Update (25 June, 5.00pm): Port Klang – 484, Seri Manjung – 333.
Update (25 June, 10.00am): Port Klang – 493; Seri Manjung – 322; Shah Alam – 301.
Update (25 June, 7.00am): Port Klang – 487; Seri Manjung, Banting, Shah Alam approaching hazardous levels.
24 June: Where does the buck stop? Denials from big plantation companies that they are responsibile for the smog emergency have been coming in thick and fast as the wind blows the dense smog up the peninsula.
What is happening now is environmental crime.
The standard response has been to blame local communities and smallholders in Sumatra for the clear-cutting and slash-and-burn tactics. It is easy to blame the small guys/local farmers/local communities, etc when they are unable to respond in the media.
Yet, an overlay map of Sumatra shows that there is a close correlation between the hotspots (where the burning is taking place) and the concession areas for oil palm plantations and timber.
I spoke to two people to try and figure out what is really going on.
The first person was an automotive engineer who used to visit many plantation estates in Sumatra to check on their vehicles and workshops. He is convinced that the big companies are ultimately responsible for the open burning. What happens he says is that these companies obtain concessions covering large tracts of land. But parts of this concession areas are invariably inhabited by local communities.
So, the large companies then engage some of these local communities to clear the land for them – sort of like outsourcing the land-clearing. And then these local communities do it in the easiest or cheapest way possible. Moreover, the local people often do not have the expertise for replanting, which the large companies possess. But because it is the local communities doing the clearing, the large companies are able to wash their hands and pass the buck to the local communities.
The other person I spoke to is a consultant for a downstream palm oil processing firm who has worked many years in the palm oil industry in Malaysia and abroad. He said it is well known in industry circles that the big boys are ultimately responsible for a lot of the burning. But nobody is willing to come out openly to say it as they are looking out for their ‘rice bowl’.
Agree or disagree? If you have any experience or familiarity with what is happening in Sumatra and in plantations in the region, please share with us in the comments below.