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FOREST AND LAND

Fire Prevention The Responsibility of All

"I still remember how hard it was when a fire hit in 2015. We tried to extinguish the fire in the peatland. The fire that hit oil palm trees could not be put out with 5,000 liters of water. Ultimately, we submitted and prayed to God for rain."

A firefighting team of PT Agrolestari Mandiri (a business unit of Sinar Mas Group) lines up at the plantation post in Nanga Tayap district, Ketapang regency, West Kalimantan, Wednesday (18/1/2017). The company has formed the firefighting team with the community to prevent forest and land fires, after a massive fire razed a large portion of the company's plantations in 2015.
KOMPAS/AMANDA PUTRIA firefighting team of PT Agrolestari Mandiri (a business unit of Sinar Mas Group) lines up at the plantation post in Nanga Tayap district, Ketapang regency, West Kalimantan, Wednesday (18/1/2017). The company has formed the firefighting team with the community to prevent forest and land fires, after a massive fire razed a large portion of the company's plantations in 2015.

The bitter memory was told by Sukatno (37), a resident of Lembah Hijau 2 village, Nanga Tayap district, Ketapang regency, West Kalimantan, on Wednesday (18/1/2017). Sukatno is now a commander of the Fire Alert Community (MSA) in the village.

In Nanga Tayap district, PT SMART, a subsidiary of Golden Agri Resources (GAR), setup Fire Alert Village (DSA) in March 2016. Based on plans, DSA is to be implemented with a community empowerment program that will be setup in seven other villages bordering the plantation area.

The Fire Alert Community is expected to be able to provide first aid when forest and land fires occur. "We already have a water pump, hose, boots, jacket and helmet in the village. If a fire occurs near our village, we are the first to deal with it. If we cannot handle it, we will contact the plantation operator. If they cannot, we seek other help," Sukatno said.

Members of the Fire Alert team that wear uniforms - red long-sleeve shirts - are paid Rp 750,000 per month. The money, Sukatno said, is mostly spent on operational affairs. He said to conduct patrols around the village bordering with the plantation it needs at least 2 liters of gasoline per day. In the dry season, when fire potential is high, the patrols are carried out every day.

Residents around the plantation grouped in teams are mostly employees with PT Agrolestari Mandiri, a business unit of GAR. One employee, Yatimin (60), who is chairman of Sinar Harapan Farmers Group, said aside from receiving a salary from the plantation, he gets additional earnings from his land, which is a sub-plantation. From his 2 hectares, 1 hectare is planted with oil palm and the rest is for rice and vegetable farming.

"Actually, we never burn the land. But, here, there is a local wisdom to open the land by burning, one after the other and the land is not vast. Today, we need a permit from the village through the regency administration before burning the land," he said.

Starting point

PT SMART Fire Prevention and Response head A Achmad Supriyanto said the big fire in 2015 served as the starting point for this program. DSA is setup as a familiarization program for people not to burn forests to clear land.

According to Supriyanto, the Fire Alert team comprises mostly of employees of PT Agrolestari Mandiri (Sinar Mas Group) with 15 members in each post. There are four posts in the plantation of around 12,000 hectares. Combined with MSA, the Fire Alert team consists of 30 people per group.

Supriyanto added that the Fire Alert team was set up as part of an effort to prevent fires. "Previously there is an early detection mechanism. We have an indicative map of fire potential. But, it did not meet the standard. Now, we try to meet the standard, either from the facility or technical abilities of the workers," he said.

Supriyanto said when a fire hit in 2015, more than 50 percent of PT Agrolestari Mandiri's forest concession was burned. The fact that the fire was in the peatland area made it difficult to contain.

The fire ravaged 2,616 hectares of peatland that had not been planted with oil palm and was declared a conservation area following the issuance of Presidential Instruction No.10/2011 on the delay of new permit issuance and improvement of primary forest and peatland management.

From one of the fire towers that were built to monitor fires, you can see the damage from the forest fire in the conservation area. The land was planted with big trees with no leaves. Only about 4 meters from the conservation area, separated with tracks, there are lanes of young-aged oil palm trees. The plantation, Supriyanto said, was burned down.

The other effort to prevent fires involves making embung or pools of water. There are 15 embung measuring 20 by 20 square meters or 20 by 30 sq m.

Sustainability GAR managing director Agus Purnomo said in 2016 the number of hot spots decreased. From the total 480,000 hectares, the hot spots were 0.5 percent. "In 2016, it was not even 0.005 percent. Yes, the La Nina weather phenomenon brought down the number of land fires," he said.

From the 480,000 hectares, 75,000 hectares will be conserved because they are peatland. "We coordinated with the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) for the conservation effort," Agus said.

West Kalimantan Governor Cornelis reminded the companies to conduct land fire prevention seriously. "Install water pipes, canals and embung so that it will not be hard to get water when a fire occurs," he said.

Cornelis does not dismiss the fact that there companies that intentionally burn land. "Well, there is indication that they burn the land and the people are given money. But, it is hard to prove," he said.

Separately, Swandiri Institut director Hermawansyah said he worked with the local community to increase participation in forest fire prevention. But from the responsibility side, the companies are the most responsible actor if the land fire is in their concession. Each company must have standards and autonomous forest and land fire management.

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