Jakarta. In 2015, Sumatra and West Kalimantan were hit by the worst forest and peatland fires in history, which have blanketed much of Southeast Asia in toxic haze. The air-pollution crisis brought Indonesia into the local and international media spotlight.
To prevent forest fires and the damage they do to the environment, livelihood and health of many, APRIL, a major producer of fiber, pulp and paper, and the Indonesian government came up with the Fire Free Village Program (FFVP). It was introduced in Riau province on Sumatra's east coast in 2015.
The program aims to address the underlying causes of fires, such as slash-and-burn farming, by means of education and raising awareness of the devastating impacts they have on communities in Indonesia and neighboring countries.
This month, following the completion of the program's third year, a record number of FFVP participants will receive "No Burn Village Rewards" — special funding granted to villages dedicated to implementing fire-free cultivation. From the funding, the beneficiaries will be able to finance their community infrastructure projects and further improve their forest fire prevention and response programs.
Carbon Conservation, a multi-stakeholder group made up of forestry and agriculture companies, has been commissioned to assess and review the FFVP. The Singapore-based group was established in Australia in 2007. It specializes in conservation, sustainability and environmental finance.
According to Carbon Conservation's most recent report, 15 of the 18 villages participating in the FFVP in 2017 deserved the full reward. APRIL's strategic fire and protection manager, Craig Tribolet, said this demonstrates increased community acceptance of the importance of fire prevention, and willingness to be involved in the cause.
"The rewards are an important indicator that communities are experiencing the full value of the program. It shows that the education and capability building elements of the program that encourage communities to take ownership and become fire resilient are working," he said, adding that the government's support played a crucial role in the implementation of FFVP's fire-free policies.
"It's also important to acknowledge the support of the government, whose increased focus on fire prevention and law enforcement has helped generate behavior change at village level," he said.
In 2015, the project involved 27 villages, which were selected in a fire risk assessment process. In 2017, nine new villages were brought aboard, making the FFVP currently cover an area of 622,112 hectares. Each of the participating villages is located in Riau.
In other areas, where the fire risk is lower, APRIL is carrying out an education-based Fire Aware Communities program, which now engages 50 villages.