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Malaysia considers land grabs as a way to stop haze pollution

Malaysia is proposing an amendment to the country’s Environmental Protection Act to allow the government to seize land where big fires take place. The fires are often a result of slash-and-burn de-foresting techniques associated with palm oil plantations.

Government land grabs are often times a source of controversy, but Malaysia’s proposal to seize lands where forest fires occur could be a good thing for the environment as it could curb rampant haze pollution that results from these fires as well as protect the forests from this type of man-mande fires.

Haze has been a long-term issue in Southeast Asia as result of excessive forest fires from slash-and-burn practices. Slash-and-burn farming involves cutting down part of the vegetation on a patch of land and then set fire to the remainder in order to plant new crops. The technique is mostly used in tropical rain forests, like the ones in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Slash-and-burn techniques are usually linked to the global palm oil industry. Palm oil is used in everything from cooking oil, to refined food products, to soap, and even cosmetics. Malaysia and Indonesia produce 90 percent of the world’s palm oil.

Many of these fires have been started to burn rainforest for large corporations to build new palm oil plantations. Clearing land for plantations has resulted in widespread deforestation, pollution, and loss of habitat for many of the animals that inhabit Indonesia and Malaysia.

Slash-and-burn is an easy way to clear land, but the fires produce a dense smog and release a huge volume of greenhouse gases. In recent years, parts of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia have been shrouded in haze caused by forest fires in rural Indonesia and Malaysia.

Indonesia has recently taken steps to curtail haze pollution and deforestation through a moratorium on new palm oil concessions.

"The haze situation this year is potentially worse as Malaysia is already facing moderate haze due to local fires, and the coming monsoon winds will only bring in more haze from Indonesia," said Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the country’s environment minister, at a press conference.

It’s unclear what the government would do with the seized land, but the move would serve as a deterrent to slash-and-burn farming. Hopefully, the government will take this opportunity to reforest lands as well.

While it’s not likely to go into effect until next year, the new amendment is a great way for the government to reduce the environmental impact of the palm oil industry in Malaysia.