RIAU, Indonesia: A programme to get farmers in Indonesia to stop clearing their land by burning is beginning to show results: Fires in fire-prone villages have been reduced by as much as 90 per cent compared to two years ago.
The Fire-Free Village Programme (FFVP) was started in July 2015 by the APRIL Group, Indonesia’s second biggest pulp and paper company. It aimed to encourage villagers surrounding its concession areas in Riau to stop burning their land.
Farmers in Riau’s Pelalawan district used to clear their land by burning. The method was not only easy and cheap, farmers also believed that it made their land more fertile.
While it took some effort to convince farmers that tilling the land using machines would produce a better harvest, the result proved it. The rice yield doubled compared to when the land was burned.
“The rice yield is very encouraging,” said Rahmat Kamarudin, a farmer in Pelalawan. “If we compare burning and the hand-tractor, we get more from using the hand-tractor.”
However, farmers like Mr Rahmat, who live from hand to mouth, find it difficult to afford a tractor. It is the main reason why they initially rejected any move to disallow them from burning their land.
“At that time, the community was dependent on the rice fields, so one of their arguments would be: 'What would we work the fields with?'" said Edi Arifin, head of the Pelalawan district in Riau.
Through the FFVP, famers were given tractors and were also taught alternative farming methods and fire awareness.
The programme involved nine fire-prone villages. Each village was given rewards of up to US$9,000 to improve infrastructure that would keep the village fire-free.
With fire incidence dropping by 90 per cent compared to 2013, the programme has been extended to 20 villages. This has spurred a number of other forestry and agriculture companies as well as NGOs to form a Fire Free Alliance and replicate the programme in areas where they operate in Indonesia.