The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


The doctor of diplomacy keeps his cool Duncan Graham

Very soon, as the new government sets its tone for the next five years, Nur Hassan Wirajuda will get a call from the Presidential Palace outlining his future.

Will he continue as foreign minister, a position he’s held for the past eight years? Or will he be shelved in some Jakarta cubicle composing reports destined for compost, or sentenced to a dysfunctional outpost where the climate is as extreme as the politics?

By all accounts the cautious, slow-talking Dr Hassan has done a good job since he was promoted by former president Megawati Soekarnoputri in 2001 and retained when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took office in 2004.

He’s certainly handled some awkward moments adroitly, like Australia accepting 43 Papuans who successfully claimed refugee status in 2006 a crisis that almost snapped the elastic links between the countries. Then there’s been the Bali bombings, the rise of Jemaah Islamiyah, Australian drug runners on death row and the 2004 tsunami.

The latest problem worrying Australia, and New Zealand in particular, is the classification of halal meat exported to Indonesia. The MUI (Majelis Ulama Indonesia – Indonesian Islamic Scholars’ Council) wants to handle this without government involvement.

“This is a mechanical issue,” Dr Hassan said. “The MUI can set the standards but administration is the government’s role. More time is needed and the deadline has been extended till next year.”

By now lesser men would have developed a nervous twitch every time an anxious aide approached with another crisis newsflash. But the 61-year old has retained his equanimity, and if his enviable head of jet-black hair didn’t come from a bottle it’s a sure sign of his unflappability.

“Internationally Indonesia is held in high regard, the best it has ever been,” he said during an Australasian tour that included the Pacific Islands Forum in Queensland. “Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy and has never been so free.” His Australian counterpart Stephen Smith agrees. Earlier this year he introduced Dr Hassan by saying:

“Indonesia (has) transformed to a modern, vibrant, tolerant democracy that is now quite rightfully taking its place in the world as a strong voice: a voice that reflects values and virtues and characteristics that we admire so much.”

Whether this glossy global image is due to the foreign minister or his urbane boss, or because Indonesia is rocketing into democracy without bloodshed, and pursuing terrorism with vigor are different questions.

In the arcane world of foreign affairs where acronyms rule (the minister is Menlu – Menteri Departemen Luar Negeri - the department Deplu) there are whispers that Dr Hassan’s time may be up. However he’ll only say that though he’d like to retain the job, every position has to run its course.

Unlike those who think ASEAN is a dead duck, an anti-communist mutual admiration club constructed by former president Soeharto 42 years ago and past its use-by date, Dr Hassan believes the grouping has relevance.

“No other forum exists that is able to do good and maintain the habits of dialogue,” he said. “It has more than symbolic importance. Many issues, such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea have been settled through ASEAN, which would otherwise have had to be handled on a bi-lateral basis.

“ASEAN helps exercise self-restraint, and good order. Others want to join. We are working to bring democracy to Myanmar.”

Does this mean Indonesia now has a role pushing democracy onto its reluctant neighbors, a South-East Asian version of the US?

“No, we take the subtle approach,” he said. “Rather than impose our model of democracy let’s sit down together. We are quite humble. We must do more to embed the roots of democracy in our own country and educate the populace about the benefits.

“For example, in the last election we had 38 parties because the threshold is 2.5 per cent support with many parties frantically searching for candidates. In Germany the threshold is five per cent.

“That doesn’t mean our democracy is immature. There is no conflict or contradiction between democracy and Islam. It is the duty of Muslims to take part in the political process.

“We don’t see democracy in quite the literal way (supremacy of the people) that it’s seen in the West, but more through the traditional concepts of musyawarah and mufakat (consultation and consensus).”

Dr Hassan started his professional life as a lawyer. He was born in Tangerang (best known for housing Jakarta’s international airport) and got his tertiary education in the US where he won a doctorate in international law.

He also went to Oxford University to study diplomacy, a skill he exercises with aplomb, forever wary of being misinterpreted. Like many diplomats he can use many words to say little, useful in a profession where calling a spade by its proper name may result in it digging your own grave.

“Well, you said that, I didn’t,” was his standard reply when invited to endorse contentious statements. When asked if Indonesia was the only true democracy among ASEAN’s ten members he replied: “I don’t say so.” On only one occasion during a one-on-one interview in Wellington, NZ, did he offer an unequivocal and immediate “No!”

This was to the suggestion that the issue of Papuan separatism was Indonesia’s ‘pebble in our shoe’ as the late Dr Ali Alatas, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister under Soeharto, once described East Timor.

Earlier this year Dr Hassan caused surprise by criticising Myanmar’s treatment of its Islamic Rohingya minority when refugees alleging persecution started arriving on the Sumatra coast. This broke the ASEAN tradition of not interfering in other nation’s internal affairs. So in the same spirit why not open Papua’s borders to foreign journalists?

“We’ve got nothing to hide but the people of Papua must be allowed to determine their own future without foreign visitors,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with demonstrations but the people need time to do things without disruption.

“Papua, like other provinces, now gets 70 per cent of royalties from its natural resources. If you want to go to Papua come and see me in Jakarta."

