Public Events

18 Mar 2015

Transboundary Haze and the Politics of Land Management in Southeast Asia


This talk was recorded on Wed 18 March 2015. The venue was University of Nottingham Kuala Lumpur Teaching Centre, Level 2, Chulan Tower, No 3 Jalan Conlay, Kuala Lumpur.


Dr. Helena Varkkey

Dr Helena Varkkey is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of International and Strategic Studies, University of Malaya. A marriage of her two fields of interest, environmental politics and Southeast Asia, has led to research and writing on the politics of transboundary haze in the region. Dr. Helena's approach to this issue is one of political economy, observing the link between patronage in the agribusiness sector, especially the oil palm industry, and haze-­‐producing fires. Her findings will be published in a book later this year under Routledge. Her other areas of research interest include non‐traditional security issues, sustainability, and resource management, and she has recently contributed an article on resource dependency in the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Malaysia.

Seminar Summary

Haze is an almost annual occurrence in Southeast Asia. Forest fires, especially on peatlands in Indonesia, produce the thick, sooty smoke that travels across national boundaries, affecting the health and economies of up to six Southeast Asian countries. These fires are usually either manmade or exacerbated by human activity, and most can be traced to the activities of commercial oil palm plantations. In general, peatlands are considered very delicate ecosystems which should be left alone to provide environmental services. While Indonesia has laws against commercial peatland use, in reality this has not been the case. This talk will provide an in-depth discussion of land management in Indonesia, explaining how swathes of fire‐prone peatland have been able to be released for large‐scale agribusiness development, especially oil palm. The culture of patronage in the Indonesian natural resource industry has been an important driver of this practise. Furthermore, unsustainable management of these lands have resulted in increased fire activity, and worsening transboundary haze.