Palm oil and abandoned fields: why is burning Russia?

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Пальмовое масло и заброшенные поля: почему горит Россия?

If you look from space to the Kaliningrad region, offers a surprising picture: it is covered with dense foci of natural fires, whereas in the neighboring countries – Poland and Lithuania – does not burn practically nothing. This difference is so distinct and significant that the phenomenon has caught the interest of NASA and the European space Agency, who are a satellite image of the Earth. They asked an employee of the University of Copenhagen, specialist on environmental management PRIMEPOWER Alexander, who explained that the reason is the peculiarities of Russian agriculture.

Large-scale wildfires in spring and in late summer – an indirect result of the desolation of the fields and pastures of the Russian Federation which has stopped only in recent years. With the same associated and other unpleasant phenomena – for example, oddly enough, the accelerating deforestation of the Amazon rain forest, the import of palm oil and tropical deforestation in Indonesia. About why Russia has so many natural fires and what happens to Russian agriculture, Alexander Prishchepov told Radio Liberty.

I am looking at factors of changes in land use, including fire dynamics, why, where burning, and I was approached by people from the NASA and the European space Agency. There are a number of satellites, they overfly within one or two days the entire planet, and various sensors record information about spectral-reflecting ability, or as those same imagers, thermal information. Is algorithms to distinguish areas that are burning, the burning, or areas that burned. I was approached because I wrote a thesis about the study of the dynamics of land use, abandoned land and paid attention to the so-called institutional component of why some countries abandoned with similar agro-climatic conditions, but others did not abandoned. And the same thing happens with fires in certain countries, all lit, others not lit. It is a global process, important for everyone, these fires had a significant impact on public health, biodiversity, besides all that burned, especially in the spring, is transported to the Arctic and deposited on snow, snow and ice begin to melt. So if there is Kaliningrad oblast, it has an impact on the Baltic States, and Poland, and all the rest. It is not only Russia’s problem, it is a global problem.

– What is the reason for such noticeable difference – the Russians are more banal firing the dry grass?

– Yes, one of the main reasons the so – called singosari, that is, when the old grass, dried plants, straw firing to clear the field or even just for tradition. Even with the naked eye see the difference: here the neighboring Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, there are laws that prohibit any singosari, and there is no such burning. And there is Russia, where a similar law, incidentally, is also adopted in December 2015, he assumes a fairly high fines for singosari, especially for legal persons, but hardly used. There are experts, such as Greenpeace, who said that with the introduction of the law the situation has changed, but I think it changed locally for two years because of greater precipitation, not because of the law, and this year we see the same picture.

– People burn the grass and fires to happen is clear, but how is this related to abandoned agricultural land?

– There is a statistical link. In General, about 30 percent of the wildfires – “wildfires” (in quotes because they are 95% still occur due to human activities, but those fires, which, roughly speaking, do not occur in buildings that are not in the cities). There are two noticeable peaks. The first time we burn in the spring, it is mostly, of course, singosari, burning grass, and in terms of the number of fires is still relatively small. But a really strong burning starts after summer work on the harvest when you start to burn the stubble and burn the straw. There are two reasons – a kind of tradition and Economics. With straw, for example, nothing to do, there is not enough livestock, so it’s easier to get rid of it. Although there are mechanisms how to process the straw by not many people. But the fires get really ambitious, because there are a lot of fuel, or, as we say, the pyrogenic material is just all those abandoned former fields and arable land.

– Forest fires, we are not talking?

– No, sometimes, of course, is that the fires spread from selhozarteli at forest, but forest fires are a special story, it has its own dynamics and their driving factors.

– You said that it is not only in Economics but also in tradition, as this tradition – a purely Russian?

– Actually, before burning everywhere. I work in Denmark, so that here, too, in the 60-70-ies burned. I was talking to a colleague, he says: “I still remember as a child we went and indulged in burned the grass.” I’d say it’s about cultural differences and some cultural evolution. Why burn if you can use other factors to eliminate this accumulated dry biomass? First, it absolutely has a negative impact on biodiversity and soil condition, but in Russia there are subjective and erroneous perception that it is good for the soil. Secondly, any fires is air pollution, we breathe it, and is injurious to health. We can continue to live in the middle ages, where the average life expectancy was 30-40 years, but we still strive to eliminate factors that adversely affect the environment and our lives. But the people embedded in the head mechanism that dry grass must be burned, so historically, people use the cheapest tool to control the territory.

Let’s discuss a little bit more connection with the situation in agriculture in General. By the way, what is it? In Russia everything is bad, the fields are empty?

In recent years, of course, there was a trend for improvement in the trafficking of abandoned land, but to be compared to, for example, from 1980-ies, that is, the period before the collapse of the USSR, we had only officially at least 40 million hectares of arable land, which ceased to be used. That is acreage, which was 120 million hectares, has dropped by a third.

– Can this area 40 million hectares, with something to compare for clarity?

– Well, for example, almost square, have a total of all arable land in China. The situation seems to be getting better: in 2016, a law was passed about the involvement of land abandonment, effective land use, after three years, the land is withdrawn, if it is not used as intended, but returned thus far only a small proportion. And I’m only talking about arable land, and we still have a significant reduction of the livestock, consequently the load on pasture ecosystems is considerably reduced, and therefore, we can safely add to the “abandoned” lands another 20-30 million hectares of former pastures.

