From 2005 to 2012, Marnix Balke worked in Indonesia-Papua as a consultant in organisational build-up and economic development. In that period he lived with his family in Wamena in the Baliem Valley, which had not been discovered until shortly after the Second World War. Due to the outside influence, the inhabitants were catapulted from the Stone Age into modern times, with money, planes, cars and other modern technology. In addition, the government, missionary and development organisations became involved. Marnix is still regularly asked what it was like to work there and whether sustainability also played a role. He shares his experiences in this blog.
The village of Kobakma
Kobakma: a mountain village 1.5 days on foot from a motor traffic road from where you can take a taxi to the city. A mountain village with good conditions for growing peanuts and in the city there is a need for peanuts to supply snack bars. The village has only a limited amount of kiosks for the most popular products from outside (such as salt, soap, sugar, rice, cooking oil, instant noodles and flashlights). And there is hardly any monetary economy in the village. The salaries of the school’s teachers are used up in the city. Vegetables are exchanged for other items of food at a market. But in the city there is a market for peanuts, with a price per kilo that varies greatly depending on the season and availability. The idea arose with different leaders to buy peanuts in the village (by arranging logistics) and sell them in the city. In addition, they wanted to start a shop in the village, where the desired products can also be bought.
No system with kilos, litres and money
From an early age, we grew up with kilos and litres and money. But what if you don’t know that at all? Who knows how much a kilo is and how do you determine that so that everyone believes it? And what’s the value of 1,000 or 10,000 Rupiah? The first trade using scales caused problems, because the sellers were suspicious. A standard size using an old tin can offered a solution. Filled to the rim and levelled off was clear to everyone. The value of the contents of a tin of peanuts was converted into rupiah, and with rupiah you could buy goods again. However, in the beginning it was still mainly: one can of peanuts is a bag of salt and two cans a bag of sugar. Gradually, however, confidence in the monetary economy started to grow and there was more talk about rupiah when it came to the value of something.
Sumur susah, difficult source
The leaders called the transition to a monetary economy sumur susah, which means ‘difficult source’. There was confidence that this was the way to go, because it was a source that had something to offer. But it also meant that they still had a lot to learn about that new system. It was important to discover that this source was difficult, because it needs continuous attention and does not run on its own like a waterfall. In addition, new insights and knowledge about terms and administration were needed.
It was a shift to a new order. As a result of the coronavirus crisis and the need for sustainability, a lot is now being considered and written about this too. You could also think of it as a sumur susah, a difficult source. It is also a source that needs attention in order to continue to deliver sustainably. Adapting to new systems requires leadership. People have to understand it first and will then be able to communicate it. It requires people who are willing to participate, exemplary projects that work and sufficient communication (village gatherings). Let us – just like those Mountain Papuans – not forget to continue our transition and to celebrate our successes with food and conversation!
Written by Marnix Balke, senior consultant & project manager at CFP Green Buildings