by Alice Cuddy
A “fire economy” has emerged in Indonesia in which the blazes tearing through the country’s land and forests, driven largely by the global demand for palm oil, are lining the pockets of local elites and their patronage networks, according to a new study.
“Fire economy and actor network of forest and land fires in Indonesia,” published in the journal Forest Policy and Economics, details the ways in which a variety of people “benefit directly and indirectly from the business of fire, enjoying profits and economic rents at the expense of environmental quality.”
The study — carried out by scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the University of Riau and Bogor Agricultural University — focuses on four districts in Riau province, on Indonesia’s main western island of Sumatra.
The province reportedly experiences the most frequent fires in Indonesia, due largely to the massive conversion of forests and peatlands to oil palm estates, where slash-and-burn methods are employed to clear land for planting. The practice is illegal in almost all cases.
The fires do not only impact the local environment, with blazes in Indonesia regularly resulting in haze that affects the whole region, particularly Malaysia and Singapore, and that has been linked to a slew of premature deaths.
At the heart of the issue are the “enormous benefits” reaped by those involved in the fires, said one of the study’s authors, Herry Purnomo.
As a celebration of social forestry initiatives in Indonesia, a festival showcasing stories of community-managed forests around the archipelago was held in Jakarta last week by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
The event took place more than a year after the launch of the Indonesian government’s ambitious program targeted at allocating 12.7 million hectares of forests to be managed by communities through social forestry schemes, as well as forming partnerships for collaborative forest management.The target has been part of the government’s five year plan (2015-2019), which means that there should be more than 2.5 million hectares of forests allocated for communities each year.
The EU said last week that Indonesia is the first country to qualify for the licenses. It will mean that traders of goods such as wooden furniture, plywood and paper that earn the certification will find it easier to do business with Europe.