Frequent and widespread fires have affected Indonesia’s tropical rainforest regions over the last two decades. Smoke and haze from these fires often blanketed the Southeast Asian region. Many international and national research and development projects were initiated after the big El Niño fires and associated regional smoke and haze. The international community and national NGOs expressed concern about health and visibility problems, economic losses, deforestation and forest degradation, biodiversity loss, and carbon emissions. Much of the effort was directed at fire monitoring, providing early warning systems, and developing fire suppression capabilities at the local government, corporate and community levels.
However there was also a felt need for understanding and addressing the underlying causes of the fires in order to find a more permanent solution for the problem. With this prerogative in mind, CIFOR and ICRAF were commissioned to jointly undertake research on the underlying causes and impacts of fires in Indonesia, and come up with management and policy recommendations to reduce unwanted fires and minimise the negative impacts. Research was undertaken from 1999 to 2004 with funding primarily from the United States Forest Service, the European Union, the Government of Japan and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.
CIFOR/ ICRAF research has helped to shed light on the underlying causes and impacts of fire incidence and spread in Indonesia at the site level and also at regional to national levels. The research has helped to identify potential solutions for reducing problem fires at the local, regional and national levels. It has taken an in-depth look at a major problem fire area at present – the peatlands. Frequent and widespread fires in the peatlands of Indonesia have broader regional and global impacts. Recommendations were discussed in meetings with government officials and NGO representatives; presented in workshops; and published in project reports, scientific journals, and articles in the popular media.
CIFOR scientists and partners have also undertaken significant work on fire ecology and rehabilitating fire-prone areas mainly in Indonesia. A global synthesis of effects on biodiversity and ecosystem function concluded that fire plays an important role in maintaining the health of certain ecosystems, but climate change and human use (and misuse) of fire has now made it a threat to many forests and their biodiversity. CIFOR is also involved in looking at the fires and policy responses from a Southeast Asia regional perspective.
CIFOR/ICRAF fire research was conducted in collaboration with numerous local, national and international government, NGO and/or academic partners. The work covers various topics in many different environments. Much of the work has been inter-disciplinary, combining social research with remote sensing and GIS. In the peatland fire research, village surveys and spatial analysis has been combined with field biological and social surveys to reach a thorough understanding of causes, impacts and possible solutions.