Fires are a major threat to sustainably managed plantations, annihilating assets that took years to grow and nurture. Recognising the danger and damage that fires cause, and keenly aware that a ground-up, partnership approach is needed in order for any solution to be effective, APRIL established the Fire-Free Village Programme in 2015.
The Fire Free Village Programme, or FFVP started with nine villages with support from local NGOs and local government, police, military and Riau’s Disaster Mitigation Agency with the following key features:
No Burn Village Rewards – Incentivising villages not to burn
Village Crew Leader – A programme to recruit individuals from local communities as fire prevention advocates and fire suppression specialists at the village level
Agricultural Assistance – Provision of a range of sustainable agricultural alternatives and mechanical land clearing tools for land management activities
Community Fire Awareness – A range of community tools to raise awareness of the dangers of land clearing by fire and its impact on community health
Air Quality Monitoring – Installation in 2016 of three <PM10 detectors with a further four purchased for deployment in 2017 augmented by the sharing of air quality and health information
Into its second year, environmental NGO Carbon Conservation was commissioned by APRIL to conduct an independent review of the FFVP. In its review of 2016 published in Mar 2017, Carbon Conservation found some successes and key learning, including:
Double the Villages and Significant Expansion of Fire Free Area
In 2016, the fire free area saw a doubling in the number of villages covered, from 9 to 18, and a 38% increase in FFVP land coverage compared to 2015. This continued the significant year-on-year increase in areas covered by FFVP Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs)–from 352,146ha in 2014, to 427,876ha in 2015, to the 592,080ha covered in 2016.
Larger Burnt Area as a Result of Expansion
While there was a notable increase in the total burnt area covered by FFVP MOUs in 2016, much of this occurred in only one community (Pulau Muda). The total burnt area in 2016 was 390.6ha, a 629% increase over 2015’s 53.6ha. However 88.3% or 344.9ha of this burnt area occurred in Pulau Muda which is quite remote and where, once a fire has started, it is difficult to contain. On a positive note, however, this means that other fires only contributed 11.7% or 45.67ha of burnt area, across 18 villages.
With the exception of the statistical impact of the outlier Pulau Muda’s burnt area in 2016, FFVP has, since 2013, played a major role in reducing burnt areas. In 2013, 1,039ha was burnt representing 0.3% of all areas under MOU; in 2014 the figure was 618ha or 0.14% of areas under MOU; in 2015, it was 53.6ha or 0.01%. In 2016, the total burnt area rose to 390.6ha or 0.07% of areas under MOU. However, if the anomaly of Pulau Muda is excluded, then FFVP in 2016 would have seen burnt areas in only 45.67ha across 18 villages and a total MOU area of 592,080ha, representing less than 0.0077%.
More Full Rewards, Fewer Zero Rewards
Of the program’s 18 villages, nine villages received full rewards indicating no fires on their MOU areas during 2016. This was a significant improvement on 2015 when only three of nine villages were fire-free. On the other hand, only four of 18 villages (representing 22%) received half rewards, which was down from the three out of nine villages (33%) in 2015. In 2016, five of the 18 villages (27.7%) failed to earn any reward, although, comparatively, this was an improvement on 2015 when three out of nine (33%) received no reward. Overall, therefore, performance improved with a much higher proportion of villages receiving full rewards and a lower proportion receiving no reward.
Improving Over Time
Experience paid off in 2016 for second-year FFVP villages with five of them earning full rewards compared to only three in 2015. Only two second-year villages failed to get any reward, down from three in 2015. Two villages got half rewards down from three the prior year. Among the new villages, four received full rewards in their first FFVP year, two earned half-rewards and three earned no reward. For first year participants, Pulau Muda this was a good overall result. Unfortunately, Pulau Muda continued to be the perennial poor performer and has yet to win a fire free reward since its engagement in the program with 20ha burnt area in 2015, 11.54ha in 2015-2016, and 344.9ha of burnt area in 2016.
Concluding its report, Carbon Conservation noted: “The progress of FFVP has continued to be impressive and has, in many respects, exceeded the expectations of this review. Given the challenges on the ground of land conflicts and ownership uncertainty, poverty and corruption, it was originally feared that only with the assurance of sufficient alternative livelihoods could FFVP be successful. However, it seems that socialization, awareness and doing the right thing have been effective in keeping communities fire free. It is truly impressive to see how FFVP and its related programs have continued to gain awareness and earn mindshare within local communities and have effectively tapped the 2015 momentum provided by Government, police and media; this even in spite of challenges to progress with Agricultural Assistance FFVP initiatives.”