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Indonesia - Sowing 10,000 pineapple plants is not everyone’s idea of a good time.

But for Meri Andayani and her friends, the opportunity to grow, harvest and sell their own produce is a dream come true. And that dream includes greater prosperity for their families and for their community as these women work to restore and revive a piece of Indonesia’s peatlands that is their home, their livelihoods and their culture.

Those peatlands are also critical to the global fight against climate change.

“We planted those 10,000 plants in five days. We planted the pineapples together with friends, and we’re happy,” Andayani says, her face shaded by a wide-brimmed straw hat identical to those worn by other women in her local farmers’ group. “In the future, we can continue to plant pineapples….we will carry on.”

Adds her colleague Norwati: “Our hope is that we plant pineapples successfully and harvest a lot….I think that we will get a lot of benefits from this later.”

   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning slash and burn on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts and more Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

The women’s work, on one of seven large “action arenas”, is part of a project led by Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) aptly titled Community-Based Fire Prevention and Peatland Restoration. Doing exactly what it says on the tin, it’s being implemented around the village of Dompas in Indonesia’s Riau Province, on the central eastern coast of Sumatra.

The project was conceived in the aftermath of Indonesia’s devastating 2015 wildfires, which in addition to destroying vast tracts of tropical rainforest, is believed to be the cause of 100,000 premature deaths. Having drawn up action arenas – each about three to four-square hectares in size – the community restores the landscapes to produce a variety of crops, liberica coffee, rubber, coconuts, fish, as well as pineapple.

“We are mothers with low incomes, but if possible our incomes can increase"

Nurma

Tree-planting, including the relatively rare agarwood, has resumed as well.

Although growing crops and livelihoods is important, at the core of the entire project is raising awareness of the value – for the communities and the global environment – of fire-free peatlands restoration work.

Key activities in these action arenas include training local farmers to prepare the land for planting without fire, constructing fencing, applying fertilizers and learning how to monitor moisture and water levels in peatland and trees to better understand agroforest conditions to avoid accidental fires. The training will ensure that these activities can continue long after the experts have gone, says project leader and CIFOR scientist Herry Purnomo.

   The project trains local farmers to prepare the land without fire, including how to monitor moisture and water levels in peatland and trees Photo by Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

“This is a real experience of what happens when you don’t burn, and also when you work on peatland restoration and on understanding the market situation and improving the community’s livelihoods,” adds Purnomo, whose project partners include the University of Riau. The intention is to scale-up the project to regional and national levels, supported by guidelines this project will help to establish.

Burning to clear land has been a traditional practice in parts of Indonesia, but efforts to end the practice have been stepped up since 2015’s massive, uncontrolled and deadly forest and land fires in Indonesia that destroyed more than 2.6 million hectares of land and created losses totalling over $16 billion USD, according to the World Bank.

   Firefighters fight the fire at night. Outside Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. CIFOR Photo/Aulia Erlangga

People remember very well the devastation caused by those fires and are adamant they don’t want a recurrence, says Nurma, another member of the women’s pineapple producers’ group. Memories of those fires causes a great deal of stress, she says, and some who had previously tried tree planting but lost all during the fires have become discouraged, “they don’t want to plant any more”.

But now, thanks to the CIFOR-led project, land that had become idle and derelict is being restored, she said. That’s important for sustainability of the entire area, which has a history of recurring fires. As a result, a significant element of the work involves training sessions on rewetting the peatland by blocking a small canal and creating a perigi – a locally engineered, multifunctional small pond. Rewetting aims to hydrologically rehabilitate peatland to its nearly natural state.

   A locally engineered 'perigi' Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR
   A pineapple grown using paludiculture methods, which aims to restore the peatlands back to its natural state Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

The implications of Indonesia’s 2015 fires were felt worldwide. Though only three percent of the world’s land area is covered by peatlands, these areas hold 30 percent to 40 percent of global carbon. And because some of the world’s largest peatlands are found in Indonesia, its peatland management decision has a significant impact on the global environment as well as in-country markets and livelihoods.

Nurma is counting on a successful pineapple harvest to help support her family, “We are mothers with low incomes, but if possible our incomes can increase.”

   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning slash and burn on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts and more Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

Adds Purnomo: “[It’s also a chance for them] to prove to their husbands that women also can plant pineapple and sell it!”

Local farm groups, community organizations and the local Fire Care Community – a kind of volunteer fire patrol – gave essential input to the project planning, says Purnomo, whose team applied a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach to fostering effective, successful, and workable community-based restoration planning.

Villagers came back with some interesting ideas.

   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning slash and burn on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts and more Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR
   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning slash and burn on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts and more Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

“One local community wanted to try producing hybrid coconuts, and another wanted to try a fish pond as a good way to improve their livelihoods, so we thought ‘why not try it?’,” says Purnomo. Finding new products and new markets to boost their livelihoods also contributed to convincing at least some villagers to reject fire as a land-clearing option.

“We are on the ground, trying to demonstrate that there is a way to prepare the land without burning and that there are other sources of income. With cash crops and perhaps trees and pineapple, this will compensate for the costs of land preparation,” without fire, says Purnomo.

Fire is often perceived as an inexpensive and fast way to clear land, with positive impacts including reducing peat acidity, improving nutrient availability, minimizing risks from pests and disease and controlling weeds. But the dangers and costs are also high – a fact emphasized when the 2015 fires burned out of control, spreading toxic smoke and destroying property.

That realization, as well as stricter government enforcement of no-fire regulations post-2015, has helped Purnomo’s team promote a participatory approach to fire prevention. Dompas and five other ‘satellite’ villages were chosen for the project due to their proximity to forests, their history of fire risks, but their active local organizations and farmers group.

   Farmers in Riau province are abandoning slash and burn on peatlands and using paludiculture to grow pineapples, coffee, rubber, coconuts and more Aris Sanjaya/CIFOR

And the project’s impact is already being felt, as villagers are seeing for themselves how their lives and livelihoods can improve without restoring to fire. The change in attitudes was reflected in community surveys by the project that have found perceptions of fire held by villagers who are participating in the project was significantly different from those who had not been involved.

The first group said that they realized fire caused many problems and that they no longer see fire-related practices to be important for their livelihood. In contrast, villagers who did not participate said burning was still a valid choice.

Purnomo says the project will wrap up before year-end and a guidance report  for other projects can be finalized. The emphasis will be broader than the biophysical results, he says.

“There is also the social and economic lives of the people who are living there; the people whose lives are connected to the land.”

   Agroforestry to restore degraded peatlands Aris Sanjaya/ CIFOR
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This research was supported by Temasek Foundation International and Singapore Cooperation Enterprise
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Topic(s) :   Climate change Wetlands Restoration