1888 Press Release – It’s burning season across much of South East Asia and farmers are clearing farm land and forest leaves ready for new planting to occur. Flight of the Gibbon has been working to help alleviate some of the problems associated with this practice in Northern Thailand by building firebreaks in the village of Mae Kampong.
It’s burning season across much of South East Asia and smoke rising from hillsides is a common sight throughout the region. Indonesia’s fires hits the headlines every year as the smoke drifts west shrouding Singapore and Malaysia in dense smog and PM levels rise to dangerous levels, but you’re just as likely to witness this problem in Thailand, Laos or Cambodia.
Slash and burn agriculture, as it’s called, is a fast and cheap method of farming. The ash from the fires helps to put nutrients back into the soil which, if left fallow a while, can then yield a decent crop again. Vegetation grows quickly in a tropical climate, so this kind of controlled burning helps reduce competing vegetation and improves access, helping locals farm more productively.
But it’s not without its problems. Pressure from an increasing population and from corporate land buying means that the land isn’t left to recover for as long. The result? Soil quality declines, eventually becoming completely unusable. If heavy rain falls on the hillsides after the vegetation that binds the soil has been cleared, devastating landslides and irreversible soil erosion can be the result. The implications for human health, as well as for flora and fauna in the area, are serious. You’ll see many people wearing masks to try to filter out the smoke particles but they’re of limited effectiveness.
Flight of the Gibbon has been helping to fund a project near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand which is designed to alleviate some of the problems associated with this traditional practice. Villagers from Mae Kampong with support from Flight of the Gibbon has been clearing strips of land to act as a firebreak. Such breaks need to be at least six metres wide, if not more, and are created to stop the fires that have been set from jumping the gap and spreading out of control. It’s physical work, clearing the space of all flammable debris, especially in the heat and humidity, but a necessary task.
Abandoning slash and burn altogether isn’t the answer. Where shifting cultivators have been forced out, it’s easy for agribusiness to move in and monoculture to become the norm, impacting on wildlife in a negative way. But uncontrolled slash and burn, in particular when plots are returned to before they are fertile again, is just as harmful. Managing this kind of practice is vital for the sustainable future of areas such as Mae Kampong’s lush hillsides and Flight of the Gibbon is keen to support such management both financially and with the provision of labour.
About Flight of the Gibbon
Flight of the Gibbon is the leading global eco-adventure tour operator with phenomenal rainforest zip-lines that are the longest, highest and fastest in the world. Now the number one tourist attraction in Thailand, Flight of the Gibbon invests 10% of their profits in primate rehabilitation, afforestation projects and ecological education programs.