Forest and Land Fire Prevention Strategies in The Omnibus Law Era
Forest and land fires in Indonesia are’nt something new. These disaster have been occurred in Indonesia since the 19th century. The large forest and land fires occurred in Indonesia was occured in 1982/1983 and 1997/1998, where these two incidents were mostly caused by logging activities. In the last decade, forest and land fires have continued to occur every year and reached their peak in 2015 with an area of 2.6 million hectares. However, the area of forest and land fires continued to decline in the following three years, and then increased again with an area of 1.6 million hectares in 2019. But in this year, the fire area decreased again due to wet drought as a result of La Nina.
The forest and land fires disasters in Indonesia that occurred in 2015 and 2019 have become an interesting issue for anti-palm oil NGOs to hinder the national palm oil industry by damaging its image in the global consumers. Even this issue is also used by national and international media to frame the palm oil industry as the actors behind the forest and land fires. One of them is a CNN article entitled “Borneo is Burning” which was published in 2019.
However, if we look at Global Forest Watch’s data regarding the distribution of hotspots in 2019 based on land use, it shows that around 68 percent of the hotspots are outside concessions. Meanwhile, hotspots in the palm oil concession were relatively few at only 11 percent, or less than those in pulpwood industrial concessions (16 percent). This means that the area of forest and land fires in open access areas is larger than in concession areas including palm oil concessions.
There are special characteristics of a open access resource, including land, where everyone can use the resource and there is no control over access. In this regard, everyone, including the local community, can take advantage of open access land.
In law number 32/2009 concerning Environmental Protection and Management, Article 69 paragraph (2) states that the community can clear the land by burning with a maximum area of 2 hectares for planting local varieties of plants. Burning activities by local community are part of local wisdom which must be given space and tolerated. However, the problem is that these rules (Laws and Regional Regulations) also do not impose an obligation on the local community who clears land by burning to complete their knowledge, skills, and facilities to preventing fire ara expansion. This is a form of human negligence, which cam be one of the factors causing forest and land fires, in addition to natural factors such as El Nino.
The implication for the palm oil industry about this matter, if there is a fire “jump” from open access land to the palm oil concession area or smallholder plantations, it will quickly becoming issue that plantation companies or farmers deliberately burn land to clear land for expanding plantation. So they are required to be responsible by paying a large enough nominal fine or imprisonment. Even though, logically, no one company or farmer would want to burn the land because it would only bring huge losses, such as a decreased productivity and disruption of harvesting activities.
Through a dialogue book review “Strategi Menangani Perkara Karhutla”, Dr. Rio Christiawan, SH., M.Hum, M.Kn said that the importance of mitigating by oil palm plantation actors, both companies and farmers, to prevent forest and land fires and to face legal implications if forest and land fires was occured. Especially after the Omnibus Law Cipta Kerja was legitimated, which eliminated the concept of strict liability. Where the concept of strict liability in the Environmental Law, gives authority to law enforcement officials to punish plantation managers when forest and land fires occur in their plantation. The elimination of a strict liability, oil palm plantation business actors who are involved in the forest and land fires case can submit evidence of the origin of fire originating (hotspot) from the outside of the concession area and compile evidentiary arguments from mitigation efforts that have been carried out by plantation business actors. This is necessary to dismiss allegations of mens rea (bad intentions).
The forest and land fires mitigation and preventive efforts that can be carried out by plantation actors are hotspot management including making fire (hotspot) distribution maps and monitoring maps periodically as well as ground checking by conducting patrols involving the surrounding community. Plantation companies and farmers (farmer organization) also need to equip their plantation with fire extingushing equipment and specif units on the plantation to handle it. These various mitigation efforts must be well documented through photos, videos, and official report.
One of the bigest oil palm plantation companies in Indonesia, PT. SMART, Tbk., has made comprehensive efforts to mitigate forest and land fires both in the concession area or the land around the plantation. In addition to the mitigation efforts that have been mentioned above, the strategy prevention carried out by company’s is empowering the local community in the Desa Makmur Peduli Api (DMPA) program. Through this program, PT. SMART invites local communities around plantations to protect land and forests (HCV/HCS) by not burning, as well as providing training programs in order to empowering and prospering the local community’s economy by creating economic activities such as food crops farming and livestock. So that with this economic activity, the community can protect the forest and not to clear land by burning.
In that online discussion, Gulat Manurung, Head of APKASINDO, revealed that one of the factors that caused forest and land fires, especially in palm oil centers such as Riau, was sabotage by anti-palm oil parties which was carried out to damage the image of the palm oil industry. Therefore, oil palm plantation actors, both companies and o farmers, must be united and do not blaming each other, but must be pro-active in mitigation and prevention so that the palm oil industry is no longer accused as actor behind the forest and land fires that occur every year in Indonesia.
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