The Indonesian government plans to recruit and dispatch 5,000 Muslim imams across the archipelago to discourage forest destruction and open burning that contributes to the choking haze now spreading across Singapore and Malaysia, reports the Jakarta Post.
The plan was announced Sunday by Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan. Zulkifli was speaking at a board meeting of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-biggest Muslim organization.
“Our forests don’t go up in flames on their own, but are intentionally burned because there is this tradition of burning the land after harvest and before planting, which has now also affected forest areas,” Zulkifli was quoted as saying.
He called on Muslim preachers to support the government’s campaign against forest burning and illegal logging. Muslim scholars will be trained and be paid a monthly salary of 2 million rupiah, or around $235. The program begins later this year and will run through 2012.
So far just under 100 preachers are ready to participate, according to tempointeraktif.com.
Indonesia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Logging, expansion of oil palm and wood pulp plantations, agriculture, mining, and fires are major drivers of forest loss.
Last year Indonesia signed a billion dollar partnership with Norway to reign in deforestation. The agreement includes the establishment of a two-year moratorium on new concessions in primary forests and peatlands. The moratorium took effect January 1, 2011.