Jakarta. Prevention is better than suppression when it comes to forest fires. And forest fire is a problem that one cannot tackle alone.
This is why APRIL Group, a Riau-based pulp and paper producer, is engaging local communities and other stakeholders in its flagship fire prevention initiative, the Fire-Free Village Program (FFVP).
“Our experience has shown that prevention is more effective and less costly than [fire] suppression. And we should involve communities and other stakeholders,” Sihol Aritonang, the president director of APRIL Group’s subsidiary Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), told a virtual conference themed “Forest Fire Prevention is Really Needed”, supported by ITTO (International Tropical Timber Organization).
The FFVP actually runs in three phases over the course of four years. The first phase —dubbed as the Fire Aware Community (FAC) — focuses on raising the communities’ awareness on fire prevention.
Followed by the two-year Fire Free Village (FFV) phase which incentivizes villages to abandon fire use for land clearing. The introduction to sustainable agricultural alternatives is crucial, given that slash-and-burn agriculture is a common cause in forest fires. If a village manages to remain fire-free during the dry season, it can get an infrastructure grant of Rp 100 million (about $6,959). On FFV, APRIL will also appoint crew leaders to act as fire prevention advocates in the village.
FFV villages will eventually advance to the Fire Resilient Community (FRC) phase, during which they will have an ongoing engagement with APRIL on fire management.
Data shared during Sihol’s presentation showed a significant growth of the land signed under the FFVP memorandum of understanding (MoU). When pilot in 2014, the FFVP area only spanned about 147,219 hectares. It has now reached 803,684 hectares as of 2021, marking an over 400 percent increase in just seven years.
The FFVP resulted in a decrease in burnt areas. APRIL data shows that the burnt land spanned about 532 hectares (about 0.066 percent of the MoU areas) in 2021. In pre-FFVP 2013, burnt land stood at about 4,279 hectares (0.42 percent of the MoU area).
As of 2021, there are 141 FAC villages, whereas 39 others are at FFV stage. About 35 villages are at FRC stage, according to APRIL.
"So far the result has been positive and the villages that participated in this program mostly achieved a fire free record, which means that the villages were able to reduce fire significantly in their respective area," Dani Sumitran, Fire Prevention and Conservation Manager of RAPP, said at the same event.
However, it is not just APRIL alone who is embracing this initiative. Member companies of the Fire Free Alliance (FFA) —a multistakeholder group made up primarily of agriculture firms and civil society organizations— are also adopting the FFVP. This initiative has covered more than 200 villages across at least 1.5 million hectares of land in various parts of Indonesia.
“Prevention should be at the heart of forest fire management,” Sihol said, while adding that incentives and solution provisions are effective mechanisms to prevent forest fires.
“Community and stakeholder involvement are key to forest fire prevention. [...] Collaboration among land managers, businesses in one landscape would allow a much wider coverage with similar effectiveness,” Sihol told the conference.
According to Michael Allen Brandy, the principal scientist at Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor), the FFVP is an example of fire prevention based on prediction models.
“Wildfire threat assessment is where you predict ignition and how fires would be started. This typically would involve looking at populations, communities, spatial patterns on the landscapes, and economic activities. So trying to understand where ignition is most likely to occur,” Michael said.
“Our colleagues from APRIL have presented a very nice program on dealing with fire ignition around communities and how to provide incentives to reduce ignition,” he added.