By Emilie Turner, MAGG Graduate (2018)
I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I arrived in Indonesia. On the one hand, it feels as though I arrived just yesterday, while on the other hand those first days in this beautiful country seem like they happened ages ago. Reflecting on this past – and extremely busy – month in Indonesia, it actually is of no surprise how remarkably fast time has passed. Here are a few of the many things I have been up to since arriving to work as an intern at the UNDP country office in Jakarta, Indonesia.
My first week in Jakarta was certainly a whirlwind. Between the airlines losing my luggage, looking for a place to live, spending hours stuck in the infamous local traffic and getting food poisoning on, of all days, the first day of my internship, it did not feel like Jakarta was giving me the warmest of welcomes. That being said, Indonesians are among the most hospitable and kind people I have ever met which made surviving my first week, without being totally discouraged, a whole lot easier.
As a new intern for the Environment Unit, I have been tasked to work on a few different and exciting initiatives. One of those initiatives is the development of a project proposal, which aims to promote climate change adaptation initiatives in the eastern province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT). By supporting climate change adaptation initiatives in NTT, the project hopes to promote resiliency and support the livelihoods of smallholders who cultivate crops such as rice, cocoa, coffee, corn, cashew and coconut. Due to low baseline development, lack of financial inclusion and social safety nets, compounded by the specific climate and topography of the region, smallholders in NTT remain especially vulnerable to the shocks brought on by climate change and as such remain a key target group in the need to boost resilience, increase productivity and improve livelihoods.
With the goal to obtain feedback from relevant stakeholders while still in the early stages of project development, I had the very exciting opportunity to join my team, along with representatives from the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Finance, for a short trip to the province of NTT. During this field mission we attended a stakeholders’ workshop, obtained feedback on the project concept, as well as visited local farms in order to consult directly with smallholders and see firsthand the effects of climate change on their crop production and livelihoods.
As someone who is very interested in how projects operate “in practice”, i.e. on the ground within local communities, it was extremely informative for me to not only see the reality behind what is often a mountain of paperwork, but also to grasp a better understanding of the barriers and challenges that often impede on-the-ground success. Perhaps the key point for me was appreciating that, from the smallholders’ perspective, potential resistance isn’t necessarily due to a lack of knowledge or resources regarding more efficient agricultural practices, but rather can be a reflection of the reluctance or lack of incentive to switch from traditional farming practices to more sustainable ones. This insight is significant as it highlights the need to develop a holistic approach that takes into consideration not only the technical and financial barriers of implementing climate change adaptation initiatives, but to equally understand the cultural and/or social barriers that prevent farmers from embracing a different approach. It is only by understanding and appreciating the local circumstances and context that a project can be truly sustainable and/or transformative.
Apart from this initiative, I am also working on Indonesia’s social finance portfolio, a field in which I have no past experience but in which I am learning more and more each day. One of the great things about this internship thus far has been being fortunate to work in areas I already know I love, while also being exposed to new areas, making my day-to-day activities different each day.
Overall, this first month in Indonesia – while having its share of ups and downs – has come and gone very quickly. I can only look forward to the next five months and the challenges and opportunities they will bring!