APRIL Group subsidiary PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) has been on track with its Fire-Free Village Programme (FFVP), a community engagement initiative conducted in its concession area in Riau Islands province.
The program was launched in mid-2015 as part of the company’s efforts to prevent forest fires, with nine villages selected to participate in the pilot project. Due to the program’s success, the number of participating villages has increased to 18 villages in the past year.
“Back in 2014, Pelalawan subdistrict was one of the worst hot spots in the province. Approximately 15 hectares of our forest land was set on fire. Our villages were blanketed by thick haze that reduced visibility to 50 meters,” said Pelalawan subdistrict head Edi Arifin.
The calamity disrupted nearly all of the community’s daily activities, he added, and led to the temporary closing of schools.
“Children were forced to stay home as the unfavorable conditions negatively impacted their health.”
Forest fires are a frequent occurrence in Pelalawan, and most are man-made. Fire has long been used as a traditional means of clearing land for agricultural purposes.
“It’s a very cheap method. Just use a match and fuel, and the remaining ashes serve as a source of good fertilizer. But this has had a disastrous impact on the environment and public health,” Edi explained.
The task of changing the mind-set and attitudes of local residents has proven to be difficult, but it eventually led to the establishment of measures aimed at transforming their habits. This included a government ban on slash-and-burn activities, as well as heavy sanctions on anyone caught setting land and forests ablaze.
“It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but thanks to RAPP’s Fire-Free Village Programme, our efforts to stop the burning of land and forests have shown signs of success. Most people in the community are now aware of the dangers caused by such burning activities. Some are still in favor of the method, but they can be fined up to Rp 20 million [US$1,500] if they are caught using it,” Edi said.
Edi Arifin, Head of Pelalawan subdistrict (JP/Arief Suhardiman)
The FFVP includes intensive educational workshops that highlight the dangers of slash-and-burn activities, as well as teach safety measures in case of fires. The program is conducted in collaboration with two local NGOs, Rumah Pohon and Blue Green, and supported by the local government, the police, the Indonesian Military and the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD).
“We regularly hold gatherings in food stalls, mosques and youth organizations to explain the Fire-Free Village Programme and the benefits of building a healthy community,” Edi said. “I’m glad that more and more residents of Pelalawan have abandoned slash-and-burn practices. You can see how clean Pelalawan’s streets and air are now.”
Another one of the program’s goals is to create a Masyarakat Peduli Api (Fire Awareness Community, FAC). In the case of Pelalawan district, Edi has formed an MPA that includes 10 people boasting firefighting skills.
RAPP Director Rudi Fajar explained that in order to make the program a success, all participating villages are required to appoint a crew leader who “is tasked with serving as a fire prevention advocate to help educate local residents.”
The crew leader works closely with the MPA and village leaders, he added.
The FFVP also provides “No Burn Village Rewards,” an incentive program that rewards communities successful in stopping burning activities.
“We started this incentive program in 2015. Any fire-free villages will receive a donation of infrastructure aid worth up to Rp 100 million [US$7,505],” Rudi said, citing Pelalawan as an example as the district received a water pump that costs Rp 50 million in 2014.
Adding to Rudi’s statement, Edi said: “We still found several instances of slash-and-burn activities last year, but in 2015 we had none and received Rp 100 million to build an office for village-level security and public order advisors [Babinkamtibmas].
“Unfortunately, that reward decreased to Rp 50 million [US$3,752] in 2016 and we used those funds to build a public toilet. We’re still in the third month of 2017, but so far we have had no forest or land fires. We’re optimistic that we can achieve our goal of being a fire-free village this year.”