Indonesia: Communities in Riau, Indonesia now more aware of impact of open burning

HANI SHAMIRA SHAHRUDIN New Straits Times 20 Jul 16;

RIAU, INDONESIA: A major part of the communities here are now aware of the downside of open burning and its impact, which affects not only Indonesia but also neighbouring countries.

This was made possible with an awareness programme dubbed 'Desa Makmur Peduli Api' (DMPA) launched by one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).

APP, with the help of its sister company, Sinarmas Forestry, had focused on educating the villagers near Pekan Baru, Riau, on the correct ways to farm and ways to manage and restore peatland instead of burning it.

Sinarmas Forestry head of social and security team Jeffri Nurhalim said the villages near Pekan Baru and Riau had been chosen due to its air quality recorded during the recent El-Nino season.

The programme prioritised villages with higher reports of illegal loggings and open burning before moving to less critical areas.

The air quality recorded was the worst in the Asean region due to uncontrollable open burning which led to prolonged haze, affecting neighbouring countries especially Malaysia and Singapore.

The programme aims to benefit 500 villages near the forestry in the next five years. The programme is deemed crucial towards conserving national forests and to prevent fire in the future.

"There are 799 villages near our concession; DMPA aims to benefit 500 villages in the next five years.

"Six main activities in DMPA include identifying the community's strength to plant, introduction to eco-friendly farming technology, including the public in preserving forests as well as preventing conflicts among small business and community," he said.

This year, the programme aims to launch 80 DMPA near Riau, Jambi, Kalbar, Kaltim and Sumsel.

The number is expected to increase to 120 villages by the end of 2017.

Other than educating the farmers not to commit open burning at the plantations or nearby forests especially during the drought season, DMPA helped to increase their income and number of crops.

Jeffri said the clearing of new land to allow farming activities helped in reducing the impact of open burning especially in forest areas.

"Indirectly, when the farmers plant their crops such as vegetables and paddy, it will minimise open burning as the areas are looked after and monitored," he said after visiting the area.

A farmer, Rosmiati Mohammad Sahrik, 44 when met said she was grateful to be taught on the proper way to plant and on the impact of open burning globally.

"Previously, we burnt the land to clear it but now that we know the proper way, the trees are chopped and placed at a corner to allow it to decompose.

"With the fertilisers and seeds given by Sinarmas, the paddy planted is also different from the previous batch. It is better and it looks like it will produce more paddy," she said when met in Sungai Mandaub.

She said the previous haze had affected her health, and hoped that open burning will not be practised again, now that they have been taught the proper ways.

Under the programme, selected villagers were given a hectare of land, seeds and fertilisers to work with.

The villagers were also given a two-day training session at the Sinarmas Forestry Training and Development Centre.

To date, there are up to 400 acres of palm oil, 200 acres of paddy field compared to 20 acres of land opened in 2007.

Pekan Baru, Riau declared an emergency last year when the province recorded up to 1,000 API readings due to the forest fires.

The haze had impacted Malaysia and Singapore, blanketing several states in Malaysia including Johor, Malacca and Negri Sembilan.

Battling Riau forest fires: APP allocates US$20m to prevent, track and tackle fires
HANI SHAMIRA SHAHRUDIN New Straits Times 22 Jul 16;

RIAU, INDONESIA: Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) had allocated US$20 million (RM80 million) to procure and equip its fire management department with the latest technology and equipment to prevent and combat fire in Riau.

The proactive measure was taken by APP, which is a subsidiary of diversified conglomerate Sinar Mas, following the recent El-Nino phenomenon and open burning, that leads to haze blanketing the province and its neighbouring countries including Malaysia and Singapore, as well as affecting the company's operation.

The funding was not only used to procure the latest equipment to track, prevent and combat fire but also used to improve the river system in the province.

Sinar Mas Fire Management corporate chief Steven Sujoto said the improvement was made to ease the process of fire fighting. The river is also used as the main means to transport wood to the factories.

"Coordination centres have also been set up at the villages (within the concession) in an effort to fight forest fires and open burning. Teams are put on standby around the clock to avoid unfortunate events.

"The centres would be equipped with equipment ranging from tankers to helicopters used in water bombing, depending on the needs of the respective areas," he said, adding that the equipment was handed over to more than 500 villages near the concession, which covers about two million hectares, in Indonesia.

The team on duty would conduct patrols three times a day and monitor hotspots in the areas through its current satellite towers.

The company also worked with local firemen and sources expertise from foreign sources such as in Canada to combat forest fires and open burning.

Sinar Mas Head of Fire Management Sujika Lusaka said besides monitoring ground activities, personnel in the situation room in Riau also monitor hotspots round the clock via a website.

"Even if the location has a slight chance of catching fire, personnel will be deployed to the area to prevent it from happening.

"Beside putting out fire at areas in the concession, the teams also will assist local firemen in battling fires up to five kilometres out of the concession because it might endanger our location," he said.

Sujika said the equipment owned by the department exceeded government requirements by 180 per cent.

He said the department is in the midst of testing out thermal cameras and geothermal towers to replace the existing satellite system.

"We detected several weaknesses in the satellite system including giving out false alarms, causing the team to expend a lot of energy on the field when there is actually no fire.

"This is because the satellite system detects anything more than 40 degrees Celsius as a hotspot and we would then have to verify everything," he said, adding that the thermal system is expected to be more effective.

Last year, Pekanbaru declared a state of emergency when the province recorded air quality index readings of 1,000 due to the forest fires.

The haze had impacted its neghbouring countries including Malaysia and Singapore.

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