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Honey industry enhances sustainable peatland management in Indonesia

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Bees are transforming the livelihoods of residents in the Indonesian province of Riau where honey production is on the rise.

Indonesia is intensifying efforts to ban the use of fire to clear land as part of broader efforts to conserve peatland areas through its Ministry of Environment and Forestry in collaboration with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), which is the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

A project known as “Haze Free Sustainable Livelihoods” aims to empower local communities in nine villages across three districts in Riau province through retraining.

Researchers are exploring the potential for new livelihood options in the villages, providing capacity building to support local people. Information gathered will be funneled into the Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystem in Indonesia project, led by the ministry.

Read also: Peatlands: From marginal lands to essential ecosystem

Honey production already plays a significant role in the local economy, according to a study conducted between 2016 and 2018 in the districts of Pelalawan, Indragiri Hulu and Indragiri Hilir in Riau, where many people regularly gather wild honey from sialang trees (Koompassia excels).

“We can get 1.2 tons of honey from a hundred nests on one tree that we can sell at IDR 75,000 [$5] per kilogram,” said Fahrudin, head of Teluk Kabung village in Indragiri Hilir district.

A man creates smoke in order to harvest organic honey in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Lucy McHugh/CIFOR

Honey gatherers, who export most of their product to Malaysia, earn approximately IDR 90 million from each harvest.  However, potential is limited because only some people are willing and able to climb the 50-meter trees.

Experts from the Haze Free Sustainable Livelihoods project provide training on how to harvest safely and effectively. Those who are keen are also trained to develop honey-bee farms, using a stingless bee species, Trigona, which is native to the peatlands in Riau.

“A lot more people can benefit from it since they can develop honey bee farms in the backyard,” said Dede Rohadi, project leader and a scientist affiliated with Indonesia’s Forestry and Environmental Research Development and Innovation Agency (FOERDIA) and CIFOR.

Read also: Hanging in the balance: Preservation, restoration and sustainable management in Indonesian peatlands

The Haze Free Sustainable Livelihoods project is also training community members to generate income from several other local industries. In Teluk Meranti in Pelalawan district, fisheries and tourism industries are being developed.

The tidal bore in the Kampar River, as an attraction for the international surfing community, is helping to expand tourism jobs. Fish swept in on the tidal bore flood into the waterways in local villages, offering the potential to improve livelihoods through fish processing and sales.

In addition to the Haze-Free Sustainable Livelihoods project, CIFOR is leading a Community-based Fire Prevention and Peatland Restoration project with Riau University, which involves local governments, communities and the private sector.

“The residents are willing to switch gears if there are better options to support their livelihood,” said Herry Purnomo, the CIFOR scientist who is leading the project.

By Anggrita Cahyaningtyas, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Hanging in the balance: Preservation, restoration and sustainable management in Indonesian peatlands

Hanging in the balance: Preservation, restoration and sustainable management in Indonesian peatlands

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A boat travels along a river in Kalimantan during the 2015 fire and haze crisis. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

The protection of peatland ecosystems, which store “disproportionate” amounts of carbon, is vital to achieving Indonesia’s emission reduction targets and climate goals.

The need to protect remaining peatlands while restoring degraded lands resounded throughout the Tropical Peatlands Exchange, held at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) headquarters on Aug. 8, 2018.

Peatland ecosystems are critical for biodiversity, ecosystem services, water regulation and pollution control, in addition to their “disproportionate importance in terms of carbon storage,” said CIFOR Director General Robert Nasi. Because of this, peat swamps, along with mangroves, have the greatest potentials of any ecosystems to affect greenhouse gas emissions if they are degraded or destroyed.

Though only 3% of the world’s land area is covered by peatlands, these areas hold 30 to 40% of global carbon, a density that underscores their importance and the vested interest in their preservation. With Indonesia being home to some of the world’s largest peatland areas, the country can significantly impact both regional and global environments, markets and livelihoods through its peatland management decisions.

A case in point concerns the 18th Asian Games ongoing this month, for which Indonesia appears to be going to great measures to ensure that host cities Jakarta and Palembang will not be marred by haze from the country’s perennial forest and land fires. With new and concerted efforts to avoid anything akin to a repeat of the country’s catastrophic fire period in 2015, the coming weeks will put fire prevention and mitigation strategies – many focused on peatlands – to the test.

Watch: Peatlands and ecosystem services

CIFOR Principal Scientist Daniel Murdiyarso speaks at the event. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

STAYING ON TARGET

The event aimed to provide recommendations and data to support Indonesia’s policies and goals related to its peatland ecosystems. The country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement targets a 29% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, or 41% if provided with external assistance, which some have described as ambitious.

The Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Climate Change Mitigation Director Emma Rachmawaty said that Indonesia’s NDCs could be achieved by implementing mitigation actions across four areas – reducing deforestation; reducing degradation; rehabilitation of forest and land; and peatland restoration. If all stakeholders complied with existing government regulations, Rachmawaty posited, the country could be confident about achieving its targets by 2030.

