Forests, Fire and People – a Perspective from the Field

Fire Free Village Program, we took a different approach. We met with village communities and discussed the issue of fire and the role of fire management, particularly fire prevention. All of the communities we spoke to agreed that fire is a significant problem. They also pointed out that without a sustainable alternative, fire would continue to be used as the primary method of clearing shrubs and trees.

As part of the program framework APRIL developed five separate projects under the initial Fire Free Village Pilot that could be tailored to suit the requirements of each village. These were:

  1. No Burn Incentive
  2. Village Crew Leaders
  3. Agricultural Assistance
  4. Community Awareness
  5. Air Quality Monitoring

In isolation each of these projects have had limited traction – but together they address the specific root causes of fire and haze in each community and provide genuine sustainable alternatives to using fire as an agricultural tool.

All these projects have been operational for between 6 – 8 months and the results are very encouraging. In previous years these communities would generally start to burn areas during the dry season after resulting in dozens of small fires. With no management some of these fires would quickly spread. Conservatively we estimated that these communities experienced between 3 – 7 fires every week during the July – September fire season in past year. This means that during the 14 weeks of the fire season there were between 42 – 98 fires in village areas. This year, for the first time, fires have been monitored and actively suppressed. As a result the number of unmanaged fires in the Fire Free Village areas is between 0 – 3 for this entire season.

APRIL team discussing the Fire Free Village Program with the communities.

APRIL team discussing the Fire Free Village Program with the communities.

Contributing to that success has been the level of communication between the recently appointed community Crew Leaders and our Fire Prevention Manager. Several times a week our Fire Prevention Manager discusses local fire management challenges affecting each village and assists with resourcing solutions and developing capability locally.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the first year of our Fire Free Village pilot program – not the least of which is ensuring that we are listening to and understanding the specific local challenges of the communities we are working with.

There is still much to do – but we are convinced that implementing our No Burn policy through our Fire Free Village program to community partners outside our concession is the key to preventing fires in the Riau landscape.

Craig Tribolet 

Strategic Fire and Protection Manager – APRIL 

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