The growth of population combined with the decreasing availability of arable land, forces poor farmers to seek new land in forests in order to grow more food. Tropical rain forests are extremely delicate ecosystems and cannot support arable or pastoral farming over a number of years, yet a number of governments are encouraging the development of tropical forest as agricultural land. First and perhaps second year yields may be high but even with the use of pesticides and fertilizers later yields may be one quarter of these. Cleared land is exposed to high rain falls of these areas and nutrients are washed away very quickly.
Some of the most intense burning in 1997 is occurring in parts of a 1 million hectare project commissioned by President Suharto to convert into a new rice bowl for Indonesia. However experts claim that the peat swamps are unsuitable for sustainable agriculture as fertility is quickly lost, that the best activity would be some form of forestry.
There is nothing inherently wrong with clearing forests for farming, provided the land is the best there is for new farming, can support the numbers encouraged to settle upon it, and is not already serving a more useful function, such as watershed protection.