Several speakers recalled the forest fires of 2015 – an El Niño year – which caused haze that blew across a number of Indonesian provinces as well as Singapore and Malaysia, prompting a global conversation on the effect of peatland fires on human health, economies and the environment. Because peatlands are not specifically accounted for in carbon budgets, CIFOR Principal Scientist Christopher Martius said, “climate change amplification” could also result from such peat destruction.

In a session on peatlands and climate change, Solichin Manuri, Senior Advisor at consulting firm Daemeter, said that the 2015 events pushed Indonesia to commit to reducing the impact of recurrent peat fires and restoring degraded peatlands, leading to numerous efforts including the release of a new government regulation in 2016. Nevertheless, this takes time, and Manuri stated that almost 40% of emissions from Indonesia’s forestry sector still come from peatlands. This figure excludes emissions from peat fires, which would make peatlands an even more significant emissions source.

Watch: Peatlands and climate change

DOLLAR VALUE

Panels throughout the day covered topics ranging from policymaking to ecosystem services. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

Siak district in Riau province, which is home to one of the last large peatland forests on the island of Sumatra, was identified in 2016 as a target area for establishing an exemplar green strategy.

Siak is “a district that encourages sustainability and sustainable principles in the utilization of natural resources and economic empowerment of the community,” said Arif Budiman of Winrock International, affirming a thread that ran throughout the Exchange of the need to balance preservation and restoration with sustainable management approaches.

This involves changing people’s behaviors, said Nyoman Iswarayoga of Restorasi Ekosistem Riau (RER), which initiates field schools to educate communities to move away from slash-and-burn techniques in areas where this has been the traditional mode of land-clearing.

Such efforts, of course, cost money, and there remains a need to synchronize national plans at regional levels, to help to attract investment. This was addressed in the second plenary of the day, which looked at subnational peatland initiatives, raising the gaps between national mandates and subnational implementation capacity. The speakers called for more ways for Indonesia to take advantage of global agreements that bring in resources that can help the country overcome these hurdles of jurisdiction, among others.

Watch: Peatlands and ecosystem services

COMMUNITY BUSINESS

Local communities need support to sustainably generate value from peatland resources – and capture this value – CIFOR Scientist Herry Purnomo emphasized during a session on community engagement in peatlands conservation and restoration. However, policies pertinent to this issue remain weak. Communities currently continue to use fire for agriculture in Riau, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, showing the need for business models that promote sustainable, peatland-based livelihoods.

“Humans are an integral part of peatland ecosystems, so community engagement in the process of peatland restoration is necessary,” concurred Hesti Lestari Tata, Senior Researcher at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Research, Development and Innovation Agency, while raising the ‘3R approach’ of rewetting, revegetation and community revitalization.

To optimize benefits for locals, peatland restoration and livelihoods must ultimately be combined. In reference to this, Purnomo raised his research in Riau on common peatland commodities, including sweet corn, spinach, pineapple, betel nut, oil palm, coconut and rubber. The results indicated that certain alternative uses of peatlands – barring oil palm plantations – can create sustainable business opportunities for communities.

Concluding the event, CIFOR Principal Scientist Daniel Murdiyarso highlighted stakeholders’ common objectives for emissions reduction targets and peatlands’ role therein. He outlined opportunities for collaboration on peatlands work, highlighting the new global peatlands center expected to be established in Indonesia in the near future.

In the case of the Asian Games, it indeed appears that both governments and the private sector are concerned about the possible effects of peatland fires on the event – as well as about peatland destruction and degradation more broadly.

“We need to provide evidence – science-based evidence – to make proper policy on how to avoid and improve situations like degraded peat,” Murdiyarso said, expressing his hope that the Exchange had provided a platform to improve the communication of scientific progress, inform decision-making processes, and enhance public- and private-sector cooperation. Now, when looking at how Indonesia will meet its emissions reduction targets at a national level, the question is whether a dedicated peatland restoration agenda will be part of it.

Read also: Focus on peatlands and research results

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • Hanging in the balance: Preservation, restoration and sustainable management in Indonesian peatlands

Hanging in the balance: Preservation, restoration and sustainable management in Indonesian peatlands

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A boat travels along a river in Kalimantan during the 2015 fire and haze crisis. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

The protection of peatland ecosystems, which store “disproportionate” amounts of carbon, is vital to achieving Indonesia’s emission reduction targets and climate goals.

The need to protect remaining peatlands while restoring degraded lands resounded throughout the Tropical Peatlands Exchange, held at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) headquarters on Aug. 8, 2018.

Peatland ecosystems are critical for biodiversity, ecosystem services, water regulation and pollution control, in addition to their “disproportionate importance in terms of carbon storage,” said CIFOR Director General Robert Nasi. Because of this, peat swamps, along with mangroves, have the greatest potentials of any ecosystems to affect greenhouse gas emissions if they are degraded or destroyed.

Though only 3% of the world’s land area is covered by peatlands, these areas hold 30 to 40% of global carbon, a density that underscores their importance and the vested interest in their preservation. With Indonesia being home to some of the world’s largest peatland areas, the country can significantly impact both regional and global environments, markets and livelihoods through its peatland management decisions.

