In an effort to stop forest fires and haze from becoming an annual problem during the dry season in Indonesia, a Riau-based initiative called the Fire Free Village Program (FFVP) is being scaled up to include more villages collaborating to prevent land and forest fires.
Designed and launch in 2015 by APRIL Group, the program consists of a five-pronged approach to preventing fires: community incentives to not clear land with fire, identifying community fire crew leaders, education in sustainable agricultural alternatives, air quality monitoring and community awareness campaigns.
The program is executed in collaboration with the provincial government, law enforcement authorities, local communities and non-governmental organizations with incentives program rewards villages that are successful in maintaining fire-free areas by not using fire as agricultural tool. Villages that participate in the project and remain fire-free are rewarded with infrastructure grants.
With the long term objective of influencing behavior change in relation to the use of fire in agricultural practice, part of the Fire Free Village Program is to support communities with alternative, sustainable agriculture with mechanized land preparation, agricultural machinery and training.
'This private-initiated program help our cause to make Riau free of forest fire and haze,' said Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, Riau's interim governor at the program's launch in 2015.
Emphasizing on collaboration on fire prevention efforts in addition to the overall fire detection and suppression, the program reflects the view that fire prevention is the most effective long-term solution to the fire and haze issue.
'The program is about collaboration in forest fire prevention. Along with the government, civil society groups and the community, we will work together to address the root cause of land and forest fires,' said Tony Wenas, Managing Director of APRIL Group Indonesia Operations.
Partnering with APRIL to roll out the program in Riau are two local NGOs: Rumah Pohon and Blue Green. Building on a pilot fire-prevention program in 2014, nine villages from fire-prone areas were initially chosen to participate in this project have committed to a zero burn policy.
All nine villages are located in the periphery of the group's plantation in the town of Kerinci in Pelalawan regency, where it operates a mill.
In anticipation of this year's dry season, the Fire Free Village Program is now expanded to 20 villages from the original nine and supported by a new complementary community awareness initiative called Fire Aware Community (FAC), rolled out across another 55 villages, further contributing to efforts to prevent forest fires in Riau Province.
The new FAC component is designed as an entry-level phase to engage with communities and provide a background on fire management and fire prevention. It will provide seasonal support for fire suppression, as well as a broader communication strategy with specific community groups.
APRIL also pledged an additional US$1 million on top of the company's existing investment in fire suppression capability to support the program's expansion. This equates to an investment of approximately US$30,000 per Fire Free Village Programme participant and US$5,000 per Fire Aware Community village.
Root cause prevention
The extension acknowledges the success of the 2015 program, which effectively engaged with nine local communities to reduced burned areas by 90 percent from 2014 to 2015. Effective collaboration and coordination between community leaders, government, businesses and NGOs is key in the success of the program's execution.
In particular, the 2015 program contributed to a significant reduction in fires surrounding the Kampar Peninsula. This has been credited to a combination of factors ' early detection, active suppression and a focus on root-cause prevention through the FFVP.
Commenting on APRIL Group's fire-prevention program, Kuala Panduk village chief Tomjon said the initiative also offered economic and environmental benefits. "Farmers can develop land without using fire and get information about better ways of farming," Tomjon said.
Meanwhile, Dede Kunaifi from Rumah Pohon said that the project encouraged greater awareness of the dangers of fire and haze, as well as their adverse impacts on health and livelihoods. "By collaborating with like-minded stakeholders, we hope to see a win-win and lasting solution on the ground," Dede said. (+)