Indonesia: Small farmers not to blame for peat fires -- Walhi

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 18 Jan 17;

After decades of being blamed for the annual peat fires, a team of researchers have found out that small farmers are not responsible for the environmental threat as they have experience in sustainable peatland management.

The team compiled their findings in a book on local wisdom of peatland management, which was launched by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) on Wednesday.

“Until now, the negative stigma attached to indigenous communities and local people was that they were the ones who destroyed our forests. But they are actually the ones who have the knowledge and experience in sustainable peatland management,” Walhi spokesperson Khalisah Wahid said during the launch.

The team of researchers scourged through five provinces — South Sumatra, Jambi, Riau, West Kalimantan and East Kalimantan — to find out how small farmers managed peatlands without causing fires.

Dwi Nanto from Walhi’s Jambi chapter, for instance, noted how small farmers in three villages in Jambi gathered together to learn how to clear lands without causing massive fires prior to peatland cultivation.

“First, they assessed the condition of the peatland. Then they came up with various solutions before they started to work. This mindset is inherited by subsequent generations,” he said. “And it was ensured that there were no massive fires [caused by the clearing of land].” (evi)

Farmers to appeal 8-year sentence and Rp 10 billion fine
The Jakarta Post 19 Jan 17;

The lawyers for three farmers in Central Java plan to appeal for a more lenient punishment after their clients were sentenced to eight years in prison and fined Rp 10 billion (US$749,000) for damaging a forest in Kendal.

The case began when the fields in Sorokonto Wetan village, Pageruyung district in Kendal, where the three farmers grew crops, were declared to be forest by the government in 2014.

In a release made available on Wednesday, the lawyers said the claim through a Forestry Ministry decree in April 2014 was made unilaterally. The lawyers from the Indonesian Legal Aid Center (PBHI), the Semarang Legal Aid Institute (LBH Semarang) and the Legal Resource Center for Gender Justice and Human Rights (LRC-KJHAM) said the ministerial decree was made after state-owned cement company, PT Semen Indonesia, acquired forests for its operations in Central Java. To offset the loss of that forest area, the government declared the farmers’ fields to be forests.

The farmers, Nur Aziz, Sutrisno Rusmin, and Mujiono, had cultivated the land for decades, the release said.

The panel of judges in the Kendal District Court presented one dissenting opinion: The presiding judge said the case could have been settled through persuasion. The dissenting opinion said Nur Aziz should have been sentenced to three years, while Sutrisno and Mujiono to two years each.

Lawyer Kahar Muamalsyah said the panel of judges failed to understand that his clients were entitled to an exception stipulated in the 2013 law on deforestation prevention. “They said the exception is applicable only to indigenous people, but we argue that Surokonto Wetan villagers should have been included in the exception,” Kahar said.

Kahar said Article 11 in the law stipulated that people living near a forest doing traditional farming are exempt from criminal charges. (evi)

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