Indonesia has been plagued by devastating annual forest and ground fires that have laid waste to millions of hectares and caused substantial material losses and health hazard, and a number of experts are saying that to bring a halt to this, it was paramount that communities around forests are strengthened an empowered.
“Why is it that our problems of forest and ground fires are never ending? Because we have never tried to settle its root problems,” Bambang Irawan, Dean of the Jambi University Forestry Faculty said.
Irawan said that as many have already said, experts, academics or officials, the majority of the forest and ground fires in Indonesia were the results of human actions, especially due to limited economic capacities, knowledge, awareness and concerns.
“As long as these aspects are not touched, then we will continue to have problems like this,” Irawan said during an online dialogue on forest fires in Jambi province on July 25, 2020.
According to him, the solution would be to push for the empowerment of communities and better law enforcement. “These two things are the keys and as long as we are not meeting these, we will continue to experience forest and ground fires.”
He said that the strategy to take to approach the problem should be multi-parties and consist of prevention through empowerment as well as firm law enforcement.
And in prevention, the most important points are that technical and financial assistance be provided to encourage clearing land without burning, and to boost the productive economic activities of communities living around forests while also strengthening their economic institutions.
Clearing land by fire, actually already long prohibited by the government, remain practiced by many, mostly because they provided the cheapest means to clear land and also was believed to increase the fertility of the land.
“I believe that if people are already empowered, already have money, are already prosperous and so on, already understand and are aware and so on, then the behavior of burning will diminish,” Irawan said,
Akhmad Bestari, the head of the Jambi Province Forestry Office, said that the government was indeed focused on preventing the forest and ground fires, including in Jambi, by revitalizing communities living around the forests through empowerment.
He defined the challenge as “how we can develop communities around forests areas so that their economy grows and thus they are hoped not to engage in burning activities again.”
Echoing Irawan, Bestari said that efforts to revitalize the communities and also efforts to prevent or control forest and ground fires, were all efforts that needed the involvement and participation of all sides.
“So far, it is true that people’s participation, in roles such as the MPA (Fire Concerned Communities) is already ongoing. What we are now trying to do is to further strengthen this, see how we can involve them more intensely, strengthen their participation in the prevention of forest and ground fires,” he said.
In Jambi, Bestari said, there were already some 190 community groupings in three districts that have the highest potentials of developing forest and ground fires. The revitalization is conducting through activities in fields such as animal husbandry, fish farming and in agriculture.
Bachyuni Deliansyah, the head of the Jambi Province Regional Agency for Disaster Mitigation (BPBD) said that in preventing the fires, the local government has formed various multi-stakeholder groupings based centered in areas with high fires potentials. He called these groupings as clusters.
“In these clusters, we gather companies into one cluster that would then be led by one entrepreneur or company that is part of the cluster, and it will also be joined by the BNPB) the National Disaster Mitigation Agency), the forestry office, the armed forces and the national police and people from the area,” he said.
The principle behind the formation of these clusters is to group and unite the resources of hat companies in the vicinity of villages that had been identified as having a high risk of developing forest and ground fires. Deliansyah said that in Jambi, there were already 254 such villages in 71 sub-districts identified.
He cited the example of Cluster B, one of the eight clusters established in the district of Muara Jambi. Cluster B gathers four companies operating in the villages of Danau Lamo, Jambi Tulo and Talang Duku — PT Wirakarya Sakti (WKS), PT Petaling Mandraguna, PT Brahma Bima sakti and PT Kurnia Sawit Yanto.
PT WKS, part if the Sinarmas Forestry group, was designated to lead the cluster. “WKS has the complete equipment necessary and it also has good human resources,” Deliansyah said on the reason for the appointment of PT WKS as leader of the cluster.
He said that it would be PT WKS which will have to train the local communities in conducting fire prevention efforts, from disseminating information and knowledge about that, train them on the use of equipment and prepare them in what communities should do if a fire broke out nearby.
“We are trying to design how these clusters could move rapidly, assisted by the communities and equipment available in their regions,” Deliansyah said. He said that all equipment – for fire detection, prevention, fighting and post-fire restoration – of all companies in a cluster would be gathered for common use.
“One day, later, in the future, communities around companies within a cluster, would understand how to conduct prevention,” he said, adding that “education and training like this we would make into a model.”
He also said that in early August, if conditions allowed it, army troops would be deployed to each of those clusters in the three districts that had already raised their status to “Ready for Emergency” in relation to the forest and ground fires –– Muara Jambi, West Tanjung Jabung and East Tanjung Jabung. Their deployment would last as long as the status was maintained there.
Basar Manulang, Director for Forest and Ground Fire Control at the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry Affairs, said that the challenge was in how to build “social community power” to control these forest and ground fires. For him, the answer was in a multi-stakeholder effort and in trying for the stakeholders to collaborate in integrating all programs concerned with community empowerment.
“For example, Sinarmas has Desa Makmur Peduli Api (DMPA) program, we have our Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA), I think that in the future, we have to synergize them with the BNPB,” he said.
The Desa Makmur Peduli Api (Fire-concerned Prosperous Village) program, is a community empowerment effort that is combined with the conservation of nature and the surrounding environment, taking local conditions in consideration.
Under the program, the company help communities to empower themselves through agroforestry, through the cultivation of horticultural and food crops, livestock, fish farming and food processing.
Masyarakat Peduli Api (Fire-Concerned Community) are groups of villagers formed by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Affairs as its partners at the grass root level in preventing and fighting forest and ground fires. These groups actively engage in integrated patrols conducted together with members of the armed forces, the police and the local fire-fighting teams known a Manggala Agni, as well as the local administration. MPA groups are also active in assisting fire-fighting efforts.
All MPA personnel are given training on the basics of forest and ground fire control, prevention efforts and also on how to fight the fires. They are also provided with training on how to clear land without burning and in the use of biomass waste.
The government remains concerned with how to synergize to create a permanent system to face forest and ground fires, how to change the mindset of the public,” Manullang said while also reminding that “We have to also know that people are the subject of development, including in controlling forest and ground fires.”
Asep Karsidi who heads the Geospatial Information Agency (BIG) said that there were various ways of cooperating with the private sector in efforts to prevent forest and ground fires. One of them, he said, was in the provision and installation of fire danger rating systems (FDRSs.)
He pointed to the FDRS program of Sinarmas, a major player in Jambi’s timber industrial estates, where the company builds up a forest and ground fires potential monitoring system in its concessions in Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra. Karsidi said that the company has so far installed 53 automatic weather stations (AWS) in its concessions. These AWS measures and collect data on various weather elements.
“These data are the ones used to build a fire danger system, or in our language, an early warning for forest fire potentials. That is very helpful for those forces on the ground,” to estimate where fires have to potential to develop, Karsidi said.