Fewer Fires in Managed Landscapes

Following the severe fire events of 2015, Indonesia introduced new fire prevention measures to reduce crop destruction, haze, forest degradation, and carbon emissions.

The fire prevention efforts, which include strict enforcement of the presidential ban on burning, have resulted in significant fire reductions. Between 2016 and 2019, fires were reduced by 77% compared to previous expectations for similar weather conditions.

Satellite Image of 2019 Southeast Asian haze in Borneo (15 September)

But although the onset of the 2019 fire season was positively delayed by 30-50 days as a result of the ‘no-burning’ policy, the fire prevention efforts were less effective during the dry El-Nino year of 2019, with only 30% fewer fires than expected under comparable conditions.

Fires on small farms tend to spread to other lands

As to whether companies or smallholders cause the most fires, a recent study by Gambut Kita and other researchers (Sloan et al., 2021) shows that both agro-industrial and small/medium lands burned extensively, comparably, and largely outside of concession areas.

Outside of concessions, around half of fires from small/medium lands affected other lands, while half of the hotspots on agro-industrial lands stemmed from other, degraded lands.

Peat fires can continue to burn underground for many months

Around half of the fires that start on small/medium landholdings spread into agro-industrial concessions and vacant, unmanaged land. Thus, small/medium landholdings (12-22% of fire activity) are net ‘fire propagators’, with up to half of that fire activity affecting other lands.

Conversely, agro-industrial lands (18-26% of fire activity) are net ‘fire receivers’ from small/medium landholdings and from unmanaged land.

Peat swamp forests are gradually removed from the landscape by successive fires

While around half of the fires start on unmanaged land, the other half of the fire activity stems from lands which are under managed land use. Moreover, three-quarters of overall fire activity either stems from, or occurs on, lands under active use. Therefore, fire prevention efforts must focus not only on degraded and unmanaged lands that are vulnerable to agricultural incursion, but also on the small/medium landholdings that propagate fire to other lands.

For a more in-depth analysis, please see the full paper: Sloan, Sean, Luca Tacconi, and Megan E. Cattau. “Fire prevention in managed landscapes: Recent success and challenges in Indonesia.” Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 26.7 (2021): 1-30.