A Fire Free Village Programme is a community-based initiative aimed at creating fire free villages through collaboration with the communities, local stakeholders, and enforcement agencies. So much the propaganda. A year on, has anything changed?
Both, Asian Pulp and Paper (APP) and its competitor APRIL, denied the use of slash-and-burn practices. And, so goes the logic, it makes no sense to burn down the fiber needed for their products. Both companies trying hard to clean up their battered image trying to present themselves as the good guys. But off camera and off record, NGOs remain skeptical about the commitments from the Indonesian conglomerates with a legacy of broken promises.
In a recent interview the importance is recognized by APRIL focusing on the new consumer markets. Tony Wenas, the current President Director said that by 2050, Indonesia’s population is expected to reach 350 million people. All the new comers will need paper, because they will start with paper and pencil.
But, after the 2015 haze disaster that got Southeast Asia coughing, the Singapore government put the thumb screws on Indonesian companies and swung into action. Singapore was the first company boycotting APP products being sold in Singapore. APRIL, for the meantime, escaped the wrath of the city-state regulators.
The Fire Free Village Programme incorporates existing community level incentive-based fire prevention schemes and a group’s extensive fire fighting capability. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and a few other NGOs wrote in a joint-declaration targeting bankers that [N]ew fire incidents are being reported in Indonesia and Malaysia as the 2016 burning season begins.
So far the haze-free period has worked and calling on the bankers for emergency sanctions to cancel loans for the forest destroyers, a title given to Indonesian conglomerates by Greenpeace, has not transpired.
The Free Fire Village proposed by RAPP, owned by RGE/APRIL involves nine village communities located in fire-prone areas near the Kampar river and extends beyond the boundaries of a group’s forestry concessions, the company wrote.
It wrote further, “This reflects the company’s commitment to establishing long-term solutions that address the root causes of uncontrolled burning. Initial results of the programme indicate successes in significantly reducing the use of fire as a land management tool at community level.”
Implemented in Riau with the help of local NGO partners, Rumah Pohon and Blue Green, and in collaboration with Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA), local government, police, military and the Provincial Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), the question is scale and sustainability.
NGOs remain skeptical. A coordinator for the NGOs involved in the program said, “The propaganda is all good and nice, but at the moment the key question is about sustainability. Many of the NGOs on the ground do not see the funds filter down to the community.” APRIL is accused of short-changing communities.
“Company executives are exploiting our good-will and show little appreciation for the work done”, she continued.
Incentivizing through no burn village rewards, building on 2014’s successful pilot programme, where villages receive community infrastructure rewards as fire free targets are achieved.
“Communities are getting a hand-out from the company. It begs the question how long this will work before the company runs out of money. This poses a threat going back to the old ways.”
RAPP countered by saying that the group invested US$6 million alone on fire fighting equipment and capability. It estimates that it spends US$ 3-4 million per annum to maintain a core fire fighting team.
“Despite all the speeches, commitments and fancy publications, Indonesian companies have done little to fix the decades of damage done. Little has changed.”, said the activist.
So far the haze prevention regime worked but lets wait and see.