Towards a Fire Free Future – Carbon Conservation Reviews APRIL’s Fire Free Village Programme

review completed by Singapore-based Carbon Conservation. The advisory company that works in conservation, sustainability and environmental finance is currently coordinating the Fire Free Alliance.

Launched by APRIL in July 2015, the FFVP is a multi-faceted fire prevention initiative designed to address the root causes of fire at community level. The programme engages local communities and village leaders, providing education on the negative impact of fires as well as tangible support for communities seeking agricultural alternatives and includes five complementary project elements: No Burn Village Rewards, Village Crew Leaders, Sustainable Agricultural Assistance, Community Fire Awareness, and Air Quality Monitoring.

In 2016, the FFVP was expanded to 18 villages – up from nine in 2015 – covering 592,080 ha compared to 427,876 ha in 2015. Reviewing the year’s efforts, Carbon Conservation, said APRIL “continued to build on the strong public, media and government demand that we never again experience fires like those of 2015.”

Other highlights included:

– Villages reap rewards for vigilance: The 2016 FFVP was complemented by a precursor program called ‘Fire Aware Communities’ to prepare villages for participation in the FFVP, with expansion in 2017 to include a ‘Fire Resilient Community’ programme to help graduating FFVP villages continue the momentum and remain fire free long-term after two years of participation – an initiative Carbon Conservation described as a “truly a comprehensive journey to help grow village capability for fire free futures.”

The review confirmed the continued strong response to the No Burn Village Rewards programme element, which awards infrastructure grants to villages based on their success in remaining fire free, with nine of 18 villages receiving full rewards indicating no fires on their designated areas during 2016. This was a significant improvement on 2015 when only three of nine villages achieved fire-free status. Five of the 18 villages received no reward compared with three out of nine in 2015. Overall, performance improved with a much higher proportion of villages receiving full rewards and a lower proportion receiving no reward.

– Children learn lessons for the future: The year’s Community Awareness highlight was the schools program led by Riana Ekawati, Fire Aware Communities Program Coordinator, who Carbon Conservation described as “exceptional in her coverage of 50 schools and integral to the new Fire Aware Community (FAC) which extends to villages beyond FFVP.”

The schools project included a specially developed comic book created to explain the benefits of fire prevention. The review noted that “by connecting with the schools via the principal, APRIL was able to join classes and directly socialize FFVP with the students who in turn took their discussions, related materials and comic books home to discuss with their parents.” Carbon Conservation recommended that based on the support shown by the Riau Government, this program should be expanded across Riau next year and also rolled out in other provinces.

– Village Crew Leaders’ roles recognized: The Village Crew Leader project was expanded in 2016 in line with the increased number of FFVP villages, with village surveys revealing a high level of understanding of the crew leader role and importance of the project.

Crew leader joint patrols with local government, police and army officials were described in the review as having an effective element of ‘shock and awe’ in underscoring the importance of the crew leaders within communities and the seriousness – including repercussions – of burning. Looking ahead, the review has recommended the allocation of additional crew leaders for those villages with larger land areas or with a history of fires.

– Sustainable Agricultural Assistance faces challenges: FFVP’s Sustainable Agricultural Assistance project was cited as an element of the program requiring further focus. One issue that emerged was the enduring belief in some villages that burning land better prepares and fertilizes soil for planting.  This was evident in the villages of Segamai and Puala Muda – the latter responsible for 88 per cent of the total burnt area in 2016 – where the staple crop is corn. Carbon Conservation suggested that a non-fire corn pilot be performed with community engagement in Segamai or Pulau Muda to demonstrate how corn growth can be achieved without fire.

Generally,  the review recommended an increased focus on entrepreneurship education to make the villages less dependent on APRIL.

Roadmap to a fire free future

In his final notes on the 2016 FFVP, the report’s author, Dorjee Sun, notes that: “Few conservation programs have had the success rate that FFVP has had with such compelling rates of village based local community buy-in.”

“By transparently communicating, reviewing and collaborating with other agricultural companies while also standing shoulder-to-shoulder with villages during fire seasons, we believe APRIL has gone beyond the normal call of duty of a responsible corporation.”

“The challenge for 2017 will be in scaling APRIL’s team operating FFVP, continuing the momentum as El Nino fire memories fade and broadening the funding sources to create a long term multilateral platform to ensure FFVP has a clear path towards reaching that vital socialization and awareness tipping point in Riau, Sumatra and all of Indonesia – and creating a fire free future.”

The full report is available here.

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