Beleaguered by civil war, natural disasters and years of isolation from the world, small producers remain the backbone of the economy in Aceh, Indonesia. Co-operatives are bringing new prosperity to 2,000 marginalized entrepreneurs in two districts of this once embattled region. On the eve of the International Year of Co-operatives, this issue of Dispatch looks at how local fish farmers are using their co-operatives to meet Aceh’s growing demands for fish from the land.
Neighours were naturally skeptical when Muhammad Amin chose to pursue a career in aquaculture after high school. Fellows his age usually go to work in the rice fields that carpet his region of Aceh called Nagan Raya. Muhammad eventually found work at a fish pond owned by one of his school teachers and gradually learned the trade.
In 1998, civil war swept into his corner of Aceh, forcing Muhammad and his teacher to abandon their business. Undeterred, Muhammad built his own pond in swamplands owned by his family. He was teased for trying to grow fish in waters believed to be filled with “bad spirits.”
Aceh’s lengthy civil war killed and injured many thousands. It took the combined devastation of the mammoth 2004 earthquake and tsunami to finally end the conflict.
The world reached out on a scale that many in Aceh refer to as “the second tsunami.” And while much good was achieved, the flood of aid altered Aceh’s way of life, doing little to tackle poverty in a lasting way.