Indonesia: Govt to encourage non-slash-and-burn practices

Ina Parlina and Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 18 Mar 16;

As the battle against forest fires continues, the government is considering incentivizing non-slash-and-burn land-clearing practices to prevent future fires.

On Thursday, a number of officials from various government institutions — led by Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan — took part in a meeting to discuss preventive measures against future forest fires. The meeting comes as analysts predict that the number of hot spots will peak in May during the country’s upcoming dry season.

“We must control it by introducing a system that incentivizes non-slash-and-burn land-clearing activities,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said after the meeting.

She did not elaborate on what kind of incentives the government was considering, but suggested that they might send equipment to numerous villages so that people could clear land without practicing the slash-and-burn method, a major cause of the annual forest fires that put the lives of millions at risk as well as wreaking havoc on the environment.

Last October, Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki revealed a government plan to apply economic disincentives to move the country away from slash-and-burn practices. One such disincentive includes the banning of those involved in forest fires from obtaining bank loans.

Separately, an official at the Environment and Forestry Ministry said the government had shut down a discussion on its plan to issue a regulation that would reconsider the ban on the slash-and-burn method. The existing Environmental Law allows people to clear land by burning up to 2 hectares based on local practices.

This part of the law is believed to be abused by local farmers and big firms engaged in slash-and-burn practices.

“The law basically allows everyone to burn up to 2 hectares. There is a legal opportunity to burn much more than you actually need to develop your own garden, grow vegetables and so on. There can be a lot of burning under the guise of traditional land management,” said Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist working with the Borneo Futures initiative.

Contrary to popular belief, local people do not burn peatland for plantation purposes, claimed Hadi Daryanto, the ministry’s forestry director general. “I have called experts and they said indigenous people did not burn peatland in Kalimantan because they lived in highland areas,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the International Conference on Oil Palm and the Environment in Bali.

“The indigenous people in Sumatra do not burn peatland to grow palm oil trees because they prefer to plant rubber trees,” Hadi added.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has said that banning slash-and-burn methods without providing a practical alternative would be futile because there were deep economic reasons behind the practice.

“That’s why we have to be careful [in banning slash-and-burn practices]. We have to study everything first,” said Hadi.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia deputy director Irwan Gunawan agreed with the government’s decision, saying that it was important to study the complexity of local cultures first.

“There needs to be further investigation of the slash-and-burn practice in the field. We can’t generalize about all local people. Everyone wants to hide behind local people, whether to blame them or to support them. The problem is that we are talking about local people with very complex social structures,” he said.

According to Irwan, while there are local people who have been practicing slash-and-burn techniques for decades to grow crops, there are also those who are paid by big companies to burn land in order for the companies to save costs on clearing land.

Govt developing forest fire control system: Minister
Antara 17 Mar 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government is developing a system for handling land and forest fires quickly, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said.

Speaking to the press after attending a coordination meeting on land and forest fire control here on Thursday, she said the government can no longer rely on the existing system and that it must have a strong system to handle land and forest fires.

Compared with the previous years, land and forest fire fights which involved the National Natural Disaster Mitigation Board (BNPB), the Indonesian Military (TNI), the National Police (Polri), and regional governments had shown good results, with the number of hotspots declining significantly, she said.

"This indicates that operational management in the field ran properly. But we will find it difficult if we maintain the current system. Therefore, we have no other choice but to develop a new system," she said.

The monitoring of hotspots has so far been quite good because it directly involves the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) and the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

But the monitoring of hotspots is only limited to the indication of forest fires without any efforts to handle them optimally, Siti said.

The government is considering whether it should set up command posts to handle land and forest fires at the sub-district or district level. In addition, it is also considering providing incentives to villages to encourage land and forest fire control initiatives.(*)

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