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A step closer towards national movement, Fire-Free Village Program to free Indonesia from fire and haze

Forest and peatland fires hit Sumatra and West Kalimantan in 2015, billed as the worst in Indonesian history, putting the country in the local and international spotlight. The extreme haze not only affected locals, with many children suffering from severe respiratory illness, but also caused an air pollution crisis affecting neighboring countries.

To prevent the deadly forest fires from reoccurring, Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution expressed hope that a crisis center would be established in the near future. The institution’s main target was to reach key players in forest fire mitigation, namely inhabitants of forest areas, he said.

The crisis center, therefore, Darmin said, would focus on 731 villages located in seven provinces prone to forest fires, with villages located adjacent to the concession areas of companies.

PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), a subsidiary of the April Group, has developed a fire-free village program (FFVP), a community engagement program for local communities in its concession area in Riau that began in 2014 as a part of its endeavors to prevent forest fires.

According to RAPP president director Tony Wenas, the FFVP program has gone through a trial period and has been proven to reduce fires significantly around the company’s concession area.

“We continue to develop the program and it’s currently in the third year with 20 participating villages,” he said.

“APRIL Group as the holding company of RAPP really appreciates the government’s move to establish a crisis center. We are also happy that our FFVP program is being recognized by the government,” he said.

According to Tony, the FFVP program has a number of advantages, such as participative planning that involves locals, an educational element that builds awareness of disasters among people, as well as empowerment initiatives that improve the economy of villages that protect their areas from forest fires.

“We need to focus on preventive measures to solve the problem of forest fires, especially their root causes, namely social issues. According to Geospatial Information Agency (BIG), around 90 percent of the forest fires are caused by locals. It is, therefore, essential that the crisis center has a village-level prevention program that can help solve economic and social problems in the communities,” Tony said.

Under a village-level prevention program, RAPP has also provided farmers in the Pelalawan village of Pelalawan, Pangkalan Kerinci with hand-held tractors to help them replace slash-and-burn practices when clearing land for farmland or rice fields.

According to Pelalawan village chief Edi Arifin, more than 120 families in the village are farmers who have yet to apply good and proper farming patterns, especially in preparing land.

He said that to help farmers replace traditional farming patterns, Pelalawan village was included in the free-fire village program initiated by RAPP in 2015.

To ensure the success of minimizing fires, the Pelalawan village administration has received a prize of Rp 50 million from RAPP.

This year, the village expects to get the main prize of Rp 100 million for being free of fires. “The prize, in the form of infrastructure, encourages people to leave behind old patterns of land clearing,” he said.

Apart from providing five hand-held tractors, RAPP will also provide heavy machinery to help five farming communities prepare land and open up to 20 hectares of new fields in the participating villages as part of the fire-free village program.

According to Tony, the program is planned for the next several years with new villages being selected to join each year.

Source: www.thejakartapost.com, 13 June 2016