Indonesia - The damaging practice of clearing land by burning has spread across Indonesia since at least the 1990s, employed by large and small businesses alike. The devastating impact of this practice was brought to international attention when it sparked a regional environmental and public health crisis in 2014-2015.

Burning, especially on drained peatlands and peat forests, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global climate change. The haze resulting from fires interrupts daily life, forcing school and business closures, and can even result in death. The damage done to biodiverse peat forests and carbon-rich peatlands is, in some cases, irreversible.

As Indonesia’s economy grows, and sectors such as oil palm and pulp and paper continue to boom, controlling fire and haze has become more important than ever. Tougher laws and regulations to ban agricultural burning have had a strong effect on stopping the practice.

In some cases, businesses have taken responsibility for their impact, either independently or under pressure from consumers, such as by pledging compliance to international sustainability standards, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Others have reached out to communities to cooperate on changing practices both inside and outside their concession areas.

Representatives from the private sector joined community leaders, law enforcement officials, researchers and others at a national policy dialogue on preventing fire and haze held Pekanbaru last month, hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with the University of Riau.

For more information on this topic, please contact Herry Purnomo at
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
This research was supported by the KNOWFOR program from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).
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2 responses to “Fire and haze: Better business practices”

  1. Imran Ahimbisibwe says:

    Blazing peatlands for agricultural intensification on large scale is as bad as burning fossil fuels. They both alter atmospheric chemical composition with far reaching repercussions. Nutrients and acidic deposition besides blocking heat waves reflected from the earth hence increasing global temperatures are the main effects of forest fires and other green house gases.
    However we need to make a distinction between industrial pollution here we mean large scale clearing of forests using fire and small holder bush and weed burning as a sustainable agricultural practice. Clearing land using fire for the first crop is essential to destroy weeds and reduce organic matter to levels that are consistent to the crop’s nutrient intake, excess nuitrients are counter productive as they destroy the first crop. The resulting ash contains potassium which plants need for root development among other things. In addition the unwanted dry material if left to rote in the garden they harbour rondents and pests that destroy the crop.
    The carbondioxide and gases released in small holder farming practice as described above are far less and within ecological limits than emissions resulting from conventional mechanised agriculture. In the latter potassium and other artificial nutrients are manufactured in industries that burn fossil fuels. Packaging and transporting the fertilisers involves huge amounts of energy. Weeds and pests are controled using herbicdes and pestcides produced in the same way.
    It can be infered therefore that not every bush burning is unsustainable in agriculture. The costs of avoiding forest burning for agricultural expansion are prohibitive and they affect negatively ecosystem goods and services derived threrefrom. Having said that however it is imperative to state that burning peatlands for agriculture expansion constitutes an environmental problem because it causes physical change to the landscape.

  2. Jim says:

    Actually, forest burning started in the 1980s when logging in tropical forests in Indonesia, especially Kalimantan and Sumatra went industrial. The big event was the 1982-83 El Nino, which started the whole disastrous cycle (repeated in 1997-98 and more frequently since then). I lived and worked on the environment in Indonesia for this whole period and afterwards.

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