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Community empowerment a lasting solution to haze

Mr Simon Tay and Ms Lau Xin Yi are right when they suggest there is every reason for corporations to do more than what is now being done to stop the fires and haze (“Getting firms to take responsibility for the haze”; Oct 20).

Craig Tribolet, Strategic Fire Manager, APRIL Group

Mr Simon Tay and Ms Lau Xin Yi are right when they suggest there is every reason for corporations to do more than what is now being done to stop the fires and haze (“Getting firms to take responsibility for the haze”; Oct 20).

I live with my family in Riau, Indonesia, and have been forced to live with haze (PM10) levels routinely higher than 1,000 microgrammes per cubic metre.

APRIL Group has spent millions of dollars fighting fires. While we have capable firefighting teams, and enforce a no-burn policy in our concessions, we suffer financially from fires that spread from outside our concessions to damage our plantations.

So we have extended the fire detection and suppression capability to areas up to 3km from our concession boundary. But firefighting is like treating a bad cold with tissues — treating only the symptoms. It is better not to get sick in the first place.

Local Indonesian communities have a genuine desire to find alternatives to fire as a land-clearance tool. They want to be empowered with the knowledge, responsibility and resources they need to change the way land is managed.

This is why we launched a Fire-Free Village Programme to go beyond fire suppression to prevention.

Several times a week, our Fire Prevention Manager engages with community-appointed Fire Crew Leaders on fire management challenges affecting each village and assists in resourcing solutions while developing local capability.

We have made some progress, tackling the causes of fire by facilitating alternatives to burning land and by putting in place no-burn incentives in collaboration with villages.

Our experience over the past few months has been encouraging: Five of the nine villages — all in peatland areas — we are working with have been free of fires, and fire incidents in the others have dropped by more than 90 per cent.

As we learn from the programme, we continue to talk with the local government and our partners on how this effort might be scaled up.

We are open to engagement and support from the public and private sectors; it is the only way this can be scaled to a level where we can achieve meaningful impact and a lasting solution.

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