Solution to forest fires sought

National 2 minutes, 41 seconds

BELAIT

BRUNEI’S Heart of Borneo (HoB) Centre has recently engaged grassroots leaders from Belait in a bid to resolve recurring forest fires that are threatening the survival of peat swamps in the district.

HoB Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mahmud Hj Yussof said since human action has been collectively identified as the reason behind the fires, any prevention strategy developed needs to have a community outreach aspect at its core, if it is be successful in the long term.

“People need to know how serious the situation (of recurring forest fires) is. At the rate the fires are happening, Brunei’s peat swamp forests face extinction,” said Mahmud.

He told grassroots leaders earlier this week at the Tropical Biodiversity Centre in Sg Liang that the diminishing and eventual extinction of peat swamp forests would directly reduce the amount of water available to be extracted from Belait's rivers.

“Peat swamp forests retain water, act as water storage reservoirs and regulate the water flow in the environment they are in. If they are gone, water levels in the surrounding rivers will be affected,” he said.

Attending grassroots leaders supported the idea to have community outreach through roadshows and dialogues.

They said most of the population were not aware of the long-term consequences of recurring forest fires.

“To be honest, even we grassroots leaders did not know of the peat swamp forests’ ability to retain water and that their extinction would affect water levels in the area. This is something that needs to be stressed to the community,” said Penghulu of Seria Hj Jamail Linap, whose mukim comprises the majority of the 330 hectares of forest affected by fires this year.

Hj Jamail and other grassroots leaders shared their opinion during this week’s engagement session that fires were either started by illegal farmers, negligence or accident.

“If it is by negligence or just irresponsible behaviour then enforcement has to be stern and straight forward,” he said.

But in the case of setting fire to clear land for farming, the penghulu said alternative farming sites need to be looked into – especially in the mukim of Kuala Belait and Seria – which have no designated land for agriculture.

The closest option for large-scale farming is in Sg Liang, where agricultural development has been declining, or in Labi, located 75 kilometres from Kuala Belait.

“If the farmers are living in Seria or Kuala Belait, they are unlikely to want to commute all the way to Labi just to farm, which is more than an hour’s drive,” said Hj Jamail.

If enforcement is stepped up at forests opposite the highway leading from Lumut until Kuala Belait, but no alternative farming sites are offered, Hj Jamail said illegal farmers are likely to shift to another area that is less enforced.

“To have a lasting solution for fires caused by farmers, we (grassroots leaders) really hope that during the dialogue the land and farming authorities are able to come to an agreement with farmers,” said Hj Jamail.

HoB’s CEO added that Seria may be the first mukim targeted for a roadshow and dialogue, with the penghulu and his consultative council agreeing to serve as the focal point by inviting their community to attend.

The Brunei Times