Context and Background


The Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and Papua forest and land fires in 2015 were categorized as a national disaster in Indonesia. Toxic haze affected the health of people in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. The disaster caused the death of 24 individuals and 103,000 premature death [1][2]. It produced environmental, economic, tourism and education losses, which economically costed USD 16.1 billion [3]. In 2016 Indonesia experienced La Nina with high rainfall and therefore suppressed fire and haze.  In 2017, fires started to occur again even though less than what happened in 2015. [4]   Year 2018 is critical for fire prevention, given the climate is forecasted dryer, local elections at the same time throughout Indonesia and multi-event ASIAN Games will take place.

The use of fire by communities on the ground is still happening regardless of government “zero burn” programs and campaigns at national and sub-national levels. One of the underlying causes of not respecting the “zero burn” programs are traditional land burning practices that communities all over Indonesia use to prepare lands for the new planting season. The use of fire happens not because of a lack of understanding regarding the danger of fire and haze for the environment and the people, but since it is cheaper to use fire when preparing lands for cultivation. The use of fire reduces the cost of land preparation in as much as USD 250/ha [5], yet it has important negative externalities.


CIFOR has been working at the community level to inform decision-makers at district and provincial levels  about the local economic, social and political dynamics that cause forest and land fires, and on their implications. On 30 August 2017, CIFOR and University of Riau (UNRI) conducted a national dialogue on laws and best practices to reduce fire and haze.[6]  In this dialogue, governments, community members, corporations, civil society organizations (CSOs) and academics underlined the importance of implementing, using participatory approaches, workable models for effective Community-Based Fire Prevention and Restoration (CBFPR). 

Analyzing and distilling the lessons from existing CBFPR is required, and sharing them among development agencies and communities in order to find options for scaling out and up the best practices in more systematic ways. The main gap is the incongruence between the causes of fires and proposed management solutions, which is not just exclusive of Indonesia but of other countries experiencing fires. In Indonesia, the underlying causes of fires are social-political problems, while action plans tend to prioritize technical research into firefighting. Local stakeholders have also various perception on fire, yet consensus areas were related to the shared concerns on local health impacts and the potential of government support for fire-free alternatives as a solution pathway [7]. Improved understanding of stakeholder perceptions has potential to give voice to marginalized communities and improve their livelihoods.

Social behavior and incentives for smallholders not to use fire for agriculture plantation and farming need to be investigated, facilitated and mainstreamed. Local communities need to be supported and accompanied with the selection and implementation of fire-free alternatives for land clearing, as part of a co-learning process on effective working models. Also reducing risks and strengthening traditional practices and knowledge of controlled or safe burning should be also under consideration, yet linked to their potential when mobilizing community-based initiatives.

[1] Premature deaths are deaths that occur before a person reaches an expected age (e.g. age 70). Many of these deaths are considered to be preventable

[2] Koplitz, S.N., Mickley, L.J., Marlier, M.E., Buonocore, J.J., Kim, P.S., Liu, T., Sulprizio, M.P., DeFries, R.S., Jacob, D.J., Joel Schwartz, J., Pongsiri, M., Myers, S.S., 2016. Public health impacts of the severe haze in Equatorial Asia in September–October 2015: demonstration of a new framework for informing fire management strategies to reduce downwind smoke exposure. Environ. Res. Lett. 11 (2016):094023.

[3] Glauber, A.J., Gunawan, I., 2016. The Cost of Fire: An Economic Analysis of Indonesia’s 2015 Fire Crisis. The World Bank.


[5] Purnomo H, Shantiko H, Sitorus S, Gunawan H, Achdiawan R, Kartodihardjo H, Dewayani AA. 2017. Fire economy and actor network of forest and land fires in Indonesia. Forest Policy and Economics 78: 21–31.


[7] Carmenta R, Zabala A, Daeli W, Phelps J. 2017. Perceptions across scales of governance and the Indonesian peatland fires. Global Environmental Change (46):50–59.