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Companies cannot operate in isolation from the communities of which they are part. But managing those engagements can be difficult even in areas where the practice is well established. How to set up a village-level program in remote parts of Indonesia to not just partner with locals, but get them to change age-old practices?

That was the challenge faced by APRIL in the initial design of its now successful Fire Free Village Program (FFVP).

“The FFVP is about fire prevention through community engagement,” says Craig Tribolet, APRIL’s Strategic Fire and Protection Manager. Currently it works with 77 communities around APRIL’s concession areas to encourage them not to start fires, like those that led to the debilitating haze across the region in 2015.

The program began that same year when APRIL identified nine high fire risk villages which neighbour the company’s concession areas, engaging the communities there in discussions around fire prevention. Although the country as a whole saw the worst fires in its history, the villages which had joined FFVP reduced their average burning by 90 per cent.

The village of Teluk Dalam in Indonesia’s Riau Province is so remote that the nearest big city is a three-hour boat ride away. So the villagers are understandably proud of local resident Yogi Suardiwerianto, who returned recently after completing a Master’s degree in the Netherlands, supported by APRIL Group.

Yogi, aged 30, first studied at the Department of Marine Science at Bogor Agricultural Institute before returning to Riau in 2011 to look for work. He found a job as Assistant Trainee in the Peatland Management Department of APRIL Group subsidiary Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper, which is one of the largest employers in the area.

In 2015 his supervisor asked Yogi if he would be interested in continuing his studies at Master’s level, with all the costs covered by APRIL Group as part of its commitment to continuously invest in its employees.

When Ni'mah and her family first moved to Pangkalan Kerinci in Indonesia's Riau Province, economic circumstances forced them to live in a hut with no electricity and no running water.

"I used to live in a palm plantation in Pangkalan Kerinci," she says. "There were only seven families living there at the time. There was no electricity, and the roads were still made of dirt. If it rained, it became muddy.

"If I wanted to go to the market, I had to walk around five kilometres to get there."

Ni'mah and her husband moved to the area from Java in 2010, but with few skills, they found it difficult to get jobs, and made ends meet by growing fruits and vegetables.

Being a dock worker at the port for many years made Indra Gunawan feel as though he was not progressing in life.

Not only did he rarely meet his family, he also could not improve his family’s welfare.

“I worked as a dock worker for approximately six years, from 2006 until 2012. My income as a dock worker was very small,” Indra said.

It was because of this that Indra decided to change jobs from being a dock worker to a farmer in Kerinci Kanan of the Riau Province in Indonesia.

“The first reason was that I wanted to be closer to my family and also to the community.

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