– Which turned into some scrubby wasteland?

We just live in a pyrogenic material, we are surrounded by this pyrogenic material, and no one does anything to eliminate it

Yes. By the way, this is not always a bad thing from the point of view of ecology. For example, to steppe ecosystems is great, nature is restored. In fact, in Russia the earth is constantly withdrawn from selhozlesohimia since the beginning of the twentieth century, just so dramatically significant abandonment of land occurred only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is due to changes in the structure of the economy, including consumption. If we look at what the land declined, it is primarily those that were used for the production of fodder crops, about 80 percent of abandoned lands in the past were under fodder crops. Previously, we have subsidized the production of livestock, and now we import everything from Brazil, we have become the largest buyer of Brazilian meat, takes them 20 or 30 percent of imports. Accordingly, we have land which was formerly used for forage crops and pastures is not used and is a lot of ground. Early in the Kaliningrad region was about 400 thousand hectares of farmland, now 230. And what happens to abandoned land? Some 20-30 years turns into the forest, but mostly bushes and grass, every spring it is a huge dry biomass. We just live in a pyrogenic material, we are surrounded by this pyrogenic material, and no one does anything to eliminate it. Look, there are fires in California, where people due to lack of land to live on the territory of which nature itself can be said to have created a threat from the point of view of the fires. There’s this shrub – pyrogenic material, and the people themselves wedged into the environment. And we get the reverse process, we have this Wednesday coming at us. Semi-abandoned village in the Bush – and so almost the entire middle belt. There is only a match must offer.

And here in the spring someone starts to burn the grass, and it lights up everything around here these pyrogenic shrubs on abandoned fields and pastures?

– Yes, someone for the first time in many years, decided to sow the field, and for this you need to cleanse and burn is the cheapest option. Somewhere just a stub left. I understand that throw cigarette butts in Poland, there is simply no such accumulations of dry material, there is so much derelict land. When Poland and the Baltic States joined the European Union, they received large subsidies for the maintenance of selfoscillatory, just marginalized areas. Farmers receive subsidies and support area, so she didn’t look like an abandoned wasteland. So if we want to live and not to burn we need to do something with selhozarteli. Or use for other purposes, or to restore the forest, not spontaneous, but organized, with a planned planting of trees and so on.

I saw in your work that the reduction of livestock numbers in Russia, the transition to mass import effect on environmental management not only in Russia but also in other countries.

– Indeed, there was a significant reduction in livestock. Why happened? Solely because of purchasing power. I born in 1978, and I remember that we meat in some period could not afford to buy it, especially during the transition period – the years 1992-93. Big cities especially suffer. Actually, beef is an expensive product, and always it is associated with the income of the population. This is evident in China as soon as revenues start to rise, people are trying to eat more beef, well, for whatever it may be, cultural characteristics, preferences, attitude to health, and so on. We have at some point, the demand for beef fell sharply, and now there is a substitution of pork and chicken, that is, beef production is also growing, but very slowly, because in Russia there is still milk production. But still there is a layer that eats beef. And somewhere in the area of 2006 we held selhozperepisi, and the government has signed a large contract with Brazil, Medvedev went there to negotiate, and we have to import Brazilian meat, especially in large volumes after the ban of meat from the EU. At one point, Russia became the leading global importer of Brazilian meat. Well, it is just cheaper. A paradox. On the one hand, we have abandoned the land, we own land were taken out of circulation because it is not profitable… on the other hand, we clearly see that we are adding a significant share of deforestation of the Amazon. We did the math: we are supply of meat from Brazil, and of course, we contribute to the deforestation of the Amazon forest.

– What about dairy products?

– Well, you know, sometimes the news say that Russia signed another contract for import of palm oil from Indonesia… Russia is now, if I’m not mistaken, is the world’s leading importer of palm oil, but then this whole relationship with adulterated dairy products in Russia… Putin is now actively as it struggles, instructed Medvedev to deal with this issue, but if we import such a quantity of palm oil respectively, it somehow affects… And it’s just bad in Indonesia, because there is extensive production, is cutting of tropical forests.

– Do I understand correctly that we are buying palm oil to make him an ersatz milk and dairy products? And in Indonesia for the production of this oil even and cut down the jungle?

A significant proportion of palm oil, I am sure, is in the dairy products, especially if it is a cheap dairy products, somewhere on the periphery

– I’d like to stay out of politics with this question, which, of course, some… Roughly speaking, we buy palm oil in huge quantities, and some significant share of palm oil, I am sure, is in the dairy products, especially if it is a cheap dairy products, somewhere on the periphery. Of course, palm oil is used in confectioneries, and other products. Well, forget about the health of Russia’s population, especially since this is not a direct link because not all palm oil is bad, as is sometimes said, although, of course, still want a natural foods. But if we are talking about Indonesia, of course, this leads to continued tropical deforestation. Because we’re in a global market, we are not alone, the population is growing in China, the consumption of palm oil in other countries, and we also made a significant contribution, – said Alexander Prischepov.

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