A case in point concerns the 18th Asian Games ongoing this month, for which Indonesia appears to be going to great measures to ensure that host cities Jakarta and Palembang will not be marred by haze from the country’s perennial forest and land fires. With new and concerted efforts to avoid anything akin to a repeat of the country’s catastrophic fire period in 2015, the coming weeks will put fire prevention and mitigation strategies – many focused on peatlands – to the test.

Watch: Peatlands and ecosystem services

CIFOR Principal Scientist Daniel Murdiyarso speaks at the event. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

STAYING ON TARGET

The event aimed to provide recommendations and data to support Indonesia’s policies and goals related to its peatland ecosystems. The country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement targets a 29% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, or 41% if provided with external assistance, which some have described as ambitious.

The Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Climate Change Mitigation Director Emma Rachmawaty said that Indonesia’s NDCs could be achieved by implementing mitigation actions across four areas – reducing deforestation; reducing degradation; rehabilitation of forest and land; and peatland restoration. If all stakeholders complied with existing government regulations, Rachmawaty posited, the country could be confident about achieving its targets by 2030.

Several speakers recalled the forest fires of 2015 – an El Niño year – which caused haze that blew across a number of Indonesian provinces as well as Singapore and Malaysia, prompting a global conversation on the effect of peatland fires on human health, economies and the environment. Because peatlands are not specifically accounted for in carbon budgets, CIFOR Principal Scientist Christopher Martius said, “climate change amplification” could also result from such peat destruction.

In a session on peatlands and climate change, Solichin Manuri, Senior Advisor at consulting firm Daemeter, said that the 2015 events pushed Indonesia to commit to reducing the impact of recurrent peat fires and restoring degraded peatlands, leading to numerous efforts including the release of a new government regulation in 2016. Nevertheless, this takes time, and Manuri stated that almost 40% of emissions from Indonesia’s forestry sector still come from peatlands. This figure excludes emissions from peat fires, which would make peatlands an even more significant emissions source.

Watch: Peatlands and climate change

DOLLAR VALUE

Panels throughout the day covered topics ranging from policymaking to ecosystem services. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

Siak district in Riau province, which is home to one of the last large peatland forests on the island of Sumatra, was identified in 2016 as a target area for establishing an exemplar green strategy.

Siak is “a district that encourages sustainability and sustainable principles in the utilization of natural resources and economic empowerment of the community,” said Arif Budiman of Winrock International, affirming a thread that ran throughout the Exchange of the need to balance preservation and restoration with sustainable management approaches.

This involves changing people’s behaviors, said Nyoman Iswarayoga of Restorasi Ekosistem Riau (RER), which initiates field schools to educate communities to move away from slash-and-burn techniques in areas where this has been the traditional mode of land-clearing.

Such efforts, of course, cost money, and there remains a need to synchronize national plans at regional levels, to help to attract investment. This was addressed in the second plenary of the day, which looked at subnational peatland initiatives, raising the gaps between national mandates and subnational implementation capacity. The speakers called for more ways for Indonesia to take advantage of global agreements that bring in resources that can help the country overcome these hurdles of jurisdiction, among others.

Watch: Peatlands and ecosystem services

COMMUNITY BUSINESS

Local communities need support to sustainably generate value from peatland resources – and capture this value – CIFOR Scientist Herry Purnomo emphasized during a session on community engagement in peatlands conservation and restoration. However, policies pertinent to this issue remain weak. Communities currently continue to use fire for agriculture in Riau, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, showing the need for business models that promote sustainable, peatland-based livelihoods.

“Humans are an integral part of peatland ecosystems, so community engagement in the process of peatland restoration is necessary,” concurred Hesti Lestari Tata, Senior Researcher at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Research, Development and Innovation Agency, while raising the ‘3R approach’ of rewetting, revegetation and community revitalization.

To optimize benefits for locals, peatland restoration and livelihoods must ultimately be combined. In reference to this, Purnomo raised his research in Riau on common peatland commodities, including sweet corn, spinach, pineapple, betel nut, oil palm, coconut and rubber. The results indicated that certain alternative uses of peatlands – barring oil palm plantations – can create sustainable business opportunities for communities.

Concluding the event, CIFOR Principal Scientist Daniel Murdiyarso highlighted stakeholders’ common objectives for emissions reduction targets and peatlands’ role therein. He outlined opportunities for collaboration on peatlands work, highlighting the new global peatlands center expected to be established in Indonesia in the near future.

In the case of the Asian Games, it indeed appears that both governments and the private sector are concerned about the possible effects of peatland fires on the event – as well as about peatland destruction and degradation more broadly.

“We need to provide evidence – science-based evidence – to make proper policy on how to avoid and improve situations like degraded peat,” Murdiyarso said, expressing his hope that the Exchange had provided a platform to improve the communication of scientific progress, inform decision-making processes, and enhance public- and private-sector cooperation. Now, when looking at how Indonesia will meet its emissions reduction targets at a national level, the question is whether a dedicated peatland restoration agenda will be part of it.

Read also: Focus on peatlands and research results

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • Peat fires and toxic haze: The power of perception

Peat fires and toxic haze: The power of perception

Smoke in Central Kalimantan affects traffic. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

CIFOR scientists and research partners observe an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flying over burning peat outside Palangkaraya, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

With something as evident as fire, it would be easy to assume that what you see is what you get.

