Indonesian universities launch project against slash-and-burn farming

The training aims to educate locals that open burning is not the only way to clear land for their crops.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 20 Apr 16;

KOTA BARU, Indonesia: A US$200,000 project aimed at encouraging communities in Indonesia to stop burning their land has been launched by two local universities.

The university of Riau and South Kalimantan on Monday (Apr 18) signed an agreement to conduct training for local communities across 11 villages that aims to educate locals that open burning is not the only way to clear land for their crops.

No hotspots were detected during the programme’s 10-month pilot run at Indragili Hilir in Riau province last year.

"They (the villagers) are burning their land because it’s the easiest way to clear the land and this has been the tradition for generations," said Samsul Bahri, Head of Sejakah Village, Kota Baru, South Kalimantan.

“Moving forward, we forbid them to do this anymore. We told them about regulations, and the possibility of them being convicted. In the past there were no sanctions, so it wasn't a problem for them to burn (trees).”

The 6-month fire prevention programme, which will run from May until October this year, is part of an effort between both universities and palm oil company Minamas Plantation, which aims to implement a zero-burning policy.

The plantation is a subsidiary of Sime Darby with about 273,000 hectares of land in Indonesia.

“You can see there are no fires happening (now) whereas prior to this there were quite a number of fire outbreaks in that same vicinity," said Roslin Azmy Hassan, President Director of Minamas Plantation.

The project will see academics and students from both universities train the villagers, as well as provide expertise to help them better manage their land and sustain their economy. Some methods include teaching villagers how to use by-products to produce handicraft, in order to enable them to sustain their livelihood without doing any open burning.

However, six months might not be enough to change the behaviour and habits of the villagers, according to Dr Ahmad Kurnain, programme coordinator of Lampung Mangkurat University.

"This initiative is just the first step. Later on, we will design a programme to send final year undergraduates to be involved," he said. "Secondly, to change behavior we need to give alternatives to the villagers, and to show them that burning practices causes more harm than good."

Stakeholders believe community engagement is a long term strategy that will reap benefits, with plans to extend the fire-prevention programme to other plantations across Indonesia in the near future.

- CNA/yt

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