Indonesia has challenged Japanese scientists to check the balance between the amount of fresh oxygen produced by Indonesia’s protected forests, and amounts of forest fire haze affecting neighboring countries. This information could be an important way to counter repeated international protests over haze problems, the Forestry Ministry claimed in a dialog on research cooperation between Indonesia and Japan, here Wednesday. “We need to conduct research to check the balance between the ‘amounts’ of haze and fresh oxygen ‘sent’ by Indonesian forests to neighboring countries,” the ministry forest fire prevention unit chief, Herman Prayitno, said. “We need this data to create a balanced view,” he said, “which would show that our forests also create fresh oxygen and could improve our bargaining position in responding to protests from countries affected by the haze”. Indonesia has the largest area of forest in the region, with some 120 million hectares of tropical forests. However, annual forest fire smoke causing massive amounts of air pollution has prompted protests from the Singaporean and Malaysian governments. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologized to Indonesia’s neighbors for the 2006 haze incidents, the second most severe after the 1997 haze disaster which blanketed Singapore and Malaysia. Responding to the ministry’s request, a Japanese researcher said it was a matter of technology to “calculate” amounts of smoke from forest fires. “It is, of course, a difficult task, but it is possible with technology,” Hirotaka Ochiai, Principle Research Coordinator at Japan’s Forestry Agency, told The Jakarta Post. The best way to reduce forest fires, he said, would be through the REDD scheme, the much-debated mechanism of reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation by providing incentives to parties which protect forests. “Forest fires are strongly related to the REDD concept. The carbon credits from REDD could also be used to fund forest fire prevention and improve the welfare of the communities living near forests,” he said. However, Ochiai said, carbon prices through the REDD mechanism should be higher than from aforestation or reforestation projects which are currently worth around US$3 per ton of carbon. Japanese Ambassador to Indonesia, Kojiro Shiojiri, praised Indonesian efforts to reduce the number of forest fire hot spots over the last two years. “Much progress has been made in dealing with forest fires. As a result, I understand the incidence of the forest fires in Indonesia were reduced by 70 percent in 2007,” he said. “The haze disasters have been predominantly caused by land-clearing method locals use to gain land for agriculture, quickly and cheaply. This method has been passed down from generation to generation,” Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Ka’ban said. The governments of Japan and Indonesia set aside Rp 400 million (US$43,011) for forest fire prevention this year. Japan awarded a grant of 300 million (US$2.76 million) for training and forest fire prevention last year. The project targeted some of the most vulnerable forests in North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and South Sulawesi.