However, according to a new study, perceptions of peatland fires in Indonesia vary considerably among different actors, offering an explanation of behavior, action and environmental outcomes on the ground.

The study led by Rachel Carmenta, then at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in collaboration with the universities of Lancaster, Cambridge and Florida, used a novel approach to map out the perceptions of different stakeholders, from international policymakers to local farmers and absentee landlords, all of whom have a role to play in the use, management and future of peatlands.

Using Q methodology — more commonly used in psychology to identify stakeholder subjectivity on a particular issue of interest — the research team was able to gain insights into how various groups perceive the benefits and the burdens of peat fires and the resulting toxic smoke, or ‘haze’, as well as how they perceive the effectiveness of potential solutions.

“We were keen to understand more about how the peat fire situation is perceived by the diverse groups of stakeholders involved, because perceptions can tell us something about why we observe what we do in their current management, and indicate pathways to a more sustainable future,” Carmenta says.

Read more: Fire and haze in Indonesia: What’s being done on the ground to prevent future disasters?

BENEFITS AND BURDENS

An initial result of the work was that rather than the often simplistic framing of two main actors groups — smallholders and agro-industrial players — driving the fires, in fact, a suite of actors are involved, and their motivations for fire use extend beyond cheap land clearing.

“We focused our efforts on Riau because it is a contemporary peatland frontier, with lots of new actors, from international business interests, to town-based investors, to small-scale farmers migrating from other parts of Sumatra, radically transforming the landscape in a process that directly or indirectly  involves fire,” Carmenta explains.

Smoke in Central Kalimantan affects traffic. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

“Some of the leading environmental challenges today are complex problems that cross sectors and scales — the peatlands are one example — and fire makes it very visible,” she adds. “In these carbon-dense peatland frontiers, multiple interests come into play on a resource and accrue burdens and benefits that are experienced differently by particular actors at different scales.”

Twelve distinct stakeholder groups were identified via field-scoping in Dumai, Riau, over six weeks in early 2015, along with expert consultation and a literature review. Many of the stakeholder groups were found to maintain particular perceptions about peatland fires.

“The extent of peatland transformation is rapid, and radical land-use change has taken place in Riau over a relatively short period of time,” Carmenta says.

“Of course, for some this change is positive, in part because of the immediate revenue that has been generated, while others may lament the drastic change, for example, because of the associated ecosystem service degradation and public health impacts, much of which has not been quantified.”

“Understanding better the full costs of the fires, across sectors such as health, education and environment would enable an improved understanding of the real returns from crops such as oil palm and acacia and could inform future planning and management,” she adds.

Fire is pervasive in Riau both from intentional use and conditions that enable fire to spread accidentally. For example, reasons for intentional burning can include land preparation, or disputes over land and resources. Indirect drivers of fire include peatland drainage, necessary for many of the plantation crops grown on peat, which results in increasingly flammable conditions.

“Accidental fire [that is, fires spreading beyond intended limits] is influenced by the drained condition of the peat, which itself is a fuel for fire spread, and contested tenure, which means incentives for fire management are not ideal,” Carmenta says.

Read more: Fighting fires with academic narrative

CONFLICTING VIEWS, COMMON INTERESTS

The research shows significant distinctions among groups of perceptions, clear areas of agreement and controversy, and discusses the implications for future fire management intervention (FMI) design and the governance challenges of global environmental change.

An expanse of burned peat in Central Kalimantan. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

The researchers were able to identify which of the many possible benefits and burdens ranked the highest in importance among the different groups. The results show that the public health and biodiversity impacts of fires are areas of concern that unite otherwise diverse groups.

“The high priority given to the health impacts was expected, because the situation was so severe in 2015. However, we were surprised that both greenhouse gas and biodiversity burdens also rated overall as key concerns held by a diverse group of stakeholders,” Carmenta says.

When it came to identifying what these different groups thought about solutions to the peat fires, the research group analyzed the responses of participants to a set of contemporary FMIs, including leading policies designed in response to the 2015 fires. Results showed that the FMIs ranked overall as the most effective , but were also those that  generated the greatest controversy between groups.

“We show that most of the solution options perceived as most effective are also those which generate the most disagreement among stakeholders,” Carmenta says.

These interventions include increasing use of shallow canals to ensure access to water, provide fire breaks, and maintain higher water tables; forbidding new agricultural expansion  on peatland; and increasing enforcement measures against companies that have fire within their land.

“These are some of the very interventions that are front and center today. This result attests to the challenges ahead for policymakers and implementers, and raises questions over how to reconcile such competing interests and what policy instruments will do this most effectively,” Carmenta says.

The study suggests that a mix of targeted policy measures and dialogue between diverse groups will be essential in designing and implementing a sound, high-performing, FMI approach to overcome the existing policy-practice gap. This is one of the leading challenges to peatland fire management and, arguably, to the governance of many other manifestations of global environmental change.

By Nabiha Shahab, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Rachel Carmenta at rachelcarmenta@gmail.com.


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the KNOWFOR program from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

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  • Fire and haze: Community action

Fire and haze: Community action

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How volunteers, researchers and communities are making a difference.

