Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called on all related parties, including provincial governors, to help farmers acquire equipment such as excavators and tractors to ensure they do not resort to the slash-and-burn method when clearing plantation land.
"Let's change the mindset of our farmers who for long decades have cleared lands by burning to (shift to) using tractors, excavators, without creating fire." Mr Joko said in a speech yesterday at the presidential palace that was attended by local elected leaders, police and military chiefs from provinces prone to forest fires.
His remarks were triggered by a comment from a local police chief from a regency in West Kalimantan who suggested Indonesia amend a law passed a decade ago, which allows every traditional farming household to clear their own plantation land not greater than 2ha by slash and burn, saying the leniency was "local wisdom".
The 2009 law on the environmental protection and management allows controlled burning, under clause No. 69, where canals must first be dug up around the plantation to prevent fire from spreading.
The controversial clause has widely been criticised and has exempted traditional farmers from being prosecuted for committing the illegal slash-and-burn method.
And there is no guarantee that fires will not spread.
"We have to have courage to change our traditional farming method to a modern method that uses technology. It is the job of regents, provincial governors, ministers and all of us," Mr Joko stressed, adding that in the past five years, the agriculture ministry has been distributing tractors, excavators and bulldozers as aid packages to regions with vast plantation lands.
Indonesia has 34 provinces, each of which is made up of regencies and cities. Provincial governors and regents must ensure farmers are properly equipped and if they are not, the elected officials should put in a request with the agriculture minister for the necessary equipment, said Mr Joko, who is popularly called Jokowi.
Malaysia to call on Asean to fight haze
PETALING JAYA • Malaysia will, during a two-day meeting in Brunei that began yesterday, call on Asean to take measures to prevent transboundary haze.
In a statement, the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry said Malaysia wanted concerted efforts taken in accordance with the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze ratified by member countries.
Deputy Minister Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis, who leads the Malaysian delegation to the 21st Technical Working Group, and the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee Trans-boundary Haze Pollution meetings in Brunei, would submit reports on the measures taken.
"Malaysia will also activate a new national action plan for open burning and fine-tune the existing National Haze Action Plan," the ministry said on Monday.
The annual meeting involving Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand will discuss steps that need to be taken to address the issue. In 2015, raging fires in Riau and other parts of Sumatra spawned choking haze that blanketed parts of Singapore and Malaysia.
The ministry also noted that Klang Valley, comprising capital city Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding areas, the southern part of the west coast of the peninsula and the west coast of Sarawak were slightly shrouded in haze as forest fires continued to rage in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
The Air Pollutant Index also increased in the peninsula and western Sarawak, said the ministry.
The Meteorological Department, it added, had forecast the south-west monsoon to persist until the middle of next month.
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To amend a law or propose a Bill in Indonesia normally takes several years and Parliament must assign committees to work with the government to deliberate on any proposed Bill, including those for amendment, before it can be ratified into law. "It is impossible for any farmer to clear a 2ha land by shovelling. They should be assisted, otherwise they would resort to burning," Mr Joko said, stressing that regional military and police chiefs must help civilian leaders fight the fires.
"This week, I am going to Singapore and Malaysia, but last week there was a news headline about Indonesian forest fire (in overseas media)," he said. "We would be embarrassed if we cannot tackle this. They are happy that they didn't get haze in the past four years."
He said the situation regarding Indonesia's forest and plantation fires this year, although showing much improvement from the 2015 fires, is worse than last year. In 2015, raging fires in Riau, other parts of Sumatra and in Kalimantan spawned choking haze over Singapore and Malaysia.
The total loss incurred from the 2015 fires was valued at 221 trillion rupiah (S$21.6 billion) and about 2.6 million ha of land were engulfed in fires, he reminded his audience yesterday. "However small the fire is, action must be taken quickly," he added. "If the fire grows bigger, especially in peatland, it would be difficult to douse."