Peatland restoration is a potential solution for eradicating fires and accompanying toxic haze, reducing the loss of biodiversity and achievement of the global goal of mitigating the climate crisis.
However, restoration faces economic, social and environmental trade-offs that generate intense disagreement between stakeholders with divergent interests, including companies holding concessions, communities and local governments.
Despite proven successes where communities are involved, challenges remain in accelerating restoration efforts of Indonesia’s vast areas of degraded peatlands.
The drainage and conversion of peatlands into agricultural land, especially after being damaged by fire, causes considerable environmental, social and economic damage.
“The interesting part is that when we look at the drivers of successful peatland restoration, we can see that 87% of the reason for success is awareness by the local community followed by community engagement and then technology; all the rest comes way below,” said Robert Nasi, managing director the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF). “So, community involvement is critical, community awareness is critical, and community adoption is next in terms of doing it.”
Indonesia’s commitment to peatland restoration
Ary Sudijanto, head of the Agency for Standardisation of Environmental and Forestry Instruments of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF), reiterated the Indonesian government’s commitment to peatland restoration.
“For at least five years, the Minister of Environment and Forestry has issued corrective policies to improve Indonesia’s peatland ecosystem,” he said. “It is almost certain that peatland fires have declined drastically during these five years. The recovery process currently underway and moving into the post COVID-19 period will not only focus on health and the economy but also seek to internalize matters related to the environment and climate change.”
Sudijanto was speaking at an international symposium, Restoration of Degraded Peatlands: Connecting Science with Policy and Practice, organised by CIFOR-ICRAF, Republic of Korea’s National Institute of Forest Science and the Asia Pacific Association of Forestry Research Institutions, which was held at the CIFOR-ICRAF-MOEF campus in Bogor, Indonesia and virtually on 13 June 2022.
The symposium highlighted recent findings from CIFOR-ICRAF’s collaborative work on peatland restoration for food, energy and environmental conservation in Central Kalimantan and South Sumatra, supported by Korea’s National Institute of Forest Science.
“The Government of Indonesia is willing to help the world prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising by no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Sudijanto said. “The forestry and other land-use [FoLU] net carbon sink will be going ahead. In accordance with the Long-Term Strategy for Low Carbon Climate Resilience 2050, Indonesia will increase its ambition on greenhouse-gas reduction.”
He added that the Government has put in place strong strategies and roadmaps to achieve net sink in the FoLU sector by 2030.
Community engagement is the key to successful restoration
However, restoration work is not something that can be done overnight. It takes a lot of patience and involvement from everyone with an interest in the landscape.
Hyun Park, president of the National Institute of Forest Science noted that “it is necessary to broaden our scope, change our perspective and take a landscape approach, considering various components, especially the people and their livelihoods. These are important things in restoration work. Korea has experienced so many failures in the process of reforestation; planting trees was easy but… it is much more important for the trees to survive. We need to plant properly the proper trees in the proper soil and for this we need to stabilize the soil first and we need to do our best to grow them.”
Rujito Agus Suwignyo from Sriwijaya University in Indonesia presented early results of research he carried out with CIFOR-ICRAF related to peatland restoration in non-tidal peat-swamps in South Sumatra.
“Climate-smart agriculture means an integrated approach to managing peatland restoration, including a cropland, forests and fisheries, that addressed the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change,” he said.
He added that the aim of this activity was three-fold: 1) increase productivity of the land; 2) enhance resilience of farmers; and 3) reduce emissions.
“Our research took place under a joint project with CIFOR — Sustainable Community-based Restoration and Enterprise — funded by the National Institute of Forest Science and led by Himlal Baral, senior restoration scientist with CIFOR-ICRAF,” he said. “The activity was carried out in Perigi Village, Pangkalan Lampam District in South Sumatra.”
During the dry season, the drained peatland becomes very dry and the area is burned to prepare for rice cultivation, a practice locally called sonor. During the rainy season, the area usually floods and is overgrown with grass.
“We implemented an agrosilvofishery method of peatland restoration,” said Suwignyo. “First, we improved rice cultivation and introduced other economic crops, such as vegetables and pineapple. Second, we planted some tree species. Third, we cultivated some local fish. It has been proven that by using improved cultivation method we can increase the productivity of rice from 1.1 to 3.69 tonnes per hectare. I believe that we can make this rice productivity become even higher.”
Sri Parwati Murwani Budisusanti, director of Peatland Ecosystem Degradation Control of the Directorate General of Pollution and Environmental Damage Control of MOEF said that Indonesia has “the largest tropical peatland in the world, which benefits not only the climate by storing carbon but also provides multiple ecosystem services, such as flood control and water supply and, of course, supports the livelihoods of communities through fisheries, agriculture and trees. The main problem in Indonesia is poor drainage or poor water management of peatland, which causes the peat to dry and burn and also to subside, causing large amounts of emissions, flooding and other major problems.”
Fire management will struggle to achieve its objective of a fire-free future unless appropriate mixes of sanctions and incentives can be identified to successfully engage poor smallholders, agri-businesses, small- and medium-sized enterprises and investors. Short-term private gains are outweighed by the long-term public damage not only locally but also to the global climate.
Reforesting degraded and marginal land with non-food crops has been proposed as a solution to avoid land competition with food production, increasing biodiversity and improving ecosystem services.
Budi Leksono from Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) researches nyamplung (Calophyllum inophyllum), a tree species that can provide a lot of benefits, bridging the many problems faced in peatland restoration.
“Nyamplung is a non-native peatland species and is highly adaptable to various types of degraded land,” he said. “Our study indicates the species is adaptable to degraded peatlands in Central Kalimantan, where it has demonstrated survival rates up to 80%, making it promising for restoring peatland and as a renewable source of biofuel.
“Other advantages of nyamplung are its support of multiple ecosystem goods and services, such as biodiversity and habitat, carbon sequestration and water regulation. However, further research is needed to quantify and value the potential ecosystem services associated with growing nyamplung on degraded peatlands and adoption for upscaling this model.”
Nyamplung is also a valued source of timber and the flowers are a favourite with honey bees. Farmers maintaining nyamplung plantations in Java report that their income from the oil of the nut was lower than expected but selling honey was highly profitable.
Challenges of scaling up
Indonesia has committed to restoring 2 million hectares of peatlands as part of its own Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement on climate change. After figuring out what works and what doesn’t, the next challenge is how to increase the scale of successes?
“[We need to answer] the question: what are the expected consequences if we have 2 million nyamplung producing honey?” asked Robert Nasi. “Will this crash the market? Or if we have too much of the fish traps, that may be an issue in terms of sustainability. So, assuming that we will be successful, how do we plan for the consequences of scaling up?”
Afentina of the Department of Climate Change at the University of Palangkaraya said that from the economic perspective it is important to have a good business plan to avoid flooding the market with one type of commodity and lowering the price. She said other important aspects are giving communities the option to develop diverse, sustainable products that can provide income in the short, medium and long term.
“We need to develop incentives for a green economy,” she said. “We need product innovation so it can meet market demand and also access the market. That’s the bottleneck. And we also need to strengthen the capacity of local people, to train them to have proper new products.”
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