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Peatland restoration in Indonesia: Why do people matter?

Livelihood security key for hydrological rehabilitation
A woman harvests Nanas Bogor in Kapuas Hulu, Indonesia. Credit: CIFOR/Icaro Cooke Vieira

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Putting people first is a vital part of the equation for protecting and restoring Indonesia’s vast tropical peatlands.

This was the resounding message from the third in a series of webinars exploring criteria and indicators for tropical peatland restoration hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG). The webinar, attended by 145 people from 18 countries, explored best governance and socio-economic attributes underpinning successful peatland restoration practices and identified guidelines for appropriate monitoring criteria and indicators.

Indonesia is home to over a third of the world’s tropical peatlands, half of which have already been altered through drainage, deforestation and agriculture-related burning, and the country is working to reduce emissions and restore landscapes.

As part of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the U.N. Paris Agreement on climate change, Indonesia has pledged to restore over 2 million hectares of degraded peatlands. But, as the webinar presentations emphasized, effective restoration is a complex and iterative process, which requires careful monitoring of both biophysical and social aspects for assessing ongoing success.

During the session, Myrna Safitri, deputy head of BRG for Education, Participation and Partnership, gave an overview of some of the agency’s efforts to implement peatland restoration through community participation. Of more than a thousand villages in the areas targeted for peatland restoration, 87 percent are classified as “less developed” – which highlights the importance of ensuring that all planned interventions are community-driven and lead to economic development through employment opportunities that are sustainable. “Villages and peasants must be the subject of peatland restoration, not just the object of projects,” Safitri said.

Echoing Safitri’s concerns, Marcel Silvius, country representative for Indonesia at the Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI), outlined the necessity of determining land tenure status within a landscape, extensive consultation on livelihood sources and alternative possibilities, and engaging multiple stakeholders in investment programs before initiating a restoration project.

“Without the commitment of the people in the peatlands, we cannot sustainably restore peatlands,” he said. “Only after social cohesion has been developed can we think about hydrological rehabilitation and reforestation.”

CIFOR scientist Herry Purnomo discussed how governance and power structures affect the sustainability of livelihoods in peatland areas, and proposed a number of governance principles for peatland restoration at national, sub-national and landscape levels. He recommended using existing criteria, indicators and policies wherever possible: “There’s no need to start from the beginning,” he said. “If another government department collects that information, just use it – then synthesize.”

Panelist Josi Khatarina is on the secretariat for the Terpecaya Initiative, which is spearheading jurisdictional approaches to protecting peatlands, by exploring ways to showcase agricultural commodities produced sustainably and legally at various Indonesian districts and provinces She shared examples of multi-party processes that her team have led to develop indicators that align well with local, national and international laws, policies, regulations and commitments.

“In the future, if this is found to be useful, we expect to be able to share these methodologies and indicators more widely,” she said, “so that we can better protect peatland environments while also allowing communities to thrive.”

In a breakout session on the economic aspects of tropical peatland restoration, speakers shared inspiring examples of sustainable livelihood creation in practice. Siti Hamidah, a lecturer at Lambung Mangkurat University in South Kalimantan, outlined her research team’s efforts to develop commercial products from native peatland plants, such as kelakai (Stenochlaena palustris) – a resilient, adaptable and productive fern with very high iron content.

They have developed a process to make it into a vivid-green flour that can then be used in food products like bread, noodles and biscuits, as well as animal feed and bioenergy. “The economic value of products coming out of peatlands, and the incomes of those running these enterprises, should be included when considering the effectiveness of restoration,” Hamidah said.

Abdul Manan joined the webinar from Sungai Tohor island in Riau, where he works with Economy Kreatif Andalan, a local non-governmental organization, to boost local incomes from sago (Metroxylon spp.), which grows abundantly in peatlands. By using better technology, locals have been able to produce high-grade sago flour that yields up to eight times the price of lower grades.

Dharsono Hartono, chief executive of PT RMU – which runs the world’s largest carbon credit project, Katingan Mentaya in Central Kalimantan – described his company’s efforts to generate alternative livelihoods for local communities in order to protect and restore the area’s carbon-rich peatlands. One avenue that has proved particularly fruitful is the development of a coconut sugar industry. Coconut palms grow abundantly on community land in the region, and there is growing international demand for coconut sugar, which comes from the sap of the trees’ flower buds. “It’s important to understand what natural capital is providing and what the market is demanding and then explore how you can work together to make a product,” he said.

In a parallel session on social aspects of managing tropical peatlands, Yuti Ariani of Nanyang Technical University discussed the importance of strengthening local institutions to improve social cohesiveness. This cohesiveness is particularly important in restoration because it is a challenging, ever-evolving process involving contested spaces and controversy over who owns the common resources, she said.

Illustrating this, Dianto Bachriadi of Pajajaran University shared a case study of land tenure and conflict resolution in West Kalimantan, which highlighted the complexities of resource ownership: a peat dome in the area has been targeted for social forestry, and that has created confusion “because there is no clarity about who owns the rights to that land, and who decides what is undertaken there,” he said.

CIFOR scientist Moira Moeliono then shared findings from a case study in Vietnam, which involved a network analysis of all members in a small village community, and highlighted the importance of participation of communities for the success of restoration programs.

Fittingly, the webinar elicited participation from its audience – both by inviting and answering audience questions through a chat box, and through an interactive activity facilitated by CIFOR consultant Kania Rahayu, whereby audience members were asked to rank the importance of various criteria for governance and socio-economic aspects of peatland restoration.

For governance aspects, transparency was ranked most important overall, followed by strong governance and access to resources. For economic aspects, access to markets was deemed most important, followed by improving the value of products and sustained production. For social aspects, the most common priority was tenure rights, followed by conflict resolution and social networking.

Haris Gunawan, deputy head of Research and Development at BRG, closed the webinar, stating that, “Rural development matters, and peatland restoration must be promoted from the village level. But we cannot be very strict on communities about how to use this land, because the concept of restoration is very new for them. So we need to encourage and work with our communities.”

He also highlighted the importance of financing, upskilling and diversifying local economies. “We cannot rely on just one commodity,” he said. “We need to make economies more beautiful for supporting community livelihoods into the future.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Rupesh Bhomia at r.bhomia@cgiar.org.
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