The future of peatland management: community-based peatland restoration

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Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Ricky Martin/CIFOR

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Indonesia has the third largest area of biodiversity rich tropical forests in the world, and it is well-known as a mega-biodiversity country. Conservation International considers Indonesia to be one of the 17 “megadiverse” countries, with 2 of the world’s 25 “hotspots”.

In 2015, Indonesia experienced one of the worst forest fire disasters since 1997A study published in Nature determined that between September and October 2015, carbon emissions released by the fires reached 11.3 million tons per day or higher than fossil fuel resease of the entire European Union, which daily released 8.9 million tons over the same period.

In response to the large-scale forest fire in 2015, the Korean and Indonesian governments developed a a peatland restoration project. Junkyu Cho, Korean Co-Director, Korea-Indonesia Forest Cooperation Center (KIFC) said: “The main activities over (the) project are 3Rs: rewetting, revegetation, and revitalisation.”

He said activities include rewetting infrastructure, revegetation over 200ha with tree planting and land revitatlisation in 10 villages surrounding the project site. “We have built a mini peatland education center as well as a service to the community service. We believe that Indonesia peatland restoration project will have a sustainable ecosystem and have productive impact on the community,” said Cho.

Forests, including peat swamp forests, provides a wide range of ecosystem goods and services vital for human survival and wellbeing. Enormous pressure on forests and peatlands due to increasing population and associated land use and land cover change, adversely impact the forest’s ability to provide ecosystem services to the community and mitigate climate change impacts.

Hyungsoon Choi, Director of Global Forestry Research Division, National Institute of Forest Science (NIFoS) said, “the joint research team from NIFoS and CIFOR-ICRAF will develop a model for restoring peatlands in Indonesia as well as degraded lands to advance science and technology and improve local livelihoods. We hope that various issues such as climate change adaptation, nature-based solutions and bioeconomy will be discussed under the keywords of peatland.”

Restoring Indonesia’s peatlands

Indonesian government plans to restore 14 million ha of degraded land, including two million hectares of peatlands, for climate, livelihoods, and ecosystem services. There is no question that restoring essential ecosystem services in degraded land is an important international and national agenda. However, since the effort is expensive, it is important to employ effective methods including types of trees planted. CIFOR-ICRAF Senior Scientist Himlal Baral said that “we learned a lot from long term research, in terms of what works and what does not.”

“NIFoS and various partners develop SCORE or Sustainable Community-based Reforestation and Enterprises. Where we aim to enable long-term mitigation of GHG emissions through climate smart agroforestry (CSAF), which will increase carbon sinks, biodiversity and ecosystem services through landscape restoration and enhance local income through markets for sustainable wood and agri-food, including fish, products, essential oils, and biomass enterprises,” said Baral.

A symposium aimed to share knowledge and experience gained from peatland restoration initiatives in several locations in Indonesia, organised by CIFOR-ICRAF and Korea’s National Institute of Forest Science (NIFoS) was held on 7 December 2022 at CIFOR’s Bogor campus.

This international symposium was also aimed to enhance the network of researchers involved in forest landscape restoration and governance, specifically relating to peatlands.

SCORE: the essentials of land restoration

CIFOR-ICRAF’s SCORE opportunities for research, said Baral. “Restoration is not easy, and it also costs a lot of resources, human resources, and financial resources. The most often question we hear is how much money we need to restore a hectare of land. The answer is: it depends, where is the location, what method we use and so on. It can be as low as $400, and it can reach $12,000. So, to restore 14 million hectares of land, the number can reach aroung $35 billion or more. So where does all this money come from?” he said.

The study involves identifying areas for restoration, planting sustainable wood, other non-timber forest products and potential sites for forest healing. “We are not starting from scratch because CIFOR-ICRAF has a huge knowledge bank on what can grow in a particular part of area,” said Baral.

In the research, there is a need to demonstrate some type of sustainable economic model that can be scaled up. “We start with small demonstration trials, and we hope to scale up and achieve these long-term impacts,” said Baral adding that smart agroforestry is one of the options for restoration.

Modelling for success

In finding the most suitable and cost-effective peatland and ecosystem services restoration methods, researchers from both Korea and Indonesia developed a range of models.

A-Ram Yang from NIFoS’ Global Forestry Division visited Perigi, South Sumatra to talk to the community in September 2022. At the time of our visit, the water level is too high. If this situation continues, coming up with a solution will become necessary,” she said.

“The people promised active cooperation for the project’s successful implementation, as well as continued interest and support that are required,” said Yang. Her team developed

Another team from Kookmin University draws their experience in assessing the ecosystem services of North Korea’s forest to apply in Indonesia’s tropical forest. The team developed an economic valuation of peatland ecosystem services model-based assessment of peatland ecosystem function, modelling carbon, habitat, water supply, crop production.

“Carbon storage services show significant changes according to scenarios. The ecosystem service value of the entire peatlands is estimated at approximately $75.4 billion. In the first scenario where there is an increase of cropland, the value decreases to approximately $70.6 billion. In the second scenario where we factor in forests restoration, the value increases to approximately $77.9 billion. There is a a value difference more than $7 billion in both models,” said Kookmin University professor Chul-Hee Lim.

Learning from long-term projects

Budi Leksono, Senior Researcher, Center for Plant Conservation Research, Botanical Gardens and Forestry, National Research, and Innovation Agency (Badan Riset dan Inovasi Nasional or BRIN) said “the stage in tree improvement is important because there are three types of variations in forest trees … With the aim to select promising species, each variation is applied appropriate type of trials. These trials will be used as the basis for producing the target output and seed sources to produce improved seeds.”

“In the forest tree improvement program, we know that it has been proven to increase productivity, shorten tree cycle, be resistant to diseases and be tolerant on degraded lands,” he said.

“The use of improved seeds for plantation forests has been proven to increase the productivity and quality of forest products. In accordance with the goal of restoration in Indonesia to restore trees and forests to degraded forest landscapes on a large scale, it should also be applied to the landscape restoration program to increase the added value of the land and will have an impact on increasing ecological resilience and productivity,” said Leksono.

Rujito Agus Suwignyo, Sriwijaya University (UNSRI) invites farmers to participate in restoring degrading peatland in Perigi, South Sumatra. “There are more than 500 hectares of degraded peatlands in Perigi. In 2016, the government developed around 562,7 ha of degraded peatland to become paddy field. It is shallow or medium depth peat soil. However, the method of development is not very good, such that the site is now overgrown with grass, frequently burned during the dry season, and flooded during rainy season.”

In a research collaboration with CIFOR-ICRAF, UNSRI develops a model for landscape restoration in Indonesia to be applied to species with high economic value. Suwignyo said the reseach “has started using improved seeds for certain species such as Calophyllum inophyllum, and Pongamia pinnata”.

“The use of improved seeds for landscape restoration will have an impact on people’s welfare if this is also followed by implementing a planting pattern that is in accordance with the conditions of the land and the needs of the local community,” he said.

In 2018-2020, UNSRI developed smart agrosilvofishery, improved rice cultivation and introducing other economical rice crops, planting potential tree plants, and cultivation of various local fish species. The method showed positive results since its initiation. “During the long dry season in 2018, the surrounding area was burned by other farmers, but our demo plot area was not burned,” said Suwignyo.

“This year we scale up the area until 2025 +10 ha . We have selected 11 farmers from 40 farmers. Climate-Smart-Agrosilvofishery (CSA) based peatland restoration. We started with combination of forest tree plants, fruit tree plants and crop plants and fish in every farmer’s land,” he said.

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