Harnessing the power of Tara Bandu to protect Timor-Leste’s natural resources

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- In the west (USA, EU) we have a very expensive infrastructure, police, coast guard, judicial system, jails, department of natural resources, etc. all of whose job it is to help us manage our natural resources. Yet, under these management strategies most of the fish stocks are over exploited and in decline. In addition, often an antagonistic relationship develops between the fishers and those charged with managing the natural resources. Overall, when you count the cost of government resources (e.g. police, regulatory frameworks), the legal system (courts and prisons), this is a very, very expensive approach to natural resource management.

Aceh, in the aftermath of the tsunami and during the reconstruction, everyone was challenged to “build back better”. Encouraged to learn from the past, to see what worked in other areas, and not repeat past mistakes. If one only looks, you can find all over S. E. Asia these traditional authority structures that have been in place and working for centuries (Panglima Laot, Sasi Laut, ...). Historically, coastal villages throughout the archipelago heavily depended upon the sea for their respective livelihoods. Because there is not the large infrastructure of police, courts, jails, these coastal communities developed their own set of rules to manage their common resources. They typically concentrated on managing their immediate areas (forest, sea) that were de-facto, their areas. These rules they developed have evolved with the primary goal of conserving a shared natural resource. Since the lives of many people in the village often depended upon these areas, these rules had to be effective.

In Timor Leste, the judicial system is still very much in development, at the same time the laws governing the people's behavior is based on the traditional systems are highly respected and obeyed. RFLP is working through the community leaders and using these traditional laws to implement conservation strategies. For more see RFLP Tara Bandu.