Indonesia: Peatland agency gears up for haze crisis

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 10 Mar 16;

The newly established Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), which is tasked with restoring 2 million hectares of damaged peatland over the next five years, is preparing to begin work amid fears of a repeat of the country’s chronic haze problem.

The BRG said on Monday that hot spots had been detected in areas where the agency was to carry out restoration, a telltale sign of a looming haze crisis.

“[BRG head] Nazir Foead is currently in Pekanbaru, Riau, to coordinate [the agency’s work there],” BRG deputy of participation, campaigns and partnerships, Myrna A. Safitri, said during a visit to The Jakarta Post.

In mid-February, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) detected 69 hot spots, including 14 in Riau and six in North Sumatra.

This year, the agency is focusing on four regencies: Pulang Pisau in Central Kalimantan, Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra and Ogan Komering Ilir and Meranti Islands in Riau.

The four regencies were the worst-hit by last year’s forest fires, when fires spread across a total of 2.61 million hectares of forest and peatland, resulting in choking haze blanketing numerous areas for a period of five months.

Peat swamps are highly susceptible to fires in the dry season. Anything from a carelessly discarded cigarette butt to a smoldering campfire can cause tinder-dry peat to blaze out of control and, in high winds, spread rapidly. Peat fires are also set deliberately by corporations and small-scale farmers who burn peat brush to clear the land for oil-palm plantations.

If the BRG is successful, uncontrolled peatland infernos will be a thing of the past, according to BRG secretary Hartono Prawiraatmadja.

“The fires will only occur on the surface [of the land], where they’re much easier to put out,” he said.

With another potential haze crisis approaching, Hartono said that the agency had begun to map out which peatland could be safely used for cultivation and which should be preserved. “In each peat hydrology area, we will analyze and review the land use using light detection and ranging [LiDAR] technology,” he said.

“There’s no point rewetting in an area that is not the core of peat hydrology area. But we can still do rewetting [before the mapping is finished] in an emergency — if we wait to complete the mapping when the area’s already burning, it’ll be too late,” he said.

Land swaps hoped to speed up peatland restoration
Anton Hermansyah, 8 Mar 16;

The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) plans to offer asset swaps to local communities using peatland for plantation purposes in an effort to restore two million hectares of peatland in five years.

BRG secretary Hartono Prawiratmadja said peatland owners would be presented with three options to free their land from plantation activities. The three options were compensation, relocation and commodity adjustment.

"If they agree with compensation, the BRG will simply talk to the land concession owner and pay. Relocation is provided to deal with community-owned plantations from which people make a living, which will be swapped for sites where plantation is permitted," he said on Tuesday in Jakarta.

Meanwhile, commodity adjustment pertains to switching from the existing plants to more suitable crops for peatland cultivation, such as sago. "Sago is productive and can recover the quality of the peatland’s water, but not all sites are suitable for sago," Hartono said.

The relocation through asset swap, he continued, was based on spatial administration regulations. Regarding customary land, which is owned by indigenous communities, the agency would use customary land rules.

"The rule [for customary land] was already prepared by the Forestry and Environmental Ministry last year," Myrna A. Safitri, deputy for education, participation and partnership at the BRG, told

The agency aims to restore 2 million hectares of exploited peatlands nationwide, with some 600,000 ha to be restored this year. Another 1,200,000 ha will be restored from 2017 to 2019, leaving the last 200,000 ha to be restored in 2020. (ags)(+)

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