept for the association.He became head of YLKP's Fisheries Division. From that position, he launched and led a series of innovations among the fishermen of the island of Gil Air. A few examples will illustrate. To give the fishermen a stake in preserving the most vital parts of the coral reef, he is helping some of them train to be underwater guides to tourists. This incentive, in turn, is but a part of a larger program to get everyone to agree on and respect a zone system that would put the healthiest parts of the reefs off bounds for fisheries. It has also been at Gil Air that he has been experimenting with working through the institutions and interests of the patron to spur broader change. In addition to giving him a sense of the PVO's unique and exhilarating freedom to experiment, these last years also left him very sensitive to their limitations and vulnerabilities. In many ways the experience was the perfect complement to his time with FAC.As both private pressures and the government's intended blue revolution bear down on the millions of poor people of eastern Indonesia's coasts, Iwan is now setting out to organize other voices who can demonstrate and argue for other ideas.