Conservation News: Indonesia Comes Under Fire for Forest Fires

A firefighter braving the smoke caused by the forest fires in Riau, Sumatra, on June 23, 2013. The forest fires continue to cause record-breaking air pollution in Singapore and Malaysia. (EPA Photo/Ulet Ifansasti).
A firefighter braving the smoke caused by the forest fires in Riau, Sumatra, on June 23, 2013. The forest fires continue to cause record-breaking air pollution in Singapore and Malaysia. (EPA Photo/Ulet Ifansasti).

By Baradan Kuppusamy for the Jakarta Globe

Kuala Lumpur. With a propensity to devour everything in their path and spiral quickly out of control, leaving behind swathes of scorched earth, forest fires are considered a hazard in most parts of the world.

In Indonesia, however, fires are the preferred method for clearing large areas of land for massive plantations of commercial crops. In the first half of 2013, research studies have already recorded 8,343 forest fires, a higher number than in preceding years.

While some blazes occurred naturally, igniting in the country’s vast rainforests that are transformed in the dry summer months into an expanse of kindling, experts say that many fires were created by plantation companies and, to a lesser extent, by local communities, to clear millions of hectares of jungle land needed for oil palm plantations.

According to the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor), oil palm plantations covered 7.8 million hectares in Indonesia in 2011, and produced roughly 23.5 million tonnes of crude palm oil that year.

The cheapest and easiest way to clear enough land to yield these huge quantities of oil is to set fire to acre upon acre of rainforest and let the wind and the flames do the work. This method is also efficient in reducing the acidity of peat soil.

Peat soil is a soggy organic matter that acts as anathema to palm trees. This explains why about two-thirds of forest fires in Indonesia occur on peat lands.

Unfortunately, peat soil becomes extremely toxic at high temperatures, emitting greenhouse gases and creating haze and smog. Peat fires can burn on for weeks, even months, endangering wildlife and human communities far from the site of the actual fire.

This excerpt from a news article appeared in and is courtesy of the Jakarta Globe.  To read the entire article click here.

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