Southeast Asian ministers commit to eventual elimination of crop burning

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Southeast Asian agriculture and forestry ministers have agreed to take collective action to minimise and eventually eliminate crop burning in the region, amid deteriorating air quality and concern about cross-border haze.

In a statement after a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Malaysia, members recognised “the adverse environmental and health impacts of crop burning practices,” and committed to collectively reduce and phase it out.

“The meeting recognised the need for sustainable alternatives to crop burning, including the adoption of innovative and environmentally friendly agricultural practices,” it said.

The pledge comes as air quality hit unhealthy levels in several parts of Malaysia in recent days and after weeks of elevated pollution in Indonesia.

Malaysia’s environment minister in an interview with Reuters on Thursday called on Indonesia and ASEAN to take action as air quality worsens, blaming it on fires from crop burning in Indonesia.

Almost every dry season, smoke from fires to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations in Indonesia blankets much of the region, bringing risks to public health and worrying tourist operators and airlines. Many of the companies that own these plantations are foreign or foreign-listed.

Jakarta has denied detecting any smoke drifting over its borders into Malaysia.

The ASEAN meeting agreed to develop and implement educational campaigns and training programmes on sustainable agricultural practices, providing technical guidance on

alternative methods for land clearing.

“This will require collective efforts, sustained commitment, and collaboration among (ASEAN members) farmers, local communities, and relevant stakeholders,” it said.

The ministers also agreed to review and update existing regulations and guidelines with the aim of phasing out the use of antimicrobials in food production, they said.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Martin Petty)