Interview / 29 Aug 2017
In Indonesia, finding the right ways to fight fire and haze
After 2015’s scale-tipping fire and haze event, what progress is being made and what remains to be done?
On the eve of talks in Pekanbaru, Riau, on best practices to prevent fire and haze, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist Herry Purnomo discusses the fires currently burning in Indonesia, the efforts being made to prevent them and restore affected land, and the next steps as the country moves toward a haze-free future.
There have been recent reports of fires in various parts of Indonesia. What is happening?
Fires started in June and July this year, mostly in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and in Papua. They are occurring because people are burning land to clear it, generally to plant oil palm.
Legally, it has been difficult to reduce the prevalence of fires for various reasons, even though the national government has been revoking forest concessions and putting good policies into place. People are illegally encroaching on land and burning it, and there is not sufficient capacity on the ground to protect all of these areas.
It is a difficult situation. I’ve spoken to Forestry Department officials in Riau and they have about nine million hectares of land but not enough budget or resources to protect it all. And open access to land and illegal land transactions make fires even more difficult to control.
Burning and clearing land for oil palm is an easy way for people to make money – and when I say “people” I don’t necessarily mean poor people but also the middle class, the wealthy, the private sector. Many are trying to get rich by growing oil palm. Laws are getting better and better, but there is a battle occurring on the ground.