Farmers use tractors to reduce forest fires

Farmers use tractors to reduce forest fires

01 June 2016

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Indonesia — New ways:A farmer prepares his field in a village in Pelalawan, Riau, using a hand tractor. Farmers in the area are being trained to clear their lands without the use of fire to reduce forest fires.( JP/Rizal Harahap )

Farmers in the Pelalawan village of Pelalawan, Pangkalan Kerinci, used to employ the slash and burn method when it came to clearing their land for farmland or rice fields.

That approach triggered massive fires as the soil in the village was combustible, especially with peatland at a depth of around 3 to 9 meters. In a bid to reduce cases of forest and peatland fires, local communities are working with pulp and paper producer PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper ( RAPP ) to develop specific training programs for farmers.

The pulp and paper company also provides the farmers with hand-held tractors to help them leave behind slash and burn practices when clearing land for rice fields.

Darwis, 49, the leader of the Berkat Usaha Farming Community was one of the farmers. He cultivated a half hectare rice field.

“I’m just an employee at the district office with a monthly salary of Rp 1.8 million [US$133]. If my farm can produce a ton of rice in a single planting season, my family’s annual rice need has been met,” he said.

Darwis, who earlier cultivated rice for years by moving from one place to another, said the hand tractor was a great help.

“Previously, grass was burned before cultivating. Now, plowing and weeding can be completed simultaneously with the hand tractor, so the work is so much easier,” he said.

According to Darwis, the tractors are operated by farmers who are already skilled and the farmers chip in to buy fuel. “The cost is low as it only takes 10 liters of diesel fuel to plow a half hectare of rice field, and within three days it is already completely weeded and plowed, compared to a month when using machete, hoe and weed killer,” he added.

The rice fields tilled by members of the farming community are peatlands with a depth of about 3 to 4 meters and which are prone to fires every year. Many charred tree stumps and branches are still commonly found in the middle of rice fields tilled by the farmers.

“The tractor operator must be careful, as the tractor can flip and threaten the safety of the operator if he hits a tree stump or branch. Once, a tractor operator nearly broke his leg when his tractor stumbled on a tree branch,” said Darwis.

To minimize the risk, he added, the farmers must first pile the tree stumps and branches near the farm hut before plowing. However, the piles of wood that cannot be burned cause problems.

“They become rat breeding grounds. We’re still confused where to place them as they don’t rot in a short period of time because they are a hard variety of timber,” he said.

Pelalawan village chief Edi Arifin acknowledged that his village was seen as highly prone to forest and land fires because the peatland there reaches a thickness of up to 9 meters.

More than 120 families in the village are farmers who have yet to apply good and proper farming patterns, especially in clearing land.

“In order to help farmers leave behind traditional farming patterns, Pelalawan village was included in the fire-free village program initiated by PT RAPP in 2015,” he said.

To ensure the success of minimizing fires, the Pelalawan village administration received a prize of
Rp 50 million from PT RAPP.

“This year, we expect to get the main prize of Rp 100 million for being able to maintain zero fires,”said Edi.

“The prize, in the form of infrastructure, encourages people to leave behind old patterns of land clearing using fire,” he added.

Besides providing five hand-held tractors, he said PT RAPP this year would also deploy heavy machinery to help five farming communities clear land and open up 20 hectares of new fields in the village as part of the fire-free village program.

According to him, farmers must meet a number of requirements to be included in the program. For instance, the land to be cleared must be certified to ensure that it is not disputed or included in the company’s concession area.

Separately, PT RAPP president director Tony Wenas said the program will be launched every dry season in villages around the company’s concession areas in Riau.

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