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Tackling Haze from the Ground Up

Community-based Fire Prevention Program by PT Bhumireksa Nusasejati and University of Riau
Each year during the dry season, a major part of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia will be enveloped in haze – a phenomenon caused by massive open burning in some parts of Indonesia. One of the main causes of these fires is the slash and burn activities allegedly by farmers, smallholders, oil palm and paper companies. 

Unmonitored open burning activities during extreme droughts could spread due to sparks that are carried by the wind or peat fire that travels underground.  Eventually the fire will be too big to control, burning a large area of land. Smoke will be blown by the wind, causing other nations to be shrouded in haze.
PT Bhumireksa Nusasejati (PT BNS), a subsidiary of Minamas Plantation, has been operating in Indonesia for a long time, and witnesses the haze phenomenon every year. Every dry season, all estates under PT BNS are on high alert for hotspot occurrences. While PT BNStakes steps to prevent open burning on its land and equips all estates with the tools to fight any occurrences of fire within or nearby its estates, the company realises that educating the public on the dangers of open burning and teaching them alternative sustainable methods are key to ending this problem. 

Realising a need for a sustainable solution, PT BNS teamed up with University of Riau (UNRI)’s Institute for Research and Community Services, to engage villages neighbouring its estates in a Sustainable Community-based Fire Prevention Programme.  The programme aims to prevent fires within and outside the company’s concessions by educating local communities in prevention initiatives and sustainable farming practices to influence change at a local level. The initiatives and programmes are based on communities’ interest.

Mr. Samsuddin (Udin) from the Tani Mandiri farmers group, is a coconut farmer and chief of Desa Penjuru, a village neighbouring PT BNS’ Nusa Perkasa Estate. He owns about three hectares of coconut plantation. Before attending the Community-based Fire Prevention Programme, slash and burn were Mr Udin’s chosen method when opening new land for planting and burning coconut husks would be his way of eliminating waste. "That was what we practised before because it was the cheapest and fastest way." 
 
The Sustainable Community-based Fire Prevention Programme which was launched in March 2015 focused on helping communities in four villages around PT BNS to implement sustainable agricultural practices which featured zero burning practices as one of the programme’s main thrust. The four villages are Desa Makmur Jaya, Desa Teluk Bunian, Desa Penjuru and Desa Pelangiran. Under the programme, LPPM-UNRI would allocate researchers, scientists and students, who would engage with the community and identify socio-economic factors to formulate the most effective fire-prevention approach for each community.

During the field study, it was found that a majority of the villagers were involved in coconut farming. Demand was highest for round coconuts, without the husks. Therefore, harvested coconuts are de-husked and the husks were burned.

Noting that the problem was in the husk elimination method, UNRI engaged the village heads to formalise village rules against coconut husks burning.  However, not being able to burn the coconut husks could lead to accumulation of waste. To solve this, UNRI taught the villagers how to process the coconut husks into fertiliser. To further equip community members with knowledge on sustainable farming, UNRI also trained them on responsible agriculture and alternative economic activities.  Community members were also given fire-fighting training.  

Ten months into the programme, Mr Udin said community awareness had surprisingly increased and they were more receptive towards zero burning farming. He noted that the programme had been a great help to the community. 

"The community’s awareness on the impact and dangers of open burning has surprisingly increased. It is now possible to open land without burning. We are very positive that we can achieve zero burning this year,” said Mr Udin.

“This programme has definitely been a great help to the community and brings substantial benefits to us. We now know how to manage land without using fire. Furthermore, we no longer dare to burn because there are clear legal sanctions and penalties,” he added.

UNRI’s lecturer and researcher who is instrumental in implementing the programme, Mr. Besri Nasrul, is happy to note that the programme has successfully changed the community’s attitude towards open burning.
“The programme encourages the community to rebuild the structure of the village, to work together and change the villages’ rules to overcome problems in the areas vulnerable to fire. We hope that this excellent program could be adopted by other companies and the government,” he said. 

Following the encouraging results from this pilot, Minamas embarked on an expansion programme in Riau and South Kalimantan since April 2016. For this expansion programme, Minamas engaged another university – University of Lambung Mangkurat, Kalimantan to conduct the programme at seven villages surrounding three Minamas subsidiaries in South Kalimantan namely PT Bersama Sejahtera Sakti, PT Laguna Mandiri and PT Langgeng Muara Makmur. Meanwhile in Riau, UNRI is tasked with implementing the programme in four villages around two Minamas subsidiaries namely PT Aneka Inti Persada and PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation. 
As a leading palm oil plantation company with operations in Indonesia and Malaysia, Sime Darby Plantation recognises that it has a role to play in helping to minimise and mitigate the South East Asian haze issue. Sime Darby Plantation strictly practises a zero burning policy throughout its operations since 1985, a practice that was recognised by the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global 500 Roll of Honour for Environmental Achievement at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. This means that first and foremost, Sime Darby does not burn. We have also implemented several measures throughout our estates to effectively monitor and manage fire within and around our estate.
Read more about our fire monitoring and management measures here.
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