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  • Can communities and lawmakers stop Indonesian peatfires?

Can communities and lawmakers stop Indonesian peatfires?

CIFOR's scientist Herry Purnomo with the community group and government representative of Bengkalis, Riau, at the sagoo planting site. This is one of the efforts to keep peatland from fires. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR
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CIFOR’s scientist Herry Purnomo with the community group and government representative of Bengkalis, Riau, at the sagoo planting site. This is one of the efforts to keep peatland from fires. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

By Rose Foley, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

On the outskirts of Dompas village in Riau province, a group of men is peeling back the black earth with rhythmic strokes. Armed with hoes, they move slowly in the afternoon sunshine, sliding scores of thick-set seedlings into the ground, one by one. These baby sago palms are being planted on Indonesian peatlands that are degraded, drying and highly vulnerable to fire.

However, the canal that once ran along the edge of this plantation and sapped the site of its water and vital nutrients, has now been transformed into a deep mirror. Blocked by villagers with a series of small concrete dams, it is now feeding resources back into the soil.

Experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have been working with the local community for several months, advising on measures to tackle peatland fires.

“Riau province has the most frequent fires in the whole of Indonesia,” says scientist Herry Purnomo, who runs the project for CIFOR. “These blazes are contributing to climate change and the smoke causes serious public health issues.”

Canal-blocking and crop planting serve important practical purposes. Dried or degraded peatlands are highly flammable due to their high carbon content. They are often set alight by companies and individuals to make way for more financially lucrative palm oil plantations. By encouraging communities to rewet the degraded land by blocking canals and replanting native vegetation that they can sell and eat, a viable economic and environmental alternative is introduced.

Aerial view of canal blocking in Dompas, Riau.
Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

DEEPER IMPACT

However, this particular project also serves a wider purpose. It plays a vital role in an investigation by CIFOR into the deeper economic, social and political reasons behind the fires in Riau.


New research shows that local elites often control and exploit peatland fires, siphoning off the majority of earned profits. This, combined with complex systems of patronage, lack of law enforcement, and few resources allocated centrally, mean that the Indonesian government’s attempts to address the problem of forest and land fires over the past 18 years have been severely hampered.

The study suggests a number of ways to help overcome this stalemate. One of them is to introduce local laws at both district and provincial levels to hold individuals and companies accountable. National laws are often poorly implemented and, up until now, other measures have been largely nonexistent.

“We should not rely on national initiatives only,” says Purnomo. “Legislation adopted at the local level is closer to the community and is much more likely to be enforced and have a positive impact on the ground.”

CIFOR’s consulations on canal-blocking and crop planting are designed to show communities the kind of fire prevention and peatland restoration work that a new law could help fund and enforce. They are also an excellent opportunity for researchers to seek local views on how to stop fires and what measures would be helpful to include in the local laws.

DEVELOPING LOCAL LAWS

The process of developing local laws in Riau first began in February 2016, focusing on two sets of legislation for the district level in Bengkalis and the provincial level in Riau. A large number of concerned parties were consulted – from parliament members to NGOs, academics, farmers, government and the private sector.

Each constituency has its own view on what the laws need to address. Local communities asked for provision for fire prevention tools like pumps and water cannons. Others asked for clear prohibitions on burning, for the law to be binding and for it to be tied to the existing national legislation. CIFOR’s research findings on issues like the economic incentives for peatland fires and restoration, de-facto mapping of land at local level and canal blocking and peat restoration costs, also fed into the process.

Overwhelmingly, all groups asked for a clear budget to be allocated for fire prevention and restoration work. Complaints ranged from the police saying they do not have the budget to investigate fires to local communities saying they do not have the resources to invest in fire-fighting kits or alternative ways of making a living.

“I asked local authorities why they are not giving money to fire prevention and they said there is no obligation by law,” says Purnomo. “No one is telling them that they have to allocate sufficient money for peat restoration, mapping, law enforcement.”

The draft laws, incorporating all of these elements, are now with parliamentarians. Purnomo hopes that they will be passed by the end of 2017. Jambi is currently the only province that has comparable legislation.


Back in Dompas, even local politicians, the police chief and the provincial parliamentarian have pitched in with the sago palm project. 800 seedlings have been planted in total.

However, as long as agricultural land remains more profitable than forest land, and the power structures ruled by local elites maintain an iron grip, huge challenges remain to stopping peatland fires.

“There is support from the community in Dompas, but this is just one site,” says Purnomo. “We hope the laws will lead to more actions on peat restoration and canal-blocking all over the province and that we will see the development of more local laws in other areas across Indonesia.”


For more information on this topic, please contact Herry Purnomo at [email protected].

This research was supported by DFID-KNOWFOR
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  • Four decades of forest degradation: Fire And oil palm expansion in Borneo

Four decades of forest degradation: Fire And oil palm expansion in Borneo

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  • Indonesia can stamp out forest and land fires--with serious action

Indonesia can stamp out forest and land fires–with serious action

Army officers and and firefighters try to extinguish fires in peatland areas, outside Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
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Army officers and and firefighters try to extinguish fires in peatland areas, outside Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
Army officers and and firefighters try to extinguish fires in peatland areas, outside Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

By Herry Purnomo, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Fifty years ago, Indonesia was rich with pristine forest. And then – three booms happened: Between 1980 and 2000 – a timber logging boom, illegal logging followed in the 10 years from 2000, and the palm oil boom came after that.

