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New technologies pave way for land restoration efforts

Research program focuses on Indonesia’s biodiversity
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Aerial view of peatlands and water systems
Peatland forest in Parupuk village, Katingan, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR CIFOR/Nanang Sujana

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Research shows that healthy forests and landscapes are not only essential for the long-term welfare of the planet, but for the health of humanity. This is because their contribution to the myriad ecosystem goods and services they provide extend benefits far beyond the local arena.

However, with much of the world’s landscapes destroyed, degraded or in decline owing to increasing populations and associated demand for agri-food, energy and biological goods, initiatives to restore them are critically important, a fact highlighted by the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030.

It is no secret that restoration is a costly undertaking. It requires deep knowledge of both biophysical and socioeconomic factors that led to degradation in the first place, as well as the most suitable incentives to reverse it.

The Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), with support from, and in collaboration with, the National Institute of Forest Science (NIFoS) of the Republic of Korea, and local partners, has been undertaking a range of research activities to address these challenges.

This effort includes the long-term, Sustainable Community-based Reforestation and Enterprises (SCORE) project, which runs for the same period as the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. In December, the SCORE Bilateral Seminar was held.

It aims to identify, and then increase the scale of, locally appropriate models of land restoration, using various types of degraded land in Indonesia as research sites.

“Following investigations done on a preceding project supported by NIFoS, after a less than a year in operation, research teams have already delivered initial information on specific agricultural and forestry technologies suitable for a wide range of environmental and socioeconomic conditions in Indonesia, with applicability around the world,” said Himlal Baral, manager of the project and senior forest and landscape restoration scientist with CIFOR-ICRAF.

For example, Sukartiningsih, the director of the Center for Reforestation Studies on the Tropical Rainforest at Mulawarman University in Indonesia’s province of East Kalimantan, reported that through research they conducted confirmed that nyamplung — also known as tamanu (Calophyllum inophyllum Linn.) — a multipurpose tree species, is well adapted to degraded land.

It rapidly flowers and fruits less than three years after planting and provides multiple products, such as honey, biofuel and oil for skin and hair care.

The extent to which the species sequesters carbon is measured by another team including Tyas Mutiara Basuki from the Watershed Management Technology Center of Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and Novi Wahyuni and other researchers from CIFOR-ICRAF. Results from this work will help to estimate carbon sequestration potential from Nyamplung.

Similar species, such as Pongamia pinnata (synonyms include Millettia pinnata and “malapari”), have been tested on different types of peat land and degraded mineral soils by a research team led by Budi Leksono, senior researcher with the Center for Forest Biotechnology and Tree Improvement, based in Yogyakarta Province.

Pongamia was found to grow well on “topogenous” peat, that is, peatland that experienced reduced rainfall resulting in lower humidity levels and summer drought, although there were high variations in growth rates and the oil content of the seeds depending on the “parent” trees, indicating the need for more research.

“Trees that grow well on peatland offer potentially great benefits for restoration because peat is a unique challenge owing to its waterlogged nature,” Baral said. “Another research team has been turning the waterlogging and the peat-friendly trees into partners in restoration through trials of what we call an ‘agrosilvifishery’ system.”

The researchers also found that the system cannot only restore peatlands, but also improves food production and ecosystem services.

“Our work shows that using methods other than burning when preparing the ground for planting rice combined with proper water management can increase rice production dramatically, from 1.18 to 3.69 tonnes per hectare per year, while also producing fish and sequestering carbon,” said Rujito Suwignyo, director of the Center of Excellence for Peatland Research and a professor at Sriwijaya University in South Sumatra province.

The system provides potential for fish cultivation to improve food productivity from degraded peatlands, added Muhammad Amin, a researcher from the same center.

Native peat fish species, such as the climbing perch, kissing gourami and snakehead are big sellers in local markets, but require a year before harvest. On the other hand, non-native species such as catfish only require three months before harvest but need intensive preparation and maintenance.

Peat is not only waterlogged, but also made up primarily of non-decomposed organic matter, unlike mineral soils. When the peat is drained for cultivation, it dries and is prone to smouldering, which can lead to devastating fires, which also destroy much of the fauna in the peat.

Seongmin Shin, researcher at CIFOR-ICRAF, has been studying the properties of peat. His work has revealed that while this is generally true, there are some orders of fauna, such as hymenoptera, that are well adapted to frequent burning.

However, more research is needed to establish a baseline of the faunal diversity of various peat lands; better understand the impact of fire on meso- and macro-faunal communities in the soils; and to increase people’s awareness of the need to avoid the use of fire when preparing the land.

The Sustainable Community-based Reforestation and Enterprises Project aims to achieve climate and livelihoods’ goals through locally appropriate forest landscape restoration. It is a continuation of the Socio-economic and Environmental Benefits of Bioenergy Production in Degraded Land in Indonesia project.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Forest Science, Republic of Korea; Centre for Forest Biotechnology and Tree Improvement of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry; Tropical Rainforest Reforestation Center of Mulawarman University; University of Muhammadiyah Palangkaraya; Center of Excellence for Peatland Research at Sriwijaya University.

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For more information on this topic, please contact Himlal Baral at h.baral@cgiar.org.
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