Villagers establishing a fire break on Sumba, Indonesia
The project on fire management in Indonesia
and northern Australia is funded chiefly by Australian Centre for
International Agricultural Research with additional support from
the Tropical Savannas CRC, the Bushfires Council of the NT and
Charles Darwin University, and so extends the work of the
TS–CRC in northern Australia internationally.
The main Indonesian partners are the Centre
for International Forestry Research in Bogor, Java, working in
western Indonesia and Wira Wacana University Sumba, and BAPPEDA
(Provincial Planning Board in Sumba and Flores) in eastern
The project activities include:
- describing the impacts of current burning practices in
- mapping current fires, and past and present land-use and land
- reviewing fire policy and regulations across northern Australia
and across Indonesia,
- training in effective burning methods for Indonesian land
managers and demonstrating these methods to government officers,
- transfer of educational materials on savanna monitoring and
management to Indonesian universities.
Fires in eastern
Indonesia | Research partnership aids
villagers | Field days | GIS and satellite mapping | Fire
regulations and policy | Fire map on
Sumba | Higher education | More Information |
There are many parallels between eastern
Indonesia and northern Australia in terms of landscape and land
management—such as a wet–dry monsoonal climate and
extensive fire-prone savanna vegetation.
These similarities have now formed the basis
for a research partnership between the two countries that is
helping to develop better fire management.
Over the past decade an effective working relationship on fire
management has developed between Prof. Greg Hill (Charles Darwin
University),Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith (the Bushfires Council of the
Northern Territory and TS-CRC)in Darwin and Dr Siliwoloe
Djoeroemana of Wira Wacana University in Sumba, eastern Indonesia.
This relationship has resulted in a project in which current
savanna fire regimes are being monitored, and recommendations for
the appropriate use of fires in savannas is being developed in
eastern Indonesia (see box opposite page).
In eastern Indonesia savanna fires are frequent and extensive.
Villagers battle extreme fires in the late dry season with frequent
loss of crops, houses and sometimes life. A breakdown of
traditional fire management has contributed to declining land
productivity in many areas with a direct impact on plantations and
crops, soil loss and nutrient depletion.
Two village communities, at Waingapu on the island of Sumba, and
near Bajawa on Flores have been actively involved in the fire
project from the start and the project team has established several
fire experimental sites in those areas. The villagers have formed
discussion groups that describe the impacts of fires on their
personal property, natural resources and livelihood. In general
they see fire as an inevitable, annual assault on their resources,
one that is beyond their control.
This year the villagers on both Sumba and Flores received
training in safe and effective burning methods from the Bushfires
Council and Charles Darwin University project team. Strategic,
prescribed early dry-season burning was planned and carried out,
with the aim of protecting houses, gardens and agroforestry
plantations. Several field days with demonstrations of burning
methods were held in May near the village of Ngaru Kahiri in
eastern Sumba for local villagers, who then demonstrated the
techniques for government field and technical officers. Similar
field days were held in Ngada district on Flores.
The extent and timing of fires on Sumba and Flores were mapped
by the project’s GIS officers—from the Provincial
Development Planning Board (BAPPEDA) on Sumba and Flores and
Darwin-based fire researcher, Rohan Fisher. These fire maps were
derived from satellite imagery and validated by on-ground
Current mapping indicates that around 50 per cent of the study
area in Flores and 19 per cent of the area in Sumba are burnt each
The extent of fires was then related to land cover and land use
maps. The Indonesian GIS officers received training from Rohan
Fisher and from the Centre of International Forestry Research in
Bogor. They will spend some time working alongside GIS officers in
Darwin next year.
The maps produced by the project were well received as land
management tools. The villagers took part in mapping exercises and
now refer to the land use maps when planning burning activities.
BAPPEDA officials are very enthusiastic about the mapping
capabilities developed through the project and are using these maps
as regional planning tools.
Fire mapping on Sumba
This 2003 fire map of Sumba was derived from
two satellite image dates. The first was from early in the dry
season (May) and the second from late in the dry season (October).
By mapping multiple dates we are able to increase mapping accuracy
and produce a picture of the timing of the burning.
Late dry season fires are considered to be potentially more
destructive as they are often larger and hotter. We can see from
this mapping that most of the fires occur late in the dry
Fire regulations and policy
For both countries, the fire policies and regulations were
written by their respective national governments and are more
appropriate to the forested areas of these countries than to the
savannas. In eastern Indonesia, government fire policies are
designed for forested areas of western Indonesia. A review is under
way to address these inconsistencies and make recommendations
relating to fire policies and regulations appropriate to savanna
The project also aims to provide educational materials at the
university level relating to the sustainable management of
Course materials relating explicitly to tropical savanna ecology
and management are currently available in the Masters of Tropical
Environmental Management (MTEM) developed by the TS–CRC and
taught at CDU. This material is highly relevant to land management
in both eastern Indonesia and northern Australia. Dr Penny Wurm,
leader of the TS–CRC’s higher education program, is
working with Satya Wacana Christian University to make materials
from the MTEM units available to Indonesian
students—currently, most masters students at Satya Wacana
University are from eastern Indonesia.