Tropical Savannas CRC > Publications > Savanna Links > Savanna Links Archive > Issue 29, July - September 2004

Issue 29, July - September 2004

Northern fire research links to Indonesia

Villagers establishing a fire break on Sumba, Indonesia
Villagers establishing a fire break on Sumba, Indonesia

Research partnership aids villagers

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 Indonesia.

The project activities include:

  • describing the impacts of current burning practices in Indonesia,
  • mapping current fires, and past and present land-use and land cover,
  • 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, and
  • 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).

Fires in eastern Indonesia

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.

Field days

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.

GIS and satellite mapping

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 observations.

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 year.

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

map of fires on the island of Sumba, Indonesia
graph showing early vs late dry season fires on Sumba, Indonesia

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 season.

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 landscapes.

Higher education

The project also aims to provide educational materials at the university level relating to the sustainable management of savannas.

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.


Mr Rohan Fisher
Cycad Media
Tel: 08 8985 6143

PO Box 828

Dr Bronwyn Myers
Research Associate
Charles Darwin University
Tel: 08 8946 6726

Fax: 08 8946 7088

Faculty of SITE, Bldg 18