Indonesia RIAU, INDONESIA: A major part of the communities here are now aware of the downside of open burning and its impact, which affects not only Indonesia but also neighbouring countries. This was made possible with an awareness programme dubbed ‘Desa Makmur Peduli Api’ (DMPA) launched by one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). APP, with the help of its sister company, Sinarmas Forestry, had focused on educating the villagers near Pekan Baru, Riau, on the correct ways to farm and ways to manage and restore peatland instead of burning it. Sinarmas Forestry head of social and security team Jeffri Nurhalim said the villages near Pekan Baru and Riau had been chosen due to its air quality recorded during the recent El-Nino season. The programme prioritised villages with higher reports of illegal loggings and open burning before moving to less critical areas. The air quality recorded was the worst in the Asean region due to uncontrollable open burning which led to prolonged haze, affecting neighbouring countries especially Malaysia and Singapore. The programme aims to benefit 500 villages near the forestry in the next five years. The programme is deemed crucial towards conserving national forests and to prevent fire in the future. “There are 799 villages near our concession; DMPA aims to benefit 500 villages in the next five years. “Six main activities in DMPA include identifying the community’s strength to plant, introduction to eco-friendly farming technology, including the public in preserving forests as well as preventing conflicts among small business and community,” he said. This year, the programme aims to launch 80 DMPA near Riau, Jambi, Kalbar, Kaltim and Sumsel. The number is expected to increase to 120 villages by the end of 2017. Other than educating the farmers not to commit open burning at the plantations or nearby forests especially during the drought season, DMPA helped to increase their income and number of crops. Jeffri said the clearing of new land to allow farming activities helped in reducing the impact of open burning especially in forest areas. “Indirectly, when the farmers plant their crops such as vegetables and paddy, it will minimise open burning as the areas are looked after and monitored,” he said after visiting the area. A farmer, Rosmiati Mohammad Sahrik, 44 when met said she was grateful to be taught on the proper way to plant and on the impact of open burning globally. “Previously, we burnt the land to clear it but now that we know the proper way, the trees are chopped and placed at a corner to allow it to decompose. “With the fertilisers and seeds given by Sinarmas, the paddy planted is also different from the previous batch. It is better and it looks like it will produce more paddy,” she said when met in Sungai Mandaub. She said the previous haze had affected her health, and hoped that open burning will not be practised again, now that they have been taught the proper ways. Under the programme, selected villagers were given a hectare of land, seeds and fertilisers to work with. The villagers were also given a two-day training session at the Sinarmas Forestry Training and Development Centre. To date, there are up to 400 acres of palm oil, 200 acres of paddy field compared to 20 acres of land opened in 2007. Pekan Baru, Riau declared an emergency last year when the province recorded up to 1,000 API readings due to the forest fires. The haze had impacted Malaysia and Singapore, blanketing several states in Malaysia including Johor, Malacca and Negri Sembilan.