Burning land 40 times cheaper than using machines, says expert

Burning land 40 times cheaper than using machines, says expert

PETALING JAYA — Even though machines can significantly increase work efficiency, farmers in Indonesia still prefer the slash and burn method of clearing land, simply because it is cheaper to do so.

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PETALING JAYA — Even though machines can significantly increase work efficiency, farmers in Indonesia still prefer the slash and burn method of clearing land, simply because it is cheaper to do so.

“The underlying factor is cost,” said Dr Helena Varkkey, environmental politics expert from the Department of International and Strategic Studies, Universiti Malaya.

Slash and burn, though crude and primitive, is 40 times cheaper than using machinery, which costs around US$200 (S$254.4).According to Dr Varkkey, research revealed that it costs farmers US$5 per hectare when they slash and burn.

Small-scale farmers, who are presumably more cost conscious became easy scapegoats in light of the haze that has enveloped Malaysia and Singapore too. But Dr Varkkey said that 60 to 80 per cent of the commercial plantations were actually responsible for the fires.

“Most commercial plantations also prefer to use fire, for similar cost-related reasons,” she said. “These companies are able to avert the risk of being caught and punished for open burning,”

She pointed out that larger companies seek subcontractors to help clear the land and in the event they were caught by authorities, it was easy to push the blame elsewhere, claiming that they had instructed the workers otherwise.

To make matters worse, larger companies also maintain ‘healthy’ relationships with local and central government officials.

Aside from cost factors, increasing use of peat soil can also contribute to large-scale fires. Dr Varkkey said that it is because peat dries quicky, becoming extremely flammable especially during hot weather.

Peat soil is commonly use to grow oil palm trees.

According to Dr Varkkey: “Even if these companies do not deliberately burn for land clearing, drained peat is highly susceptible to accidental fires.”

“When peat burns, it releases carbon-rich, sooty smoke that result in very bad haze, and the fires are very hard to put out. Fires on other types of land do not produce such choking smoke, and are usually easier to put out,” she said

Using fire as a method of land clearing is common even amongst pulp, paper and rubber planters but the effects are much less severe compared to the burning of peat soil. AGENCIES

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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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