Teaching Sustainable Farming

Teaching Sustainable FarmingSime Darby Teaching Indonesian Villagers Sustainable Farming

The severe transboundary haze that engulfed Malaysia and other neighboring countries over several months in 2015 did not, fortunately, recur last year and this may be attributed to more awareness on sustainable farming and land-clearing activities among farmers and smallholders in Indonesia. At least one Malaysian plantation player has taken steps teaching sustainable farming of local Indonesian villagers on the hazards of open burning and teach them environmentally friendly forms of clearing forests and carrying out replanting activities.

In 2015, massive forest fires due to slash-and-burn practices in some provinces in Indonesia, including Riau, had led to the air pollutant index breaching the 300 hazardous mark in some areas in Malaysia, forcing schools to be closed and outdoor activities canceled. The severity of the haze that year had prompted the Indonesian government to set up a special team to tackle the issue of forest fires. In the meantime, the Indonesian subsidiary of Malaysian plantation giant Sime Darby Plantation which operates estates in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi through PT Minamas Plantation has come up with a sustainable solution for the haze. PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation (PT TMP), a subsidiary of PT Minamas, has teamed up with the University of Riau Institute for Research and Community Services to implement the Sustainable Community-based Fire Prevention Programme. The six-month programme, which kicked off in June 2016, was aimed at engaging local farmers and smallholders operating near PT TMP's estates in Riau in fire prevention initiatives and sustainable farming practices, thus preventing or minimising the occurrence of forest fires within and outside the company's concessions.

Teaching Sustainable Farming of  Villagers

Operating in Indonesia since 1988, PT TMP owns some 13,000 hectares of oil palm plantations, with a total workforce of 8,000, in northern Riau. PT Minamas plantation operations head Raslin Azmi Hasan said the fire prevention programme has been fruitful as the local communities were now realizing the folly of slash-and-burn activities and learning to appreciate the environment. It (the programme) has had a particularly significant impact on farmers in Desa Menggala Teladan (located in Riau's Rokan Hilir district) as they have resolved to stop burning down forests to open new farms or carry out replanting. In fact, they have started adopting sustainable agricultural practices, he told Bernama, recently. A corporate social responsibility initiative by PT Minamas, the fire prevention programme was also implemented in Desa Tualang Timur and Desa Kuala Gasib, both located in the district of Siak; and Desa Pematang Damar in Rokan Hilir district, alongside Desa Menggala Teladan. Under the programme, for which PT Minamas had allocated a sum of 3.5 billion rupiahs (about RM150,000), the farmers were also taught to make organic fertilizer, as well as make handicrafts using natural materials like oil palm fronds and other recyclables to supplement their income.

Forest Fires Minimised

According to Raslin Azmi, Malaysian plantation companies operating in Indonesia do not practice open burning as it was not only an offense to do so but also a violation of international standards. He said the perpetrators comprised local farmers and smallholders who carried out their operations near the estates owned by plantation companies. In Desa Menggala Teladan and Desa Pematang Damar alone, he pointed out, there were some 42,000 hectares of agricultural land owned by the locals, while more than 7,000 hectares of estates are locally owned in Desa Tualang Timur and Desa Kuala Gasib. Desa Menggala Teladan headman, identified only by his first name Nasrul, said his village often experienced fire outbreaks due to the presence of peat soil in the area, which was easily flammable. Our local community used to be rather ignorant about how to go about preventing fires, he said, pointing out that since fishing was a tradition among the menfolk in the village, they had the habit of smoking whilst waiting to land a fish.And, they usually end up throwing their cigarette butts in the forest … a lighted butt is all that's needed to kindle a fire, which can spread like wildfire during the dry season. Rokan Hilir district Forestry Department head Rahmatul Zamri, when met, said the move by PT Minamas to implement the fire prevention programme in the district was most appropriate in view of a large number of hot spots there. He added that the company move to set up a special squad to monitor areas within a radius of five kilometers outside their concessions was proof of its commitment to preventing fires. We really appreciate the efforts being put in by all the parties concerned, particularly the plantation company's team, which is ready to help us extinguish fires even if they occur outside their estates, he said.

JustReadOnline | 4 January 2017