As the end of the dry season draws near, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the haze has not returned with the same ferocity as last year. But the memory of the 2015 haze still lingers and coupled with the current global urgency to deal with climate change, the spotlight remains focused on how to curb the practice of clearing agricultural land with fire.
Big companies such as GAR have strict Zero Burning policies. The thorny question remains: how to convince small farmers and local communities to stop using traditional methods to prepare land for cultivation?
Farmers are reluctant to give this up because they believe it is the only economically viable method.
“When the need is pressing, we keep on burning,” said a farmer during a recent visit of the Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar in Kapuas District, Central Kalimantan.
Showing the way to greater self-sufficiency and sustainability
Efforts to encourage a move away from burning land must be centred on offering farmers alternative, sustainable methods of land preparation which at the same time guarantee the food security of their families and community.
This is what GAR is trying to do through a training programme in West Kalimantan at PT Paramitra Internusa Pratama (PIP) involving the community at Nanga Bian sub-village.
Flanked by two rivers – the Bian and Kenepai – and surrounded by an expanse of peat bog, it is difficult for the villagers to source vegetables from nearby locations. When the rainy season comes and floods hit, access roads are cut off so the community is isolated for months.
During the dry season, the river water recedes and the swamp area turns into dusty dry terrain that is challenging to traverse.
To meet their daily needs, Nanga Bian residents shop at village stalls or go further afield to Semitau by motorcycles or motor boats. Villagers only grow a few food items such as rice, red ginger and Thai chili in their fields. They have to buy the rest of their food from hawkers which sell them at relatively expensive prices.
This year, there were more than 20 hotspots originating from farmland near PIP which were quickly put out. However, GAR’s community Home Garden Project (Kebun Sayur Pekarangan or “KSP”), is providing a long-term solution in the prevention of fires. The programme has heightened collective awareness of the need to stop using fire and helps the community cultivate food in their backyard plots using environmentally friendly methods.
This has helped reduce household expenditure and encouraged micro-enterprises as community members sell their surplus vegetables to other communities. The programme is becoming a case study for other community projects being developed in other GAR plantations in West Kalimantan.
In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at how the Home Garden Project proves that sustainable farming can be carried out in a low-tech, low-cost way.