Slash-and-burn technique must end, meeting told
FARMERS IN the North should be encouraged to grow konjac, avocado and persimmon instead of corn, which is blamed for fires used to clear farmlands, contributing to the haze crisis, a meeting in Chiang Mai heard yesterday.
Officials from the nine haze-hit provinces also suggested at the meeting that poachers of forest products should also be given other jobs, while funds should be earmarked to set up a village-level forest fire-monitoring network.
Chonkhet Boonyakhan, chair of the Mae Hong Son Chamber of Commerce, suggested that for the short term, officials should provide knowledge to villagers about what crops were suitable in which area, while the private sector could help market the villagers’ produce.
A middle-term solution should ensure the prevention of forest fires, and their negative impacts should be included in school curriculum. The government should also set up a command centre to ensure work is integrated with a common goal and done with transparency, Chonket said. She also called on the authorities to take action against private companies that benefit from the slash-and-burn agricultural practice.
Chiang Mai environment office director Panyarat Rangsilpa concurred that alternative jobs must be created for poachers. He said Chiang Mai Governor Supachai Iamsuwan had set up a good model by allocating funds to create a village-level forest fire-monitoring network that hired former poachers. This way, they no longer have to make a living by setting forests alight.
Panyarat said encouraging farmers to grow konjac, which has a high demand in Europe and China, could be a middle-term solution, while a long-term solution could see farmers growing fruit trees such as avocado and persimmon.
Khomsan Wisitthisart, an environment official from Nan province, said several factors were responsible for the haze, including a high amount of accumulated flammable materials in forestland, low rainfall, the attractive price of corn and bad economy, which had driven many to poach forest products. He urged the authorities to educate local communities about the impacts of forest fires and strictly enforce the law against those responsible for causing the fires.
Chiang Rai environment office director Amnat Jermlae said the province was exposed to trans-border smog as well as those from its own forest fires, which increased since mid-March due to the high amount of accumulated flammable materials on the floor of the forests. He said the regulation of fires must be done all year round, not just during this period.
Meanwhile residents in the Upper North continued to suffer dangerous levels of air pollution yesterday, while officials and volunteers battled forest fires.
As of 2.42pm yesterday, the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency’s fire-monitoring system cited 275 hotspots in the region. The five worst-hit provinces were Mae Hong Son (114 hotspots), Chiang Mai (35), Lampang (35), Chiang Rai (33), and Phayao (20).
Air quality remained poor in Chiang Mai, which was second in the airvisual.com list of the world’s most polluted cities as of 1pm with air quality index (AQI) of 280, after China’s Shenyang, with an AQI of 1,505.
In a meeting on Wednesday with district chiefs in Mae Hong Son, Governor Sirirat Chamupakarn called for a total ban on all outdoor fires, full effort to put out forest fires, a hunt for those behind the fires and the establishment of a tambon-level taskforce. He also called for the setting up of a fact-finding committee to investigate the fires.
Many village headmen noted that some forest fires, especially in Pang Mapha district, might have been politically motivated, as some people have conflicts with some kamnan or village headmen and may want them removed from their posts.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had announced earlier this week that kamnan or village headmen who failed to curb forest fires and haze may be fired.
Meanwhile, the Pollution Control Department (PCD) at 9am estimated the 24-hour average of PM2.5 at between 38mcg and 151mcg in nine northern provinces. Tambon Jong Kham in Muang Mae Hong Son was the worst with 151mcg, followed by tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district (121mcg) and tambon Chang Pheuk in Muang Chiang Mai (118mcg).
The Chiang Mai Air Quality Health Index Centre at 9am showed the hourly results of PM2.5 levels to be dangerously high in neighbouring districts with tambon Yang Mern of Samoeng district being the worst at 461mcg followed by tambon Mae Pong in Doi Saket district at 425mcg.