Karhutla, who is at fault?

Karhutla, who is at fault?

Indonesia - 30 October, 2019

Cases of forest and land fires (karhutla) in Kalimantan province including in Ketapang district seem to have become an annual routine. Fires occur almost every dry season, especially during the extreme droughts due to the effect of El Nino. Natural factors such as the prolonged summer, human factors such as negligence, or a combination of both certainly put some effects. It is difficult to determine the exact cause of the fires that often cause "presumption" or finding for a “scapegoat" as a justification for the theory on paper. However, there is no smoke without fire, no effect without cause.

The history of forest encroachment cannot be separated from the issuance of HPH / IUPHHK-HA licenses by the government to a number of corporations. As a result, these corporations cut giant trees and left misery to animals. Massive logging and illegal logging activities triggered deforestation and degradation. The license for the Utilization of Timber Forest Products in Natural Forest abbreviated as IUPHHK-HA or formerly known as Forest Concession Rights (HPH) is a permit to utilize production forests which activities consist of logging, transporting, and planting, maintaining, securing, protecting, processing and marketing wood forest products. But in practice, is it true that planting, maintaining and security activities are carried out by the company? In fact, many companies only carry out logging, processing and marketing activities merely for profit.
 
After the issuance of IUPHHK the Government had also given concession licenses to several oil palm plantation companies to operate. Unfortunately, some of them received concession licenses in peat areas, such as PT Limpah Sejahtera and PT ARTU Plantation.
 
To understand fires in Ketapang, it is necessary to differentiate between fires that occur in "mineral soils" and those occur in "peatlands". The biggest cause of the noise due to forest and land fires is "smoke" delivered from Indonesia, so it is important to find the sources of the fires that have produced so much smoke.
 
Table 1. List of several company holders of IUPHHK in Ketapang Regency
 
No
Name of Company
Decree (SK) IUPHHK
Area (ha)
Validity period of SK IUPHHK
1
PT.  Duadja Corporation II       [Grup Hutrindo Wanabangun]
Minister of Forestry Decree
 No.90/Kpts-II/2001 
  15 March 2001
74,850
2001 - 2021
2
PT. Suka Jaya Makmur
[Grup Alas Kusuma]
Minister of Forestry Decree No.106/Kpts-II/2000
  29 December 2000
171,300
1999 - 2054
3
PT. Karunia Hutan Lestari    [Grup Karunia Hutan                    Lestari]
Minister of Forestry and Plantation Decree No.938/Kpts-VI/1999
15 October 1999
41,700
1999 - 2054
4
PT.  Wana Kayu Batu Putih
Minister of Forestry and Plantation Decree No.226/Kpts-II/2000
25 August 2000
Minister of Forestry Decree  No.SK.163/Menhut-II/2005
7 June 2005
42,500
1999 - 2044
5
PT.Wanasokan Hasilindo
[Grup Alas Kusuma]
Minister of Forestry and Plantation Decree No.265/Kpts-II/2000 - 25 August 2000
49,000
1999 - 2019
6
PT. Sewaka Lahan Sentosa
Regent of Ketapang Decree No.29/2005
5 February 2002
Minister of Forestry Decree No.236/Menhut-II/2007
4 July 2007
32,180
2002 - 2022
 
Fires in Peatland Areas
 
In the past, people who lived in coastal area and lived closely to peatland area were fishermen and farmers. Nature has taught them, peatland is not a suitable place for farming rice or cultivating other plants. Thus, community activities on peatlands were limited to looking for wood for household needs, and hunting.
 
When the government gave licenses to large companies to convert peat forests into oil palm plantations, that's where peat began to be disturbed. Not only that, the transmigration program launched by the government also allocated a large number of transmigrants on peatlands even with a depth of more than three meters to settle.
 
Since then, the peatland was cleared, plotted, canals were built so that the peatland areas became dry and prone to burning. Fires, eventually, become routine in every dry season.
 
Watching peatlands change functions, a few local residents started to plot and claim the peatlands, and sold them to both businessmen and officials so that resulted in a lot of unused land. A number of DPRD (Regional People’s Representative Assembly) aspiration projects, such as the development of worm trenches, jumbo canals, allegedly also contributed to the list of peat grinding.
 
