The long-awaited rains have finally arrived in parts of Indonesia devastated by forest and peatland fires, bringing relief to regions that had recently been blanketed in toxic smoke. As is often the case during bad fire years, the world’s attention turns to the palm oil industry. Preparing land by burning is cheaper than any other means, making fire the method of choice in many cases. However, when burning is not carried out under controlled conditions, the practice becomes problematic. In Indonesia, according to government figures, the area burned this year is considerably smaller, at about 328,772 hectares, compared with 2.6 million hectares in 2015. Malaysia and Indonesia together supply 85% of global palm oil production, through private corporations, state-owned companies and smallholders. Indonesia now has about 14 million hectares of oil palm under cultivation, operates more than 715 mills and 106 refineries, contributing to exports worth $23 billion in 2017. Millions of smallholders cultivate oil palm, and the sector employs about 8 million workers.
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