(First published in The Jakarta Post 19 August 2009)


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Catootjie Nalle


Having a job that’s just chicken feed © Duncan Graham 2009

Here’s some good news for Indonesia’s 263 million chickens: Your diet is likely to improve significantly in the next few years, though longevity will decrease.

And here’s some really foul news for all those Indonesians who like fowl meals: You’ll be paying more to satisfy your taste for chicken thighs.

These are the predictions of animal nutritionist Dr Catootjie Nalle who has spent the last four years determining the foods that will make chickens rapidly plump while staying healthy and happy in their increasingly short lives.

This is no paltry matter: It takes ten kilograms of feed for a scavenging kampong chicken to put on one kilogram of meat. By comparison an intensively raised broiler in New Zealand, where Dr Catootjie has been studying for her doctorate, the ratio is 1.5 to one.

It’s much the same with the hens. The kampong birds lay about 50 eggs a year, one third of the quantity produced by farmed birds, and there’s a chick mortality rate of 50 per cent.

“Of course other factors are involved, such as breed, environment and management,” she said.

“Indonesia is also way behind other Asian countries so the opportunities to make the Indonesian poultry industry more efficient and put extra money into farmers’ pockets are huge.

“When I get back to my job (she’s a lecturer at the Kupang State Polytechnic of Agriculture) I’ll be encouraging farmers to understand the basics of nutrition and start formulating their own feed.”

One way to do this is by getting chicken meat producers, usually smallholders with a limited number of birds, to form cooperatives. Using their combined funds and buying power they could install equipment to mix and pelletise high quality feed.

Dairy farmers in several regions have long had their own cooperatives to boost milk yields through better breeding and feeding, and the introduction of new technology.

The petite Dr Catootjie, 37, admitted that her task is going to be uphill because many farmers lacked the education to comprehend the issues and that some men might be culturally reluctant to take advice from a woman.

They shouldn’t because she will be one of the best qualified nutritionists in the Indonesian poultry feed business, the youngest Ph D and the first woman to gain the qualification at her polytechnic.

She’s also tough. “Why should I say I like chickens?” she asked. “I kill them to check the effectiveness of diets. I’m a cold-blooded butcher! I only studied non-ruminants (pigs and poultry) because I’m too small to handle cattle.”

The road to the top hasn’t been easy for this exuberant high achiever from an ordinary family, originally from the tiny island of Roti. She was brilliant at school, and then at university, joining the polytechnic’s teaching staff before she graduated in animal reproduction.

“Ever since I was a child before I went to school I prayed that I could work with animals and travel. I did that every day,” she said. Her father was a cattle trader and her mother a teacher.

“My grandfather kept pushing me to get higher qualifications and go overseas, but I didn’t know how that could be done. I just didn’t have the money, but I kept praying.”

In 1999 she won a scholarship to study in Australia at Queensland University where she gained her masters degree. She also got pregnant, but her marriage failed when her husband who had converted to Christianity returned to his Muslim roots.

As a single mother with a small son Dr Catootjie thought her career had hit the wire.

Then she won a NZ government scholarship to study for her PhD at Massey University, but first had to build her already impressive English skills to new academic heights before she was allowed to start. Her grant also included a living allowance so she was able to take her son William to NZ.

“I love this country, people here have been so welcoming, much more than in Australia – I feel I really belong,” she said in the laboratory where she’s been analysing, cooking, dissecting, extracting and extruding.

“The facilities are first class. For example I can use a freeze-drier that cost NZ $60 million (Rp 390 billion); we don’t have access to this sort of research equipment in Indonesia.”

Dr Catootjie’s hopes for a more efficient Indonesian poultry industry face some major hurdles. Soy bean processing by-products are the mainstay of chicken feed, but the quality of Indonesian beans is not good.

Soy beans are also needed for human foods, such as the high-protein soybean cake tempe and the soybean curd tofu, both staples in the Indonesian diet.

The price of imports is linked to the world oil price so Indonesian farmers often find high quality beyond their pockets. Some feeds are protein-inhibitors, meaning they have limited nutritional value even though the chickens find them palatable. So the search is on for new raw materials that can be produced locally.

The lean, low-fat kampong chickens that Indonesians prefer although they’re more expensive than broilers, often have to literally scratch for a living by picking through household waste for food.

Birds in the tropics tend to eat little and often, but moving Indonesian poultry farms to more temperate zones in the mountains isn’t practicable because of high transport costs to the lowland city markets on crowded and poorly maintained roads.

In many western countries chickens are sold deep frozen. Indonesians prefer their meat fresh and don’t always have fridges. “In any case power supplies are too erratic for households to keep frozen foods,” Dr Catootjie said.

“I’d like to see Kupang becoming a centre of excellence for the poultry industry with an artificial insemination facility to introduce new genes.

“Before I left for overseas I really didn’t have enough knowledge to teach properly, now I know that I have the skills and research abilities to really teach well.

“After more than four years away from Indonesia I’ll have to make adjustments because there are so few resources. So will my son (now aged nine) who only speaks limited Indonesian.

“I’m concerned that some of my ambitions will get frustrated by the bureaucracy, but we’ll see what happens. I’m an optimist. So far my dreams have come true.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 4 August 2009)