Residents of Pekanbaru in Riau, Indonesia, have not forgotten the devastating fires and haze that darkened their skies for months over 2014-2015.

“We were surrounded by that suffocating smoke, it was hard for us to breathe,” says Zuli ‘Lulu’ Laili Isnaini, who joined volunteer relief efforts during the crisis.

“The greatest number of victims was found among pregnant women, children and the elderly. A number of schoolchildren died at that time.”

Watch also:

Lulu, who now works for the Disaster Studies Center at the University of Riau, and other community members on the frontline of efforts to prevent fire and haze shared their perspectives at a national policy dialogue in Pekanbaru last month, hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with the University of Riau, also supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, News and Agroforestry (FTA).

While small communities are sometimes blamed by bigger players for their role in burning land and forests, they are also making an important difference in preventing future disaster. Volunteer fire patrols, communal canal-blocking initiatives to re-wet peatlands and campaigns to change mindsets through education are just some of the steps being taking at the local level to ensure a fire-free future.

Read more: 

By Catriona Croft-Cusworth, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Herry Purnomo at h.purnomo@cgiar.org.


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the KNOWFOR program from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

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  • Fire and haze: Better business practices

Fire and haze: Better business practices

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Taking responsibility for sustainability in the private sector.

The damaging practice of clearing land by burning has spread across Indonesia since at least the 1990s, employed by large and small businesses alike. The devastating impact of this practice was brought to international attention when it sparked a regional environmental and public health crisis in 2014-2015.

Burning, especially on drained peatlands and peat forests, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global climate change. The haze resulting from fires interrupts daily life, forcing school and business closures, and can even result in death. The damage done to biodiverse peat forests and carbon-rich peatlands is, in some cases, irreversible.

Watch also: Fire and haze: Laws and regulations

As Indonesia’s economy grows, and sectors such as oil palm and pulp and paper continue to boom, controlling fire and haze has become more important than ever. Tougher laws and regulations to ban agricultural burning have had a strong effect on stopping the practice.

In some cases, businesses have taken responsibility for their impact, either independently or under pressure from consumers, such as by pledging compliance to international sustainability standards, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Others have reached out to communities to cooperate on changing practices both inside and outside their concession areas.

Representatives from the private sector joined community leaders, law enforcement officials, researchers and others at a national policy dialogue on preventing fire and haze held Pekanbaru last month, hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with the University of Riau, and also supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

Read more: 

By Catriona Croft-Cusworth, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Herry Purnomo at h.purnomo@cgiar.org.


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the KNOWFOR program from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

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  • Fire and haze in Indonesia: What’s being done on the ground to prevent future disasters?

Fire and haze in Indonesia: What’s being done on the ground to prevent future disasters?

Firefighters put out a fire spreading in Sebangau national park, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Haze from forest fires blankets the landscape in Riau, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

In Indonesia, few have forgotten the devastating peatland fires and suffocating haze that afflicted the greater region for several months over 2014-2015.

Agricultural fires across Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua at that time claimed millions of hectares of land and tens of thousands of lives, as toxic smoke spread across the country, reaching as far as neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo responded by placing a total nationwide ban on the clearing or burning of peatlands, and formed the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) to replenish damaged land.

But for this complex issue involving multiple stakeholders — from government agencies to researchers, multinational companies to smallholder farmers and communities — work on the ground to prevent future disaster is still just beginning.

More than 300 representatives from various sectors came together to discuss ways to strengthen local laws and learn from ground-level experience at a national policy dialogue in Pekanbaru last month, hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with the University of Riau, and supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

The dialogue on Laws and Best Practices for Reducing Fire and Haze invited participants to share both challenges and success stories in breaking the dangerous annual cycle.

Read more: Fighting fires with academic narrative

LAW OF THE LAND

Army officers and firefighters try to extinguish fires in peatland in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

The president’s decree on peatlands set the tone nationally for a change in land management practices. But research has found that local laws — issued at the provincial, regency or city level — can have even greater impact in reducing the risk of disaster.

Yulwiriawati Moesa, Head of the Riau Forestry and Environment Agency, reminded participants in the dialogue of a provincial regulation issued last year on the protection and management of peatlands, and said work was ongoing to fully implement it on the ground.

Nonetheless, she praised efforts that have so far prevented another major disaster.

“The province of Riau has managed to overcome the threat of a fire and haze disaster these past two years, after 18 years in shackles,” she said in her opening remarks.

FTA scientist Herry Purnomo recommended that any new legislation in the province or elsewhere should be based on scientific evidence and support community-level action for fire prevention and land restoration.

“We are happy that our research outputs can be used by all stakeholders to inform public debate, policies, regulations and best practices,” he said.

Watch: Fire and haze: Laws and regulations

COMMUNITY ACTION

Effective work is being carried out at the ground level by local people, including farmers, landowners and volunteer fire fighters.

Rozi, head of the Fire Awareness Community (MPA) in Dompas village, Bengkalis regency, leads regular patrols to catch fires before they burn out of control, and works together with his community to re-green and re-wet degraded peatlands, including by blocking canals to allow water to return to the land.

