Central Kalimantan is one of five Indonesian provinces on the island of Borneo. It hosts dense tropical forests, remote and hard-to-reach highland areas, and vast areas of low-lying peatland swamps. Its fast-growing population consists of a collection of culturally-distinct indigenous groups known collectively as the Dayak – many of whom continue to practice traditional farming methods such as shifting cultivation and slash-and-burn techniques.
The area also has the largest area of degraded land of any province in Indonesia: around 7.2 million hectares. This is largely due to forest conversion for other types of land use, such as agriculture and open-cast mining. In recent years, the increasing incidence of forest fire has escalated land degradation in Central Kalimantan, and most of the burned land – including peatland – has been left abandoned as the soil’s fertility has declined.
Deforestation is a leading cause of global carbon emissions, and peatland degradation is particularly dire; these ecosystems store vast amounts of carbon underground, which is released into the atmosphere when they are burned or drained. As such, reforesting peatlands makes a lot of sense from a climate-change-mitigation perspective
In this project, the scientists were also curious as to whether the degraded lands could prove a useful site for growing bioenergy crops. The Indonesian government aims to boost the country’s biodiesel and bioethanol energy share to 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively, by 2025. Currently the amount of biofuel production in the country falls far short of that. So here lies an opportunity: can degraded, abandoned peatlands like Central Kalimantan’s provide useful sites for bioenergy crops– even sequestering more carbon underground in the process?