The Indonesian Government has tied up with the country’s largest agro companies to sway farmers against burning forests to clear land.

The two-month pilot project led by the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs will see companies train farmers on modern farming techniques and basic fire fighting. The companies will also give them machinery to clear land.

Farmers have been clearing land for cultivation by burning because that is the cheapest method available to them, Leni Rosylin, head of the Ministry’s Forest Management Division told GovInsider.

The companies will persuade them against such practices through monetary rewards. Villages will get 100 million rupiah towards infrastructure, if they complete a year without any burning, Rosylin said.

The Ministry this week signed agreements with five companies on the pilot project. Among them is Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies, and its competitor Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper. The other three companies are palm oil producers SMART, Asian Agri and Triputra Agro Persada.

These companies were selected because they have existing fire prevention programmes, Rosylin said. The government wants to learn from these programmes through the pilot and implement them across 731 villages in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“What the companies have been doing before, with the pilot project we can learn from that. If it is working well, we can apply it to other villages and cover the 731 villages,” Rosylin said. An “independent team” will review the training programmes being implemented by the companies.

APP has been implicated for causing haze through forest fires within its suppliers’ concessions. The Indonesian Government in December announced that it would revoke the licence for one of these suppliers. Both APP and the supplier are owned by Indonesia’s Sinar Mas conglomerate.

A second part of the pilot project is expansion of government-run crisis centres, which put out fires in conserved forests. The government will study through the pilot project whether the crisis centres can be expanded to cover villages, farms and unprotected forests, Rosylin said.

“With the pilot project, we want to know whether the coverage area is too big, so we can do an assessment of the personnel and equipment required to put out fires,” she said.

The fire-fighting centres are run by the Manggala Agni, a unit under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry with a budget of 756 million rupiah this year. There are a total of 13 fire-fighting centres, each responsible for 2 million hectare of land.

The results of the pilot project will be used to come up with national standards for training, equipment, personnel and money required to prevent forest fires, Rosylin said. “Our pilot project will provide lessons for the government to establish SOP [standard operating procedures] for national standards.”

Image by CIFOR, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0