Political economy of fire and haze: Moving to long-term solutions

Political economy of fire and haze: Moving to long-term solutions

26 August 2015

published by http://blog.cifor.org

Indonesia — Fifty years ago, Indonesia was rich with pristine forest.

And then boom!

Between 1980 and 2000 – a timber logging boom. Illegal logging followed – so, another boom in the ten years from 2000, and then the oil palm boom came after that.

Pristine forest was badly logged and turned into degraded forest, and then was slashed and burnt, made ready for oil palm and wood plantations of different scales.

This landscape transformation provided benefits and costs to different actors. But fire and haze were also part of the landscape transformation.

Under President Joko Widodo, the government of Indonesia has committed to reducing – or even zeroing – fire incidences in Indonesia. And although some improvements have been made, fire and haze continue.

This year, the country is facing El Niño, which will cause drier weather and increase the occurrence of fire and haze.

Solutions are needed, because current actions mostly deal with fighting fires and are not systematically harnessing the politics and economy of fires.

Reviewing fire policy and laws (what works and does not work) mapping actors and their network and economy, providing clear and transparent spatial maps, and engaging with key policy makers and practitioners are keys for reducing fire and haze.


Unclear spatial planning is constraining the fire reduction effort.

At a stakeholder consultative meeting in Pekanbaru on 25 March, the need for have agreement and an enforceable spatial plan was underlined.

This is not enough.

All stakeholders need to again sit down and discuss spatial mapping and try to reach agreement. Negotiating the interests of conservation, legality, business, local livelihoods, carbon emission reduction etc. are vital, but so too is the understanding that the “ideal” solution may not exist.

When discussing the history of a degraded area, negotiation should discuss not only on space but also duration. For example, an area that has been converted illegally from being a conservation area to oil palm, could remain oil palm for a certain amount of years to compensate for the investment from private sectors or local communities.

However, after that designated time period it would be time to restore the area to forest.

Illegal land transactions can, and do occur in concession and state lands, where the area is not really secured. This economic demand for degraded, burnt and oil-palm planted lands largely drives land transformation from pristine forest into agricultural plantation that provides huge benefit to certain actors.

The government needs to create disincentives in the demand for illegal degraded, burnt and oil palm planted lands by putting a legality standard over the land being sold.


Detecting, anticipating and prosecuting organized crime involved in illegal land transactions causing fire and haze has to be done by legal institutions. At the same time, training for police, attorneys and judges on related forest and environmental law must be held.

President Joko Widodo’s administration has already established a task force to solve conflicts in Indonesia’s forests.

The task force will be a joint collaboration between Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF), the Home Affairs Ministry, the Agrarian Ministry, as well as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). To ensure the success of this task force, public awareness through mass and social media about the importance of reducing fire and haze is needed.


Peat degradation is the main source of Indonesia’s carbon emissions through fire. Peat is not only about a valuable ecosystem, it is also about the people who live there.

To reduce fire on peat lands we need to develop immediate livelihood and income sources for indigenous and local communities living on already degraded land. These could include annual crops, horticulture, agro-forestry and planted trees depending on peat depths, and related small-scale industries along the value chains.

At the same time those communities living on good peat land need assistance to develop their livelihood and income sources – with the help of payment for ecosystem services and REDD+.

Strengthening and providing financial support to grass root organizations like Fire Concerned Communities (Masyarakat Peduli Api) will ensure their effectiveness to support fire detection and early warning systems.

Local initiatives at micro-scale level should restore peatland by blocking canals, wetting the peat and planting with Jelutong, rubber and pineapple plants.

Scaling up into landscape levels or hydrological units will need deeper thinking and multi-stakeholder approaches since water is a scarce resource and can be a source of conflict in the dry season.

Planning and executing water level management at landscape level through – among others actions – canal blocking, would ensure fairness to for both small-scale and large actors.

Community and livelihood development needs to be in place to sustain peat restoration. Sharing the good practices of local initiatives and the private sector in peat ecosystem restoration and encouraging the adoption of those practices will help create uniformity.

Finally, reducing fire and haze is not only a “TO DO” list to follow as outlined above, but it’s also about HOW to do things and WHO should be doing them.


We can use the ‘landscape approach’ to reconcile agriculture, conservation, and other competing land uses to answer HOW question.

In this approach, the government, smallholders and other key stakeholders will be called to consider their multiple goals in the landscape, understand the drivers, set priorities, take action and monitor progress.

Understanding WHO really are “the stakeholders of fire” is a key to the success of the landscape approach. This approach will be guided by the ten principles of landscape approach, which emphasize adaptive management, stakeholder involvement, and multiple objectives.

Collective actions among ASEAN country members – to reduce fire and haze through continuous dialogue, pooling funding and concrete actions on the ground – need be done to realize the vision of a haze-free ASEAN by 2020.

Finally, thinking globally, linking to the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs) is required to get better support from national and international communities.

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