The other day we had thunder and a few
drops of rain, but less than what could be measured (<0.5 mm). Rumours have
circulated that governmental cloud seeding is in progress, i.e. the spraying
of clouds with chemicals to induce rain. That in turn is due to the illegal
and man-made fires of farmlands and national parks. The wind yesterday was
southwestern, the direction of the monsoon, and so this could have been an
early natural rain, nothing remarkable.
Although fire is a natural part of the
dry forest ecosystems of northern Thailand, the burning of the same spot
year after year for decades is not natural. Many native trees around Dokmai
Garden do not regenerate because although mature trees are strong enough to
stand a fire, a seedling is not.
If you are fed up with the fires and
smoke simply sign the petition on air pollution. If you hesitate, consider
These are some common answers from
northern Thai farmers on why they like to burn up northern Thailand:
1. We have always done so.
2. Fire will remove cobras, fire ants
and other pests. (True, but fire will remove everything else too, such as
orchids and butterflies. In a thriving and biodiversity-rich garden, village
or forest pests are scarce).
3. Fire will remove weeds. (Weeds
always come back. Mowing or grazing will do the same job).
4. Fire will promote the formation of
the Thai truffle , Astraeus hygrometricus, an important cash crop for forest
dwellers. (Ongoing research will resolve the question. It is likely fire
simply removes the vegetation so that the cracks revealing the growing
truffle is easier to spot. Dogs can be used instead of fire).
5. A gentle fire each year will reduce
the amount of accumulated fuel and so prevent dangerous fire storms. (This
is the only intelligent answer in my ears. However, fire storms are not
likely in arable lands and urban areas where fuel can and should be removed
by other means).
6. A fire releases ashes rich in
nutrients which benefits agriculture. (True, but such nutrients easily wash
out with the rains. Fire removes the organic matter too, which is important
for binding water and as a food for worms which keep the soil aerated. The
leaf litter is needed as a root and soil insulation against heat.
Traditional slash and burn meant moving to new land while the small burnt
patch recovered. Due to overpopulation there is no virgin land to move to,
the same spot is burnt repeatedly. Thai agronomists do not consider fire as
a proper land management method and Thai farmers from other regions say fire
worsens the growing conditions. ).
7. A fire opens up a landscape and
promotes grasses which is good for cattle. (True, but keeping cattle inside
national parks is illegal. Many illiterate cowboys also burn land which
belong to other private people and let their cattle graze there without
asking for permission. Wild grazing mammals such as water buffaloes and deer
were adapted to forest foraging, while modern zebu cows need soft grass).
These are the reasons for not burning
up northern Thailand:
1. Starting a fire on a dusty and dry
day, at 37 °C, and simply walk away is a hazard, not a prevention.
2. Annual fire on the same spot for
decades leads to biodiversity decline, i.e. less plant and animal species
3. The haze and the breathing problems
affect the long term human health. Asthma and other respiratory diseases, as
well as lung cancer and nasopharyngeal carcinoma have a high incidence in
Southeast Asia (Laos, Burma and Indonesia are burning too).
4. The haze scares away tourists and
foreign settlers go abroad, which has a bad effect on the legal economy of
5. Fire ruins the agricultural
conditions by turning the soils into concrete, speeding up mineral nutrient
leakage and depriving the soils of water holding organic matter.
6. If the carbon dioxide hypothesis is
a correct explanation for global warming, then we need to store carbon, not
release it. About 80 000 square kilometers are affected by burning in
northern Thailand. However, in the short run it seems the temperature cools
down 1-5 degrees due to the haze, just like after a volcano eruption. Smog
and haze was once very common in industrial areas of the world possibly
resulting in an unnaturally cold climate. One estimate claims that 200
million farmers on Earth are involved in slash and burn agriculture.
7. Forests, and healthy forests with
logs and leaf litters in particular, reduce landslides and flooding. Slash
and burn affects many people downhill.
If the Thai law forbids fires, and if
most provinces in Thailand obey the law, how come it still goes on in a
gigantic scale in northern Thailand?
The people who burn up their national
heritage (the national parks) are poor and uneducated, but this fact is only
part of the answer, because the equally poor region Esan is not pyromanic.
The lawless attitude, or attitude of independence from Bangkok, is an
important part of the answer. Northern Thailand, Lanna, used to be a kingdom
separate from Siam until 1899. The northern Thai language and the many hill
tribe languages are different from Central Thai language. Many people in
northern Thailand have never traveled outside their village, and so a
Bangkokian is almost as exotic as a Swede. Being told what to do from the
central government arouses ridicule. I have had a report of a village head
telling his villagers over the morning loudspeakers that although Bangkok
says fires are illegal, the village head will not interfere with their
traditions. Illegal burning is sanctioned by the local low-level
authorities, and so is other crime (illegal logging, illegal trade with
endangered organisms, land encroachment, voting fraud etc). It also seems
that the detrimental habits of many uneducated locals are encouraged by the
numerous savagists operating here, sabotaging the Thai government’s
Education and taxation of land will
continue reducing the numbers of uneducated small scale farmers. Education
in combination with a gradual ban of fires and a strict law enforcement will
change the methods of those who remain. Teachers and police from other Thai
regions may contribute in making a difference in the former Golden Triangle.
Signing the petition above may remind the central government of the problem.
www.dokmaigarden.co.th. [email protected]