- POSTED: 11 Oct 2013 18:15
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Weak law enforcement and monitoring in the forestry and plantations sector is a problem, and despite anti-fire regulations, it is rare for offenders to be prosecuted for illegal clearing of land.
PEKANBARU, Riau: ASEAN has agreed to adopt a haze monitoring system to combat the yearly pollution caused by illegal burning to clear land in Indonesia.
In June, the pollution got so bad that it caused a think haze to blanket Singapore and parts of Malaysia.
Indonesia's Riau province is covered with vast areas of carbon-rich peatland, and every year, reckless burning to clear land for agricultural use releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Riau alone produces more carbon dioxide than the whole of Germany, the world's fourth-largest industrial nation.
Over 50 per cent of land in Riau province is carbon-rich peatland. Peatland plays a vital role in protecting the local ecosystem by preventing carbon dioxide from being released into the air, so further clearing of peatland for commercial purposes will accelerate global climate change.
Sagu is the only crop that can be cultivated on the naturally acidic peatland soil.
Farmers would rather plant cash crops, likes palm trees, which bring in more money.
As a result, the forest cover in Riau has shrunk 65 per cent in the last 25 years.
Ponimin, a palm oil farmer, said: "Palm trees reach maturity by the fourth year. It is more profitable because it bears fruit every two weeks. For sagu, we have to cut the whole plant and must replant immediately."
Palm oil plantations in Indonesia occupy some eight million hectares of land in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
The expansion of these estates is seen as important for infrastructure development in rural Indonesia.
In the government's economic development masterplan, Riau is designated as the hub for palm oil production, with plans to double the current production of crude palm oil to 40 million tonnes annually by 2020.
Critics are accusing the government of mismanagement.
Muslim Rasyid, an environmental activist at Jikalahari, said: "If the government manages the existing concession lands, it can actually boost more revenue.
"That is what we see is not being done. The efforts are more (focused on) how to expand farmland instead of how to increase the quality of production."
Weak law enforcement and monitoring in the forestry and plantations sector is also a problem.
Despite anti-fire regulations, it is rare for offenders to be prosecuted for illegal clearing of land.
Activists have called for better enforcement.
They also said that economic benefits should not take precedence over environmental protection.