Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology, the agribusiness arm of Sinar Mas Group, says it has applied a 'zero-burning' policy since 1997. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Govt Urged to Revise Laws on Slash-and-Burn Agriculture


SEPTEMBER 15, 2015

Jakarta. Scientists and businesses are urging the Indonesian government to revise laws that allow small subsistence farmers to carry out slash-and-burn practices and bar them from using timber sourced from burned lands.

The appeal comes as thick haze from forest fires continues to envelop Sumatra and Kalimantan, as well as neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, prompting police to hunt down individuals and companies responsible for the blaze.

"Many blame the plantation industry for the forest fires. But [...] the problem existed long before the plantations were established," Suwandi, secretary general of the Indonesia Geology Association, said on Monday.

Local farmers traditionally utilize a small patch of forested communal land for farming in a short period of time, before moving to other areas to let the used soil recover.

Lacking the necessary manpower and machinery for other methods, they traditionally resort to burning because it is the cheapest and fastest way to clear land.

A 2009 law on environmental protection left a loophole that allows farmers to burn vegetation on less than two hectares of land, out of respect for local traditions.

"But this also means that a small fire in one area can spread uncontrollably to other areas," Suwandi pointed out.

A 2010 law on forestry further encouraged burning practices by baring farmers from using timber from the cleared lands.

"They always burn the timber because using them would be against the law," he said.

Nana Suparna, deputy chairman of the Indonesia Forestry Association, echoed Suwandi's sentiments, urging the government to put an end to slash-and-burn agriculture.

Plantation firms like Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper have taken a proactive approach by providing heavy machinery for clearing land to neighboring farmers, in order to prevent them from burning land.

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