CHIANG RAI – Natural Resources and Environment Minister Gen Dapong Rattanasuwan reports pollution caused by haze might worsen in Chiang Rai and other northern provinces by the middle of this month due to slash-and-burn farming practices.
Speaking at his ministry yesterday, Gen Dapong said farmers in the 10 northern provinces were preparing to carry out slash and burn agriculture across more than one million rai of land in the coming plantation round, according to reports filed by his staff.
Those provinces are Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phayao, Phrae, Tak and Uttaradit.
A thick layer of haze from farmers’ cutting and burning blanketed the 10 northern provinces, especially Chiang Rai around the middle of last month. It prevented flights from landing at Chiang Mai airport and posed health risks to residents.
For the time being, Gen Dapong said the haze has improved because rain across the North helped ease the problem.
He said small particle dust levels were now lower than 120 microgrammes per cubic metre which was considered safe.
However, he added that because farmers are planning to resume slash and burn agriculture, “I am afraid that the haze problem will return.”
“I will ask [these farmers] to clear their land and burn their [unwanted] crops during the rainy season in May instead,” he said.
The cabinet last week assigned the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry as the key to deal with the haze pollution and to closely cooperate with other ministries state agencies such as the Ministry of Interior and the army units.
Legal action has been taken against anyone setting fires to clear their land or in the forest. Meanwhile, authorities have issued an order to ban locals from entering forest zones without their permission.
Officials have a list of plant gatherers and animal hunters and are closely monitoring their movements.
Chaiwat Phaplook, director of the Forest Protection and Fire Control Bureau in the North, said his officials have done their best to limit the haze impacts. However, he admitted they struggled to control the haze in high mountain areas, where locals have planted maize and usually start fires to burn dried corn stalks.
The Pollution Control Department said air quality in the North is still acceptable. The highest particulate level has been detected in Mae Hong Son with 82 microgrammes per cubic metre. And the lowest level has been found in Chiang Mai province with 14 microgrammes per cubic metre.
By Apinya Wipatayotin