Indonesia: RAPP accused of peatland conversion

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 7 Sep 16;

A government team from the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) that recently made an impromptu visit to check on alleged peatland conversion by PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) was denied entry to the site by security guards.

BRG head Nazir Foead, accompanied by BRG official Haris Gunawan, forest rangers, Forestry and Environment Ministry officials and villagers, said RAPP guards at the plantation in Meranti Islands regency asked to see a permit letter.

“It was an impromptu visit. Of course we did not carry any letter,” he said on Tuesday. “I just wanted to check and talk,” he said.

One of the forest rangers asked a security guard to call his superior, but he later told them the boss could not be reached by phone.

“They did not throw us out, there was no physical altercation, but they hampered us all the same. The company was not cooperating, and I suspect something fishy. We could not take pictures, could not check the coordinates,” Nazir said.

Locals said the company had converted about 50 hectares of peatland to plant acacia in the past two months.

Nazir said his office had summoned RAPP and they had met in Jakarta on Aug. 2, with RAPP saying all its activities were legal.

In a written statement, RAPP said it regretted the “lack of coordination among our security guards” that hampered the BRG visit on Sept. 5.

“We will discuss the results of field verification with the BRG this week,” the company stated on Tuesday. (evi)

Plantation neighbors in constantly recurring fear of peatland fires
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 7 Sep 16;

Yadi, 60, of Sidodadi, Bengkalis regency, Riau, has for the last three years been gripped with worry because every time the dry season starts the vast peatland near his place always catches on fire.

For the last three days, for instance, dozens of hectares of peatland in his village have caught fire, thanks to a reckless oil palm plantation worker who cleared the land by burning it.

“I am worried that my place will also catch on fire, but I have no other choice except surviving here. I don’t know what work to do if I move from here,” said the grandfather of five who hails from North Sumatra and earns a living as a plantation keeper.

He said the area easily caught on fire because the water that kept the peatland wet had been drained by a big canal called the Gotek 010, which passed through the Giam Siak Kecil Nature Preserve and ended in a natural lake.

In 2014, he said, when the canal was dammed by the Riau Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA Riau) the water was abundant and the peatland became humid.

“Yet, the dam has been damaged by illegal loggers because the canal was the only access to transport the illegal logs out of the conservation area and the peatland water has drastically lowered,” Yadi said.

He said if the government dammed the canal or even permanently closed it the people would be happy because the water would not go anywhere and the peatland would be wet and thus would not easily catch on fire.

During his visit to the site, Nazir Foead, the head of the peatland restoration agency (BRG), promised to close the canal and only leave a small part of it as a water source during fires.

Nazir said that if it was impossible to totally close the canal, then numerous dividers would be provided along it to help control the height of the water surface.

Other measures to prevent fires include wetting the peatland with water taken from artesian wells. Nazir said digging an artesian well was relatively cheap, as it only cost some Rp 3 million (US$228) per unit.

He said artesian wells had been proven effective to fight peatland fires in Rimbo Panjang, Kampar regency, in just one-and-a-half hours. “The high expenses for operating firefighting helicopters can be switched to preventive measures,” he said.

He added the BRG had the task to make the burned peatland wet again, thus making it difficult to catch on fire in the future.

When the peatland humidity was already maintained the restoration program would be continued to the re-vegetation stage. At this stage the peatland in the conservation and protected areas would be planted with local vegetation that would easily grow well, live long, be resistant to wetness and not need special care.

For peatland belonging to the people, the owners would be asked to run plantations without burning land. They would also be asked to switch to commodities more suitable for peatland, such as pineapples, coffee, coconuts and sago.

“The government will with help with experts and seedlings. The BRG will run the program together with relevant ministries and regional administrations until 2020,” he said.

He affirmed that all burned and damaged peatland would be restored, including the 875,000 hectares that caught on fire last year across Indonesia.

He said restoration had actually been planned for 2 million hectares of peatland in seven affected provinces in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua. “But the BRG will not close its eyes on burned locations outside the targets,” he said.

He added the BRG was currently preparing a regulation on peatland restoration to force all companies to restore damaged peatland in their respective concession areas.

The companies’ obedience to maintaining the depth of the canal water surface at 30 centimeters below the surface of the ground would be monitored using special censors automatically connected real time to the server at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT).

He said if the peatland was poorly managed and the humidity went down to the dangerous zone, a warning would pop up. “That way the concession owners could be warned to look for water resources to rewet the peatland,” he said.