Starting a plantation in Indonesia is easy with money

Zazali Musa in Sumatra The Star 24 Jun 13;

PEKANBARU: It was the third day of our stay here yesterday and finally we were able to do away with our masks and take in some fresh air.

The air quality was a stark contrast from when we first arrived at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport on Friday, at about 8.40pm local time, after taking flights from Singapore to Jakarta and then here.

Our eyes were tearing due to the smoky air almost immediately as we got off the plane and walked to a bus at the tarmac.

When I awoke at about 7am the next day, there was not much to view from our hotel room on the seventh floor.

The entire town and surrounding areas were heavily blanketed in the haze.

We headed to the outskirts of Pekanbaru yesterday to find out if it was any different.

We were prepared for the worst as we left the hotel at Jalan Jendral Sudirman at about 10am in a SUV driven by our hired supir (driver) Pak Tarmi.

To use a Hokkien word familiar to our southern neighbours, we were so kiasi (afraid to die) that we wore two masks each instead.

Yes, Singapore's famous traits of kiasu (afraid of losing) and kiasi (afraid to die) have rubbed off on us too.

An hour after passing villages and plantations along the way, we noticed the sky was getting clearer and brighter.

But there were signs of blackened areas in some of the plantations, which Pak Tarmi said could have been places that were burnt a week ago.

“Lihat tu, lahannya bekas dibakar, praktisnya normal di sini, pak (See, the burnt areas there. It is a normal farming practice here),” he said, pointing to the spots.

We then decided to enter the village road at Simpang Durian in the Kampar district.

As Pak Tarmi said, there was smoke emitting from a heap of dried oil palm fronds and palm kernels.

As we drove further into the village, we saw a newly cleared plantation.

There were piles upon piles of drying forest tree trunks which had been felled to make way for the plantation.

Looking for more answers, Pak Tarmi and I decided to stop at the small hut made from bamboo just a few metres away from the newly cleared oil palm plantation.

Pak Rizal, 60, and his son Firdaus, 25, greeted us.

Both were shirtless and in the midst of enjoying their coffee and kretek (clove cigarettes).

I introduced myself as a Malaysian businessman looking for land for cultivation.

“Aduh, Bapak udah terlambat, ini lahan baru aja dibuka kurang lebih satu minggu lepas (Alas, you are late, sir. This plantation was just opened a week ago),” said Pak Rizal.

“Gi mana ya Pak, proses buka lahan di sini?” I asked, putting on my best face as a prospective buyer of plantation land.

Firdaus said the process was fairly easy as long as one had money, adding no permit had been given to the newly cleared plantation yet.

“Semua bisa diatur (Everything can be arranged),'' he said and asked us to give him our contact numbers.

Pak Tarmi gave his mobile number and the father and son promised they would call if there was any land nearby for sale.

As we made our way back to the hotel after a six-hour trip covering 200km to and fro, we had to put on our masks again but only one each this time.

We were back in the thick of the haze.

'Indonesia must ratify haze treaty'
New Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Environmentalists have renewed their call for Indonesia to sign the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM) executive director Anthony Tan said nine Asean nations had signed the agreement in 2002, with the exception of Indonesia, which, ironically, houses the Asean secretariat.

"Asean's secretariat is in Jakarta, and 70 per cent of the yearly haze contributor is Indonesia.

"And yet they are still not participating in order to resolve the problem that has affected the whole region," he told the New Straits Times.

The agreement was the first regional arrangement in the world that obligates participating countries to tackle transboundary haze pollution resulting from land and forest fires.

The agreement, among others, requires parties to the agreement to cooperate in developing and implementing measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate transboundary haze pollution by controlling sources of land and forest fires, development of monitoring, assessment and early warning systems, exchange of information and technology, and the provision of mutual assistance.

Parties to the agreement can also take legal, administrative or other measures to implement their obligations.

The agreement came after the major environmental crisis that hit Southeast Asia in the late 1990s, mainly caused by land clearing via open burning in Indonesia.

Tan said the yearly haze was caused by a "mad rush" to clear land for plantation expansion or town development.

"Unfortunately, burning is still the cheapest form of land clearing in Southeast Asia.

"That is why strict enforcement is important."

Tan said the owners of the land involved in massive open burning in Indonesia must be penalised, regardless of their nationalities.

'Right way of farming' is long-term solution
Instilling such practices in Indonesia will tackle haze problem: PM Lee
Rachel Chang Straits Times 24 Jun 13;

THE long-term solution to the haze problem is to instil the "right way of farming" in Indonesia, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Speaking to Ang Mo Kio residents at a dialogue, he said this would mean that farmers would not resort to burning as a "short cut" to clear land for crop planting.

Singapore has been attempting to nudge the Indonesians towards sustainable practices, such as through a joint project in Jambi which promotes such agricultural practices to farmers and plantation owners.

The pact is up for renewal and PM Lee said that Singapore wants to extend it, and hopes that the Indonesians agree.

But he also noted that the authorities there face challenging obstacles in tackling the root cause of the haze, including the sheer size of the land area which is burning, and corruption.

He pointed out that the area over which forest fires are burning is much bigger than the whole of Singapore. Singapore's small size means the authorities are able to enforce laws easily and quickly.

This is not the case in Indonesia, he said, using the Chinese proverb "shang you dui ce, xia you zheng ce" (Whatever laws are handed down, the people on the ground will find ways around them).

One resident at the dialogue asked PM Lee about the detention last month of Riau governor Rusli Zainal by the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission. He is a suspect in a graft case involving the illegal exploitation of forests by logging companies.

Riau is ground zero of the forest fires producing the haze.

PM Lee said that he had heard the same thing about Mr Rusli, adding: "So these are the real problems in Indonesia."

He struck a sanguine note when another resident lamented that Singapore is "crippled" when it comes to fighting the haze as there is nothing it can do to stop the burning.

"This is our lot in life," replied Mr Lee in Mandarin.

"These are our neighbours. We can't change them. The responsibility for solving this problem is with Indonesia."

Separately, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who heads the haze inter-ministerial task force formed last week, told reporters that Singapore "stands ready to give assistance to Indonesia if asked".

He said that he has asked the Singapore Armed Forces to be on standby: "There is an open offer if they need assets that we have to help them in this firefighting. We are ready to go."

But Singapore respects and recognises Indonesia's sovereignty, and "we can only go if they ask us", he said.

Mr Lee and other ministers, in their efforts to distribute masks to residents around the island yesterday, also highlighted the efforts of the Singapore Armed Forces and People's Association in getting the masks around the island.

Meanwhile, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said Singapore is likely to stick to hosting the 2015 SEA Games in June, rather than move it to a different part of the year for fear that it could be hit by the haze. There is no "perfect window", he said, adding that efforts should be focused on preventing the haze from recurring and preparing the Republic.

At Ang Mo Kio GRC where he is an MP, PM Lee also announced that three blocks in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 had been selected for the Home Improvement Programme which will fix problems in ageing flats such as ceiling leaks.

Additional reporting by Jalelah Abu Baker, Lim Yi Han and May Chen