Pristine forest was severely logged and turned into degraded forest. What was left was slashed and burned, made ready for oil palm and wood plantations of different scales.

This landscape transformation brought benefits and costs to various actors. But fire and haze were also part of the landscape transformation.

Under President Joko Widodo, the Government of Indonesia has committed to reducing – or even zeroing – fire incidences in Indonesia. And although some improvements have been made, fire and haze continue. And this year, the country is facing El Niño, which will cause drier weather and increase the occurrence of fire and haze.

Solutions are needed, because current actions mostly deal with fighting fires and are not systematically harnessing the politics and economy of fires. Reviewing fire policy and laws (what works and does not work), mapping actors and their networks and economies, providing clear and transparent spatial maps, and engaging with key policy makers and practitioners are key for reducing fire and haze.

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Watch: The underlying causes of fire and haze

SPATIAL PLAN NEEDED

Unclear spatial planning is constraining the fire reduction effort. At a stakeholder consultative meeting in Pekanbaru on 25 March, the need for agreement and an enforceable spatial plan was underlined. This is not enough.

All stakeholders need to again sit down and discuss spatial mapping and try to reach agreement. Negotiating the interests of conservation, legality, business, local livelihoods, carbon emission reductions and so on is vital, but so too is the understanding that an “ideal” solution may not exist.

When discussing the history of a degraded area, negotiations should cover not only space but also duration. For example, an area that has been converted illegally from a conservation area to oil palm plantation could remain oil palm for a certain number of years to provide compensate for the investment by private sectors or local communities.

However, after that designated time period, it would be time to restore the area to forest.

Illegal land transactions can, and do, occur in concession and state lands, where the area is not really secured. This economic demand for lands that are degraded, burned and planted with oil palm largely drives the land transformation from pristine forest into the agricultural plantations that provide huge benefits to certain actors.

The government needs to create disincentives for illegally degraded, burned and oil-palm-planted lands by putting a legality standard over the land being sold.

Farmers have to tend to their land in the haze, here Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR P
Farmers have to tend to their land in the haze, here Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

STOPPING ILLEGAL ACTIVITY 

Detecting, anticipating and prosecuting organized crime involved in illegal land transactions causing fire and haze is the role of legal institutions. At the same time, police, lawyers and judges dealing with related forest and environmental laws must receive training.

President Joko Widodo’s administration has already established a task force to resolve conflicts in Indonesia’s forests.

The task force will be a joint collaboration between Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF), the Home Affairs Ministry, the Agrarian Ministry, and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). To ensure the success of this task force, the public must be made aware of the importance of reducing fire and haze, using mass and social media.

PREVENTING PEAT DEGRADATION

Peat degradation is the main source of Indonesia’s carbon emissions through fire. Preserving peat is not only about a valuable ecosystem, it is also about the people who live there.

To reduce fire on peatlands, we need to develop immediate livelihood and income sources for indigenous and local communities living on already-degraded land. These could include annual crops, horticulture, agroforestry and planted trees depending on peat depths, along with related small-scale industries along the value chains.

Haze from the forest fires blanket most parts of the landscape. The rainfall during the flight also contributed to the limited visibility. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
Haze from the forest fires blanket most parts of the landscape. The rainfall during the flight also contributed to the limited visibility. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

At the same time, those communities living on good peatland need assistance to develop their livelihood and income sources – with the help of such schemes as payments for ecosystem services and REDD+.

Strengthening and providing financial support to grassroots organisations such as Fire Concerned Communities (Masyarakat Peduli Api) will ensure their effectiveness in supporting fire detection and early warning systems.

Local initiatives at the microlevel should restore peatland by blocking canals, wetting the peat and planting  Jelutong, rubber and pineapple plants.

Scaling up into landscape levels or hydrological units will need deeper thinking and multi-stakeholder approaches as water is a scarce resource and can be a source of conflict in the dry season.

Planning and executing water-level management at the landscape level through – among other actions –canal blocking would ensure fairness for both small-scale and large actors.

Community and livelihood development are necessary to sustain peat restoration. Sharing the good practices of local initiatives and the private sector in peat ecosystem restoration and encouraging the adoption of those practices will help create uniformity.

Finally, reducing fire and haze is not only a “TO DO” list to follow as outlined above; it’s also about HOW to do things and WHO should be doing them.

HOW AND WHO

We can use a ‘landscape approach’ to reconcile agriculture, conservation, and other competing land uses to answer the question of HOW.

In this approach, the government, smallholders and other key stakeholders will be called to consider their multiple goals in the landscape, understand the drivers, set priorities,take action and monitor progress.

Understanding WHO really are “the stakeholders of fire” is a key to the success of the landscape approach. This approach will be guided by the ten principles of a landscape approach, which emphasize adaptive management, stakeholder involvement, and multiple objectives.

Collective actions among ASEAN country members – to reduce fire and haze through continuous dialogue, pooling funding and concrete actions on the ground – are needed to realize the vision of a haze-free ASEAN by 2020.

Finally, thinking globally, linking to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is required to get better support from national and international communities.

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