APRIL’s Fire-Free Village Programme: Fostering a Fire-Resilient Community
Established in 2014, APRIL’s Fire Free Village Programme (FFVP) stands as a cornerstone of APRIL’s Strategic Fire Management approach. This comprehensive initiative cultivates strong partnerships with local communities, actively engaging them in fire prevention and awareness initiatives. These efforts promote a deep understanding of the environmental and social consequences of fire, empowering communities to become active participants in fire prevention efforts.
The programme’s five-pronged approach encompasses incentivizing communities to avoid burning land, training community fire crew leaders, promoting sustainable agricultural alternatives, monitoring air quality, and conducting a community awareness campaign.
As of June 2023, 42 villages in five districts in Riau Provice are participating in the program, covering a total area of more than 900,000 ha.
A Catalyst for Change
While the programme was established in 2014, it was the 2015 fire and haze crisis that ignited the call for action and lasting change. The memory of this disaster serves as a stark reminder of the devastating consequences that occur when fires are allowed to spread unchecked.
As Indonesia faced similar dry conditions due to El Niño weather patterns this year, community leaders and those at the forefront of fire prevention emphasized that the hardships of 2015 helped to reinforce the message that using fire for land clearing can have catastrophic consequences.
“We’re ready,” said Suherpan, who as a crew leader under APRIL’s FFVP, has been working with communities to discourage residents from using fire for land clearing and waste disposal.
The Frontline Warriors
At the heart of APRIL’s FFVP lies the unwavering dedication of crew leaders like Suherpan, who has been safeguarding the forests of Teluk Meranti since 2019. These individuals form the backbone of the FFVP, tirelessly advocating for fire prevention and actively engaging with communities to build knowledge and capability. They stand on the frontline for fire suppression during the fire period.
Crew leaders are hand-picked by the village leadership and undergo extensive training by APRIL on forest and land protection, fire monitoring, and fire suppression skills. They are also equipped with knowledge on sustainable agriculture practices to help communities shift their livelihood practice from harvesting commodities such as palm oil and rubber to vegetables, chili and other food crops, aimed at developing community self-sufficiency.
As experienced crew leaders progress in their roles, they may transition into forest protection rangers, taking on even greater responsibilities. Rangers are tasked with detecting illegal logging and wildlife trade, ensuring the comprehensive protection of our forest.
“We are banding together with the police and other agencies to prevent forest and land fires here in Riau,” Mr. Suherpan says, as APRIL announced the declaration of its annual Fire Danger Period in June 2023. During each fire period, a coordination meeting is held at the provincial, regency, and village levels bringing together government leaders, representatives from the private sector, police, armed forces, disaster management agency, frontliners, and fire brigades. This collaborative approach ensures that all stakeholders are aligned in their efforts to prevent and combat forest fires.
Leaders of the Community
Elsewhere, Mr. Musa, Pelalawan village head, shares insights into the transformation brought about by the FFVP. The village spans 21,000 hectares, and its primary livelihood activities involve the cultivation of palm oil plantations and fishing. These livelihoods have historically been prone to fires due to the traditional slash-and-burn method for clearing and preparing land for planting palm and fish smoking.
Mr. Musa recalled the harrowing memories of children unable to play outside coupled with economic losses due to damaged crops in 2015. ”People were restricted from many outdoor activities. You couldn’t see very far, and breathing was difficult,” says Mr. Musa. “The damage to crops and the long wait for new ones to mature was devastating, to the point that these experiences have made people extremely cautious about starting fires, especially for land clearing,” he adds.
The commitment to FFVP was not a difficult sell to the people of Pelalawan. As a bonus, FFVP offered a reward that benefited every member of the community. The village has been successful in keeping zero fire, and they received prize money to build the infrastructure such as an administrative office and a public toilet. Today, village leaders say open and widespread use of fire in their areas is almost unthinkable. “There is a prevention mindset now, especially among the younger generation,” said Mr. Musa.
In Teluk Meranti, Mr. Tengku Said Yusmar, the village head, shares a similar sentiment. Teluk Meranti is a 16,000-hectare, riverside village surrounded by forests and is home to the famous Bono wave, a surfing attraction that draws tourists from far and wide. He said that with main livelihood on fishing and tourism, widespread use of fire to clear land was uncommon. It is close in proximity to APRIL’s Meranti estate by 3 kilometers, making it highly important to educate the community about fire prevention.
Nevertheless, the village suffered from the widespread fires in 2015. “The fire that year was frustrating,” Mr. Said recalls. “It needed three water helicopters, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), and the local fire brigades (MPA) as well as APRIL’s own firefighting equipment, waterbombs, helicopters, and firefighters.”
The massive fire outbreak was a stark reminder of the risks they faced, which included fires resulting from cigarette butts, cooking smoke, and new settlers’ campfires. The introduction of the FFVP prompted an increased focus on fire prevention and awareness, he says. It has empowered the community to cultivate degraded land to prevent drought fires and engage newcomers in fire prevention efforts. Mr. Said recalls a massive effort to raise awareness, including in social gatherings and announcements at Friday prayer. Teluk Meranti has successfully maintained its zero-fire status and received an FFVP infrastructure reward, which was deployed to build an access road.
Mr. Said is confident in the new generation’s ability to maintain a focus on zero-burning. During the Bono River Festival, usually held in November, restaurants and hotels in the area can make in a day what they would typically earn in two months, drawing in tourists and media coverage. The surge in events and activities further solidifies the community’s commitment to keeping the regency green and clean.
FFVP’s Lasting Impact
Fire incidents within the areas covered by the FFVP have been reduced by up to 90% since the program began.The programme has made a lasting impact, changing mindsets and behaviors and supporting a culture of fire prevention that continues to hold firm against the continued threat of fire. For more information on the best practices in forest fire prevention and mitigation from the FFA’s member companies, visit https://www.firefreealliance.org/case-study/