Palm oil & air pollution

Burning is a common method for clearing vegetation in natural forests as well as within oil palm plantations.
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Burning in oil palm plantations and extensive land clearing, Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia.
© Tantyo Bangun / WWF-Canon

Smoke pollution from forest fires

The burning of forests to clear land for oil palm plantations in Indonesia and, to some extent, Malaysia has been cited as the major cause of the air pollution that affected many areas of Southeast Asia in 1997 and 2002, including Singapore and other cities.

The smoke was so bad that airports were closed for days at a time.

Once started, many of the fires in peat forests burned uncontrolled both underground and above ground for months.

Diverse impacts

The haze produced by the fires posed serious health problems to plantations workers and people throughout Southeast Asia.

Such haze can also reduce the productivity of oil palm trees and reduce the activity of pollinating weevils.

In addition to air pollution, burning of forests releases CO2 to the atmosphere and so contributes to climate change.

Still common practice

While the practice of burning has been outlawed in Malaysia and Indonesia, it is still occuring here – as well as in other parts of the world where plantation establishment is now occurring.


Source: Jason Clay (2004) "World Agriculture & Environment"

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