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Palm Oil Industries Linked to Toxic Haze in Asia; Authorities Firm About Curbing Air Pollution

Apr 28, 2016 01:48 PM EDT

Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are the countries prone to high levels of PSI or unhealthy levels of toxic air or haze. This is due to forest burning to make way for palm oil industries. According to authorities, one major contributor of haze and air pollution is the palm oil production in the Asian region. But lately, a drop in oil production means that the authorities are firm and serious about fighting air pollution in the region.

Indonesian Prime Minister Joko Widodo is not against palm oil production being one of the top industries in the country. He believes however that to curb the problem when it comes to toxic haze, they should put a halt on making new plantations, and instead regulate and properly develop existing plantations so as to produce greater numbers of palm oil and at the same time become less hazardous to the environment.

Even today, the haze in Kalimantan is still considered toxic, prompting civic groups to declare a state of emergency according to the Asia Foundation. According to the foundation, the clearing of forests to make way for palm oil plantations are one of the main causes of agricultural fires which will then cause toxic haze. Last January this year, Joko Widodo also established Indonesia's first Peatland Restoration Agency. The aim of the agency is to restore two million hectares of land by 2019. They will also limit burning of forests to prevent further air pollution.

In a report by Indonesian Investments, Riset Perkebunan Nusantara, a research firm, expects a 4.2 percent palm oil production drop in 2016. "The firm further adds that in 2015 Indonesia had a total of 11.3 million hectares of palm oil plantation, consisting of plantations owned by the state (750,000 hectares), plantations owned by the private sector (5.97 million hectares) and plantations owned by smallholders (4.58 million hectares). The palm oil sector is one of Indonesia's key foreign exchange earners. Indonesia is the world's largest producer and exporter of palm oil, followed by Malaysia."

The Malaysian government is also firm in the fight against air pollution. The government plans to amend the Environmental Protection Act, according to Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, of the Natural Resources and Environment Minister.

Reuters quoted Jaafar in a conference when he said that under the amendment "It will not matter if the land is owned by smallholders or plantation giants, as long as there is a substantial fire the government will take control of the land."

Although these measures will definitely result to lower palm oil production, both countries are firm to curb toxic haze and they are willing to sacrifice the gains of the plantations to be able to alleviate air pollution.

The air pollution in the region have reached hazardous levels alarming the government not just in Indonesia and Malaysia but also the neighboring countries and various world environmental organizations.

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