He regularly catches small fires started by cigarette butts or mosquito coils, particularly in the dry season.

Firefighters put out a fire spreading in Sebangau national park, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

“When we go on patrol, we don’t get paid,” he said on the sidelines of the dialogue. “But in villages where there are no patrols, there’s sure to be fire.”

“It’s hard to convince others to join the patrols because it means they can’t take on other work that day, they don’t get paid, and then they can’t feed their families. Economic issues are our main obstacles,” he added.

Ongoing work in collaboration with CIFOR scientists is bringing water back to dry peatlands by blocking canals that were dug to drain them in the first place. The practice of draining and burning peatlands to clear land for agriculture is a major cause of deforestation, land degradation and fires in Riau.

THE BUSINESS OF BURNING

Recent decades have seen millions of hectares of peatlands converted to agricultural land, often for plantations of cash crops such as oil palm. The most cost-effective method to clear large areas of peatland is by burning, but as the 2014-2015 crisis shows, it cannot be considered a sustainable option.

Bambang Setiadi from Indonesia’s National Research Council said the damaging practice of peatland burning started in Kalimantan in the 1990s, and was transferred to other parts of the country like Riau and Palembang.

But as a peatland expert himself, Bambang warns that there is no sound scientific basis for draining and burning peatlands, and that the “bad science” of the 1990s must be stopped.

“Drying out peatlands is the first mistake, since about 95 percent of peat is water,” he said in an interview at the dialogue. “You can see the effects of this in places like Banjarmasin and Pontianak, which never had floods in the past, but now when it rains these cities are inundated.”

He said that businesses still using burning as a method to clear land must be held accountable to government regulations.

“These businesses say, ‘But I pay tax, I employ people’. These kinds of battles go on. But I say to them, ‘If you were conducting your business in the proper way, we wouldn’t have seen the kinds of fires we had in 2015’.”

Read more: Can communities and lawmakers stop Indonesian peat fires?

Tiur Rumondang, Director of Indonesia Operations for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), said that burning is absolutely banned for companies aiming to comply with its standards and criteria.

“It’s what we call ‘major non-compliance’. If a company did this, we would consider it a major violation,” she said.

Iman Santoso from the Indonesian Forestry Business Association (APHI) said the responsibility of stopping fires extends from companies and smallholders to all stakeholders involved in and affected by forestry and land-use decisions.

“Forestry cannot be regarded as an issue for foresters alone. Just as security cannot be considered solely the responsibility of the army, but as a task for the entire nation,” he said.

“That’s why the Indonesian Forestry Business Association is happy to be finally implementing a landscape approach to optimize land use in landscapes that have multiple uses — not just for pulp and paper, not just for palm oil, but for all local crops that already exist there. As a consequence, we need to involve multiple actors, multiple disciplines and multiple sectors in finding solutions.”

By Catriona Croft-Cusworth, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Herry Purnomo at h.purnomo@cgiar.org.


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors

This research was supported by the KNOWFOR program from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

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  • Fire and haze: Laws and regulations

Fire and haze: Laws and regulations

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Local laws and regulations banning the clearing and burning of peatlands have sprung up across Indonesia since President Joko Widodo issued a decree on the matter in late 2015.

The president’s order came in response to the annual practice of agricultural burning, particularly during the dry season, which reached crisis proportions in 2014-2015, sparking a regional environmental and public health disaster. Draining and burning peatlands and peat forests to make way for agriculture – including cash crops of oil palm, and pulp and paper – is now banned, with efforts being made to prevent future disasters, as well as restore degraded land.

Research has found that local laws – issued at the provincial, regency or city level – can have even greater impact that national laws in reducing the risk of disaster. A national policy dialogue hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with the University of Riau last month brought together more than 300 stakeholders from government, research, business, communities and more to discuss sustainable solutions for a fire-free future.

By Catriona Croft-Cusworth, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors. This research was supported by the KNOWFOR program from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

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  • Fighting fires with academic narrative

Fighting fires with academic narrative

Canal blocking is seen from above in Dompas, Riau. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR
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Land and buildings are burned after fires spread to Sebangau national park in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

Fire and haze, a recurring problem in Indonesia, must be addressed not only within the country but also on a regional level, according to Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist Herry Purnomo. 

The issue, which often sparks a debate of environmental conservation versus livelihoods, needs to be resolved by taking into account the economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainability.

Purnomo and other scientists working in the field hope relevant research, leading to outputs that create an academic narrative to inform policymakers, will create the possibility of legal changes. This, in turn, could help to alleviate the annual blazes.

Recognizing the problems at hand in terms of communication and synergy, CIFOR and partners are coordinating a National Policy Dialogue on Laws and Best Practices for Reducing Fire and Haze, in collaboration with the University of Riau, set to be held in Pekanbaru, Riau, on Aug. 30. The event will come close to home for many participants, as the province has seen more than its fair share of fire and haze events.

Read more: Peatland fire policy: From past to present

The dialogue aims to maximize opportunities provided by the Indonesian legal system at national and subnational levels to reduce fires and share lessons learned from best practices, and is expected to develop ways to strengthen laws to reduce fires and haze, communicate strategies from communities and companies, and support common action among ASEAN member countries.

