The challenges of becoming a self-sufficient community.

By Kristian Sauyai, director of PERJAMPAT, July 2022

PERJAMPAT’s aim is to build a community that is free to determine its own future and to build a better life. We are rooted in the customary and cultural values of Raja Ampat, as well as in our religious values, including love for one another and for Nature. We believe that the land and the sea are our shared source of life and, for that reason, we must retain control of them. We must not sell or rent them to others.

The way to do this is to manage our own land, forest and sea. So far, we have been doing this by building homestays, in central and western areas of Raja Ampat and as far south as the island of Batanta. If we do not do this, we give a big opportunity to outsiders seeking to build resorts in Raja Ampat.

Through these homestay businesses, we are raising the consciousness of the community to manage what they own: their sea, forest and land. If that does not happen, then land will be bought and sold. By building homestays, we have learnt that we are capable of managing our own assets, to regulate ourselves, to build our own organisation and to manage what we ourselves have.

We are also working with the village government to manage our area in a way that prioritises the needs of local fisherfolk rather than giving space to outsiders who come with more modern and sophisticated fishing gear, catch more fish and profit more than local fishers.

If we don’t talk about these things, then no-one else will. No-one else will come and talk about the sustainability of our fishing, of our tourism, and of our environment here in Raja Ampat.

We are doing these things so that the community can catch fish with traditional gear, and without having to travel far. We are building small community groups in the villages so that they can process their own harvests, such as [in the form of] coconut oil.

Right now we are focusing on three villages with the objective of raising the consciousness of community members who have not so far been involved [in the Association] but who are farmers, so they can produce things from what they have, and free themselves from the system of dependency.

Government aid such as cash transfers (BLT) and the village fund (Dana Desa) makes the community dependent. People don’t want to work because they feel that each month there will be money coming from the government.

So we come to the community and we ask them what might happen if, at some point, there was no more aid ? If we just leave this sea for others to exploit, if we don’t plant our gardens, what would happen to the lives of our kids and grandkids if they didn’t even know what a garden looks like?

We are starting to build this awareness of what people can do for themselves without having to buy things, such as rice; without having to go shopping in Waisai [the district capital] even though they are able to meet all their needs in their village; where, through gardening, they are able to make their own oil and not have to buy Bimoli (commercial cooking oil).

There are already many [among our members] who are becoming aware of how important it is to manage their own land. People are opening themselves up to what must be done to protect the interests of small, local fishers. If it’s not like this, future generations will not enjoy what we enjoy today.

So this is how we are raising awareness of the importance of bringing back [the practices we have lost]; of not permitting the sale of the land but managing it ourselves by building homestays or making gardens.

During the pandemic many in the community did go back to their gardens. They experienced everything that we have been talking about: it was difficult to leave their villages, difficult to reach the shops, difficult to get money. If government assistance didn’t arrive, we wouldn’t eat because we are so reliant on the government for rice.

This experience really pushed us to come and talk to the [community]. Everything that we do today is about helping the community, local people, ourselves, to be able to live sustainably 50 years into the future, just as we described in our Association’s Vision and Mission.

Our Vision and Mission talks about how, in 50 years, our communities will enjoy a high quality of life; about how the the forest, sea and land will be well and will still give life

We also face challenges:

The biggest challenge lies with our families. They want to see [immediate] results and have [no patience] for process. Family is important in supporting our work. If they do not support our work, it can be very disruptive.

The other challenge is with our own members. If we hadn’t held on, maybe this Association would not exist today. All the work [of running the organisation] still comes down to four people but we keep on working and doing what I described earlier, showing results that others can see.

This is what slowly changes people [and so] the large majority of our members are now aware of the importance of the Association, understand its objectives and support what we are doing. They are aware of the importance of not selling their land and are able to stand up and say no.

For example, when the government came hoping to give one or two mattresses [to each homestay], our members could just say, “we are able to buy our own mattresses, you do not need to give us mattresses”. This is because of this long process we have been through.

I have not been able to see the government’s response to what we are doing. It’s not that they do not want to partner with us but they do not also support us. This is a challenge and often puts us at [cross purposes]. Because they do not take the time to see what already exists and what we think works, they do other things which do not then result in anything.