Sustainable Livelihoods in Traditional Fishing Villages on Rote Island, Indonesian: Providing a FRESH Start for the next generation

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Davey, Peter

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Rickson, Roy

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Sustainable Livelihoods in small-scale fishing villages throughout Southeast Asia is the region’s greatest poverty alleviation problem. Small-scale fisheries are frequently characterised as an occupation of last choice, and fisher folk as the poorest of all. Landlessness, few productive assets and a limited skills set for these folk gives little choice other than a marine livelihood strategy, resulting in, at best, little more than a subsistence life style. Additionally, coastal and marine social-ecological systems are fragile and vulnerable to political, social and environmental shocks. Indonesia, with a population of over 250 million people, 81,000 kilometres of coast line and thousands of small-scale fishing communities, faces seemingly unsurmountable poverty alleviation challenges. This research centres on traditional fishers of Rote Island, Indonesia, who have endured challenges to their livelihoods due to changed maritime boundaries in the Timor and Arafura Seas during the late 20th Century, resulting in them being dispossessed of their traditional fishing grounds. They have also been confronted with environmental degradation due to the 2009 Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea, which is reported to have all but wiped out their seagrass farming micro-enterprises. While governments and NGOs have spent many millions of dollars on poverty alleviation projects in the East Nusa Tenggara Province of Indonesia, remote fishing villages have not always benefited from large infrastructure projects or generic community development programs. Real progress is slow; too slow for the current generation of traditional fishermen to have a sustainable income to provide a FRESH Start (Food, Residence, Education, Social status and Health services) for the next generation so that they can have more livelihood choices than their parents, and to prevent them suffering livelihood stagnation or slip-back. Providing a FRESH Start for the next generation, in essence, is a core generational priority for people in most societies. For the traditional fishers of Rote Island, it is no different; but “How can the current generation of fishers, on Rote Island, lift above a subsistence income to provide a FRESH Start for the next generation?” Three small fishing villages, Pepela, Tanjung Pasir and Landu Thie, on Rote Island, in the Province of East Nusa Tenggara, were chosen as case study sites to investigate this question. This research project used a true, mixed-methods, bottom-up data collection approach that was guided by the tenets of Sustainable Livelihoods, Social Impact Assessment and Needs Assessment. Initial quantitative demographic and socio-economic data was collected by way of government statistical data and added to with data collected during a random household survey within the three small fishing villages. The household surveys were completed on a “one on one” basis, and not a “drop off - pick up later” basis. Hence, the household surveys also facilitated just as many, dense and data-rich informal interviews. Focus discussion groups added to this rich local knowledge gained about the villagers’ history, culture and their livelihood priorities, strategies and challenges. Formal interviews with government officials, key informants and local stakeholders informed the research of lessons learned from past government projects and the rationale behind current initiatives. The author empowered the voices from the micro-level to enable them to guide the thesis discussion. Results showed that, although the three fishing villages are located in the same district municipality, only 100 kilometres apart, they are very different in demographics, internal political structure, available resources and hence current livelihood strategies. Notwithstanding these differences, a commonality exposed in the villages was multi-faceted intergroup tensions that can be explained through Intergroup Threat Theory. Modernisation is seen, through a normative / neoliberal lens by many governments and development agencies, as a necessary part of future development strategies to provide the current and future generations with rewarding and sustainable livelihoods. However, the fishers view modernisation with suspicion and fraught with threats, both realistic and symbolic. They view modernisation as either their saviour or their nemesis, depending on the scale and pace of introduction, and who has access to, and control of the modern technology, modern structure of institutions, and modern supply chains and agents for their produce. While the Central and District governments do seem to have the political will and financial commitment to alleviate poverty in traditional fishing villages on Rote Island, purposive realignment of macro-level initiatives with micro-level aspiration should help improve development project efficacy.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Environment and Sc

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Sustainable livelihoods

Small-scale fisheries

Poverty alleviation

Southeast Asia


Rote Island

Traditional fishing villages

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