Purnomo sat down with FTA to discuss the value of the national dialogue and what he hoped would be achieved between stakeholders.

How does research inform the debate about fire and haze in Indonesia? 

Firefighters battle a blaze at night outside Palangka Raya in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

This event is part of a UK Department for International Development (DFID) project called the Political Economy Study of Fire and Haze – carried out by CIFOR and partners, and also supported by FTA – mostly located in Riau province. For two years we have been working together with the parliament in Riau as well as district level government.

The research has led to outputs that have created an academic narrative, which has led to the possibility of changes in the law. Last year we provided research inputs for this year’s legislation program through a legal drafting workshop and consultative meetings with various stakeholders including governments, parliament members, private sectors, NGOs/CSOs and academics. We then developed the national dialogue to communicate and also to scale up and scale out the project, not only in Riau.

Peat fires are seen as a means to quickly and cheaply clear land for plantations. But what about the economic and social consequences that result from the haze, which also cost money?

CIFOR is working to find the right balance between conservation and economic development. If we stopped burning altogether, it would be difficult for local people to have a livelihood. Local authorities also need to help find the appropriate balance. To me there’s no magic formula unless you can understand the situation in a particular area and move forward.

We can incentivize other ways of clearing the land and ‘disincentivize’ the burning. In the local law we have put that local governments need to invest, working together with the national agency for technology application, to find the cheapest technology for preparing land without burning.

Canal blocking is seen from above in Dompas, Riau. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR

There also needs to be a willingness  from the community. It’s not cheap at all. You need to learn; you need new technology. Communities need champions.

Why is CIFOR holding the event in Riau?

When fire starts in Riau, it causes haze problems not only in Indonesia but also in Malaysia. Meanwhile, fires in South Sumatra can cause problems in Singapore. Fires typically start in Riau, then Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua. Whatever happens becomes not only a domestic problem but a regional problem.

Why are laws to protect against expanding plantations on peatland not always well enforced in Indonesia? 

Because of patronage. Who burns the land? On the ground you can see farmers. But who owns the land? Actually not those farmers. The land is owned or managed by what we call oknum or cukong, free riders and rent seekers in economic terms. Oknum want to obtain a lot of benefits without appropriate investment. Oknum can be investors, scientists, members of parliament, government officials, police, members of the army, corporate staff… They are linked with lawmakers, and linked with bad police. So it’s a bit complicated on the ground.

Corruption is often involved. But it’s getting better in Indonesia. We have been giving inputs to the law draft at the local level, to provide incentives, and provide more equipment for the police to better carry out law enforcement.

Currently it’s hard for the police to find evidence about who burns land, because to find it, they have to go to remote areas. I went there; I had to rent a 4WD car and it took four days just to reach the area. For example, if there is land burning in a national park, it’s difficult to get there.

You need to spend money if you want to understand the actors. But there is not much money available at the local level to prevent fire and haze. Can we give more support to the local police, to make it possible for them to find evidence? In court we need proof. Proof is important for laying blame.

What needs to be done to ensure that laws and regulations are upheld by the central governments, local administrations, smallholders, the private sector and other actors?

That’s something we included in our inputs to the local law drafts – that local governments have to provide support and money to the police, and also to improve the capacity of the judges. There’s a big difference between environmental charges and criminal charges.

We are working step by step. From the evidence on the ground, when we tried to develop canal blocking or improve farmer organizations, the districts said they didn’t have a budget for it. They said there was no legal umbrella, and asked why they had to put aside money for it.

So, we thought, why don’t we help make a legal basis for them to be able to provide money for this issue? That is the purpose behind the national dialogue.

Army officers and firefighters try to extinguish fires in peatland areas, outside Palangka Raya. Photo by A. Erlangga/CIFOR

What are some of the best practices that should be shared and implemented by these actors? 

We have several examples of community-based restoration. In the private sector, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has a program and APRIL has the Fire-Free Villages program. So I invited them to share lessons and challenges.

Restoration in nine villages, for example, costs a lot through this type of program. A hundred villages would cost a lot more. The companies would like the government to help by taking responsibility for giving incentives for preparing land without burning. It’s good but we need to out-scale.

APP, for example, has 500 villages to deal with inside and around its concession. It’s impossible without involving public money and public investment.

What needs to be done regionally – across ASEAN – to address this issue? 

A lot of high-level talks happen but there needs to be more done on the ground. I met with the second secretary of Singapore to discuss what Singapore could do to collaborate and invited them to the national dialogue. Government and private sector representatives from Malaysia and Singapore are expected to attend the national dialogue, as well as academics, and representatives from the ASEAN Secretariat. The Singapore, Thai and Malaysian embassies have been invited.

There is a vision, led by Thailand, for a “haze-free ASEAN by 2020.” It’s very ambitious. We also have a transboundary agreement on haze that has become law. But to me it seems like there is not much action on the ground. We want them to be more involved in the on-the-ground activities. If you have something on the ground, people will respect you. Why not have a district model – one or two hectares showing how fire prevention and livelihood improvement can work together?

