Jakarta. Asia Pacific Resources International, a producer of fiber, pulp and paper, announced that a record number of villages participating in its Fire-Free Village Program will receive full awards for not using fire as a tool.
This marks a significant milestone in APRIL's continuing journey towards a fire-resilient community near its operational area.
In 2015, Sumatra and West Kalimantan were hit by the worst forest and peatland fires in history, which prompted an air-pollution crisis that put Indonesia in the local and international media spotlight. In a bid to prevent forest fires and the damage they do to the environment, livelihoods and people's health, APRIL, in collaboration with the Indonesian government, came up with the Fire-Free Village Program, which was introduced in Riau Province on the east coast of Sumatra Island in the same year.
The program aims to address the underlying causes of fires, such as slash-and-burn land-clearing practices, through education and by raising awareness of the devastating impact they have on communities both in Indonesia and neighboring countries.
Following the completion of the third year of the program this month, 15 of the 18 participating villages will receive No-Burn Village Rewards, which entitle villages to special infrastructure funding that can be used to finance community projects.
Carbon Conservation, a Singapore-based group established in Australia in 2007, has been commissioned to assess and review the Fire-Free Village Program. The group specializes in conservation, sustainability and environmental finance.
Craig Tribolet, strategic fire and protection manager at April, said this demonstrates increased community acceptance of the importance of fire prevention and a willingness to be involved in this 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," Tribolet said.
He added that the government's support played a crucial role in the implementation of the policies that form part of the Fire-Free Village Program.
"It's also important to acknowledge the support of the government, whose increased focus on fire prevention and law enforcement has helped generate behavioral changes at village level," he said.
The Fire-Free Village Program has, since 2014, partnered with 27 villages, identified through a fire-risk assessment process. Nine more villages were added in 2017, bringing the total area covered by the project to 622,112 hectares in Riau Province.
In other areas where the fire risk is lower, APRIL implements its education-based Fire-Aware Communities Program, which currently engages 50 villages.
APRIL said its Fire-Free Village Program is continuing to evolve and its focus right now is on supporting communities that are already fire resilient, while elevating other participants to the same level.