In 2015, widespread fires in Indonesia created an air pollution crisis in Southeast Asia. Dry conditions and a delayed rainy season contributed to extensive landscape fires and haze that worsened the air quality in the region and the health of millions of people. CIFOR researchers found that the corresponding carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions totalled 1.2 billion tons.
The disaster prompted Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo to pledge to restore two million hectares of the country’s degraded peat lands by 2020 to prevent future fires. In local communities, stakeholders realized that there was a need for more systematic prevention. This included involving local communities in fire prevention and peatland restoration.
A joint team of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Riau University (UNRI), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and Gadjah Mada University (UGM) and supported by Temasek Foundation (TF) worked together to conduct a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project in Indonesia’s Riau Province in 2018-2019. The program is managed by the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE).
“Asia is a region that faces various types of disasters and our communities need to be better prepared,” said Benedict Cheong, Chief Executive, Temasek Foundation International. “We hope that the community-based models and ideas captured from the program will be a useful reference for communities facing similar issues and also act as a platform for more collaborative conversations in this area.”
The research took place in Dompas Village, Bukit Batu District, Bengkalis Regency and in Siak and Pelalawan Regencies on the island of Sumatra. It was carried out in collaboration with the Fire Care Community (MPA), the Dompas village government and other community groups.
The complexity of fire and peatland restoration inspired the team to conduct the research through a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach. “Participatory Action Research builds knowledge and drives changes at the local level,” said CIFOR scientist and Participatory Action Research project leader Prof. Herry Purnomo.
The research team found that behaviour changes to make non-burning practices the preference in land management are essential to tackling the burning the region has suffered. Dr. Daniel Mendham, CSIRO project leader, said that while “the presidential ban on burning is the main factor that has caused the reduction in burning by communities to date, this on its own is not sustainable.”
In the communities, knowledge needed to deal with forest and land fire problems was not available and not suitable to conditions on the ground. “Communities have largely stopped burning, but this is leading to some inequity, with poorer farmers needing support to maintain their productive use of the land, including knowledge and training in non-burning techniques, assistance with fertilizer, herbicides and machinery,” said Mendham.
The researchers helped locals adapt the new knowledge and take concrete steps such as preparing land without burning, blocking canals to increase peatland moisture, planting trees, establishing fish ponds as well as planting pineapples, coffee, rubber and hybrid coconuts in community gardens. Monitoring was then carried out to determine impacts on the community.
The lessons are published in “Lessons from Community-Based Peat Fire Prevention and Restoration,” a book that details nine lessons, including sustainable business models and strengthening of restoration-based monitoring systems.
The book is available for download here.
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