Corporations cause the Karhutla?
 
Some cases of fires occurred in Ketapang District took place inside the concession areas of companies. If the fires occurred during the land clearing process done by the company, in an unproductive plantation area, or in an area with unproductive age of oil palm trees, indication of the perpetrators of arson could be directed to the company. If the fires occurred in a productive plantation area, it is unlikely that the company will burn their productive plantations themselves.
 
Then, who caused the fires? This of course requires further search. The company often said, the farmers were responsible for the fires before it spread to the company's plantation area. Conflicts between companies and residents can be a trigger, as well as community activities such as fishing or hunting.
 
Whoever caused the fires, the more important focus now is to overcome the fires that have already occurred and to prevent fires in the future. The answers to the two questions are "water management" and "fire-fighting equipment and personnel in the company".
 
Most plants need aerobic conditions. Utilization of peatlands for plantation crops requires drainage channels or canals to increase the availability of oxygen for the roots, changing anaerobic conditions into aerobics, to grow plants properly. However, subsidence always follows the construction of drainage channels on peatlands. This process occurs due to compaction, decomposition and erosion of peat on dried surface. The deeper the drainage channel, it is indicated that the decrease of land surface will be greater and faster. This causes the peat to become dry and prone to burning.
 
At present, the company's solution is the construction of canal blocking to regulate water level, and the construction of boreholes at fire-prone points to make it easier for water pumping at the fire-prone areas to prevent fires. The company should also have fire-fighting equipment and trained firefighters to anticipate fires in the plantation area.
 
Firefighters battle a peatland fire in Sungai Pelang Village, Ketapang (pic by Sutopo)-01.jpg
 
 
Community or oil palm holders cause the fires?
 
Oil palm is the major commodity planted by people in peatlands. Rice and vegetables cannot grow well in peatlands. Some people started planting intercrops such as oil palm, dragon fruit and grass jelly. Financial limitations as well as land conditions that are difficult to clean manually make some people still use fire as a solution. Some of the lands owned by businessmen or officials from outside the village are also idle. Fires often occur in these idle lands without certain causes.
 
Prohibition of burning/use of fire to open land has drawn public criticism because it is not accompanied by alternative solutions. Shifting cultivation done by the community has been going on for a long time. Burning activities are the final series of processes carried out in cultivating land. The process of opening land by farmers is to determine the area or location with certain conditions after site survey to check the soil suitability, the soil fertility and the availability of water in the vicinity. If it is deemed suitable, a “pempanggol” made of bamboo or a wooden peg will be plugged in as a sign that the location will be opened and turned into cultivation land.
 
The next activity is to open the land (land clearing) which is usually carried out between May and June and burning land between August and September. Before burning, a dividing barrier around the land to burn is built, and when it is about to be burnt, other nearby landowners should be informed, and the burning will be done together with several other residents. Land will be abandoned if the fire has been confirmed extinguished or does not spread to other lands. Of course the risk of fire still exists, but usually it can still be controlled.
 
If in the past the shifting cultivation system was carried out by clearing primary forests, now with the limited availability of forests and the citizens' awareness of information about the status of forests, the practice of clearing natural forests is no longer done. The pattern of shifting cultivation is now carried out with a rotation system of existing land, which was once planted with a poly-culture system but the plants inside are no longer productive so replanting is carried out. The average area of ​​the cleared is less than 1 ha / KK.
 
The type of commodity that is widely planted by the community is rubber, planted with a mixed system with other types of plants such as durian, cempedak, petai, tamarind fruit, tengkawang, jengkol and other types of plants. Later it was seen that many people began to convert rubber plantations into oil palm plantations, due to falling rubber prices.
 
Human activities can indeed cause forest and land fires and cultivators are not the exception. But, prior to corporate activity, fires were not massively occurred. A number of large plantations are also considered negligent in the supervision and control of land and forest fires around their plantation areas.
 
Whoever is the culprit, the government inevitably must be present even before the forest and land fires. The government needs real data on locations of farmers who want to burn land in order to be able to build a common understanding and formulate strategic steps to prevent forest and land fires. If the community is no longer allowed to use fires, mobilize available resources to help the community find the best way. (STP)