By Hans Nicholas
The issue of land and forest fires take center stage during the second day of the 4th Responsible Business Forum at Jakarta as various stakeholders lay out plan to prevent the annual land and forest fires in Indonesia.
The 2015 fire and haze crisis in Indonesia has been described by many in the international community as an environmental catastrophe, with large parts of the country’s forest and land area burning out of control and resulting in billions of dollars’ worth of damages and losses, including to agriculture.
Early estimates of the total economic costs of the fires in 2015 in Indonesia alone exceed US $16 billion, more than double the damage and losses from the 2004 tsunami and equal to about 1.8% of Indonesia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“The Indonesian government is very serious in tackling the issue of forest fire because we have been experiencing fires for almost 18 years continuously,” says Prabianto Mukti Wibowo, assistant deputy minister for forestry in Indonesia’s Economic Affairs Ministry, on the sideline of the forum. “So with that commitment, the government already implemented policies. One of them is encouraging the private sector both in forestry and plantation to prevent forest fires and obligation to support local villages in doing free-fire agriculture system because human behavior is a very major cause of fire and with that, we want local people to do agricultural activities without fire.”
In 2016, some agroforestry giants, including APRIL, Asian Agri, Musim Mas and Wilmar, decided to band together and form a voluntary multi-stakeholder group called Fire-Free Alliance (FFA).
Following its establishment, the alliance launched a community-based fire prevention initiative, which focused on fire prevention through community engagement.
Since its inception, the initiative has expanded fire prevention outreach to 218 villages in various parts of Indonesia. In some cases, FFA members have reported reductions in fire incidences of between 50% and 90% from 2015 to 2016.
However, the scope of the initiative is a small fraction of the number of villages prone to fires in Indonesia.
“The fires always occur in extreme locations in seven fire-prone provinces, covering 731 villages, which are very prone and susceptible to fires,” Prabianto says.
Therefore, the government and the alliance are calling for other companies to join the initiative in order to further expand the outreach.
“We hope that the membership of the FFA could be expanded, including all companies involved in the effort to prevent land and forest fires,” Prabianto says.
Members of the alliance also pledge to intensify their efforts to prevent the fires from reoccurring.
“We are going to roll out [the initiative] to all of our plantations. Our target is to halve the average of fires internally,” says Wilmar head of plantation, Gurcharan Singh.