Indonesia burning: Research about fires and haze in Southeast Asia
        • The Political Economy of Fire and Haze in Indonesia

          CIFOR’s new project entitled "The Political Economy of Fire and Haze in Indonesia", supported by DFID, will run throughout 2015. This project takes a uniquely trans disciplinary approach to understanding the resurgence in Indonesia’s haze-producing peat land fires, focusing on Sumatra’s Riau Province.

          The project seeks to strengthen mapping efforts related to the fire events of 2013 and 2014, integrating national, provincial and district-level maps to help unravel the complex tenure and land-claiming issues that are suspected to be at the heart of many recent fire events. CIFOR’s research will contextualize the mapping efforts with on-the-ground verification and more nuanced exploration of how local actors perceive, experience and explain fire events. This will involve policy review, field-based stakeholder mapping, political economic analysis of the drivers of fire, and grounded analysis of de facto fire-setting practices.

        • Satellites can mislead: policy makers beware!

          The loss of old-growth tropical forest area through fire and agricultural expansion has for decades challenged many of sustainability goals set out by policy makers, conservation groups, and forest managers. As part of the solution to halt tropical deforestation, a strong contemporary trend has emerged to assign blame and industrial commodity plantations are very much scrutinized.

          Maps showing the boundaries and ownership of land parcels, and the timing and distribution of deforestation and fire events (with satellites), are increasingly combined in online mapping services as a way to improve transparency, traceability and accountability of the corporate sector.

          Here, we caution that simple assessments of deforestation or fire events in concessions face significant methodological limitations.

          The challenge is in capturing the on-ground complexities by combining smart maps with field investigations. Maps should be a starting point not the unique and final source of information.

        • New maps reveal more complex picture of Sumatran fires
          Policy interventions for mitigating fires require solid information on who is setting fires to whose land. However, this basic information is missing, because competing claims over land ownership in Indonesia gives rise to confusion over who is setting fires to whose land. Land use and land tenure in Indonesia are governed by a tangle of national, provincial and customary laws that often compete with each other, resulting in confusion over who owns which bit of land. This situation is exacerbated by an influx of land-seeking migrants and by investments in agricultural expansion by mid-level investors of unknown origin. Tensions — and occasionally conflict — can arise among these land users. Another confounding factor is the fact that fires move across the landscape, propelled by topography and wind. One cannot assume — based only on fire hotspot locations overlaid on concession maps — that burning within concessions is caused by large companies.