Indonesia begins pilot project to restore damaged peatlands

The Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG) is starting with a pilot project in four districts - Meranti Islands in Riau, Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra, and Pulau Pisang in Central Kalimantan.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 7 Apr 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia's special agency tasked to restore damaged peatlands and prevent forest fires has received around US$135 million pledged by donors.

The head of the Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG) Nazir Foead told Channel NewsAsia he expects more support to come in if the agency can do a good job in its first year of operations. However, Mr Nazir said the impact of its work resulting in less forest fires happening may only be felt next year.

The agency is starting with a pilot project in four districts - Meranti Islands in Riau, Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra, and Pulau Pisang in Central Kalimantan.

Mr Nazir said the pilot will start in some district next week. “The strategy is being approved by the stakeholders this year, but to see the impact, if indeed the water table (in the peatlands) is rising, the moisture is rising, and less and less fires, we can only start to see it next year,” said Mr Nazir.

Last year, forest fires raged for months in Indonesia, causing haze and choking parts of the country and the region. The unprecedented environmental disaster destroyed more than two million hectares of land - mostly peatlands.

The government then set up the Peatlands Restoration Agency in January this year to repair the damaged land.

Mr Nazir, an environmental expert, and former World Wildlife Fund director, was appointed to undertake this massive task for the next five years. He aims to introduce standard methods of re-wetting the peatlands by raising the water levels - using dams and irrigation canals.

“The peatland naturally, they are wet even in dry season. They are still relatively wet, and very difficult to get burnt, but what caused the big problems for Indonesia was those wet peatlands was drained mostly by companies who gets concession in the past, and companies wanted to plant crops that can only grow in dry land.

"Therefore, the peatland becomes dry easily, and catches fire. So, in this case we need to close the canals, and the water flowing out have to be controlled in the interest of the fire prevention.”

The agency is also trying to establish a more detailed map of the damaged peatlands starting with the districts in the pilot project.

The map, which will be made public, is a part of Indonesia’s One Map Policy aimed at helping resolve disagreements resulting in the use of different data and maps, which often cause land disputes.

Mr Nazir said the detailed map of the four districts will take about three to four months to complete.

“The map will be useful for law enforcement, but it has to be used by the enforcement officials. So, we want to create very close collaboration with law enforcement officials, coordinated by the ministry of environment and forestry, or local chief of police to also use the map for monitoring,” said Mr Nazir.

But, Mr Nazir admits that the detailed map has raised concerns among some concession owners.

“The President requested BRG to do an honest mapping to pinpoint which area is supposed to be fully protected, and which area of peatland can be cultivated.

"So, can you imagine that then we say, "Oh, okay, Mr President Pak Jokowi, after we do our planning, we find that this area has to be protected because it is a very deep peatland and it’s only good for conservation for water." But, there have been planting of concession on top of it. So, the likely chance is that the licence has to be cancelled.”

- CNA/de