It’s part of a huge debate between peat conservation and oil palm. Not only between government and private sectors, but actually among government representatives themselves – for example, with the minister of environment on the one hand and the minister of industry on the other hand. It’s about how to find synergy.

By Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA Communications and Editorial Coordinator. 


This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • The political economy of fire and haze in Indonesia

The political economy of fire and haze in Indonesia

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Background

The impacts of the toxic smoke from Indonesian peatland and forest fires have generated considerable concern from multiple sectors. The associated costs include global impacts on climate and ecosystem services; regional, national and local effects on health; and direct and indirect economic losses. With 43 million people exposed to hazardous air pollutants and 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent emitted into the atmosphere, the 2015 fires prompted President Joko Widodo to declare a national state of emergency and commit to fire prevention to avert a repeat performance. In January 2016, he inaugurated the Peatland Restoration Agency with the specific remit of restoring two million hectares of drained peatlands in the next five years.

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  • Guardians of the forest inspire at Global Landscapes Forum

Guardians of the forest inspire at Global Landscapes Forum

Speaker Emmanuela Shinta of the Ranu Welum Foundation gestures as she speaks during the GLF plenary session on community perspectives and priorities in peatlands. Photo by CIFOR
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Akhmad Tamanuruddin, a Kalampangan community member, speaks during the Global Landscapes Forum’s plenary session on community perspectives and priorities in peatlands. Photo by CIFOR

Indonesian community leaders fight back to preserve their peatlands.

Indonesia – The sky turned yellow just before the 2015 peatland fires reached their height in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Then it turned dark, like a phantom’s mask covering the island of Borneo with thick, humid brown haze. The particles in the air were so dense that people’s eyes burned and it became difficult to see, and so toxic that a nine-year-old girl riding her bicycle to school suddenly collapsed in the middle of the road.

This environmental crisis gave peatland communities a terrible reputation – that they’re ignorant and irresponsible, damaging the environment and putting not just themselves, but millions of others at major health risk. But is this reputation truly merited?

The Indonesian community leaders invited to speak at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF): Peatlands Matter event in Jakarta on 18 May begged to differ, sharing their unique perspectives on what it is like to live within peatland ecosystems.

Read also: FTA seeks to influence debate at GLF on peatlands

Peatland communities throughout Indonesia have had to relearn how to live peaceably with their environments. It is estimated that peatlands contain nearly twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined, despite the fact that they cover only 3-5 percent of the world’s surface, making them saving graces for climate control when protected, but terrifyingly destructive when burned and carbon dioxide is released.

Agricultural peatland communities have long cleared their land primarily through controlled burning, by selectively burning sections of land at a time, relying on the peat’s moisture to keep fires from blazing out of control. The ashes would fertilize and balance the highly-acidic soil.

However, the development of cash crop plantations like palm oil that require the drainage of peatlands, combined with rising temperatures from global warming, have rendered peatlands into tinderboxes. Despite re-wetting mechanisms – such as digging out canals that can be blocked to flood the land – the agricultural method of controlled burning is now dangerous, unpredictable and unsustainable.

Peatland communities are now facing a conundrum of developing new ways to profit from their native landscapes while ensuring their sustainability. As was illuminated at the Forum, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution – the closest one may be bringing communities together to share best practices on peat management and restoration.

Researchers fly an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) over burning peat outside Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, in 2015. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

Taking matters into their own hands

In 1980, Akhmad Tamanuruddin was uprooted from his home in East Java as part of the Indonesian government’s transmigration initiative to unify the country by spreading Javanese culture across the archipelago. He was relocated to Palangkaraya, the provincial capital of Central Kalimantan, where he was given 2 hectares of peatland. When he wasn’t in a classroom working as a schoolteacher, he worked on his property, trying to coax it into productivity.

“Initially, I planted spinach in areas that had been burned and were fertile. In the areas that hadn’t been burned, the spinach wouldn’t grow,” he told the audience during one of the Forum’s plenary sessions. “That’s why people have this habit of burning the land.”

He was, however, aware of the harmful effects of burning. Driven by curiosity, Tamanuruddin began searching for an alternative and tinkering with soil mixtures that he could scatter atop his land – something akin to icing on a cake – to increase its fertility.

Watch: People and peat: Making a living on protected land

In time, he developed his own recipe: different soil brought in from other regions mixed with fertilizer, or manure and lime. “Each ingredient has a function, such as the lime reducing the acidity of peat. In a few years, my soil became darker, a sign of fertility.”

He stopped burning altogether in 2004 – 11 years before Indonesian president Joko Widodo banned not just peatland burning, but peatland clearing altogether, as well as the conversion of recently burned land. Tamanuruddin had developed a solution long before he was legally required to do so.

It’s not a perfect method. Five cubic meters of his special concoction is enough for one hectare of land, but converting large areas means trucking in mass amounts of outsourced soil and developing adequate roads to do so.

Additionally, the age, depth, and mineral levels of different peatlands means that what works in one place may not work in another. As such, he’s still toying with how to optimize his method. “I’ve collaborated with a research body from Banjarbaru and tried to make use of their knowledge. I now plant different local woods, and the dry leaves are helping things grow.”

Entrepreneurial thinking

This homegrown approach to turning peatlands into profit demonstrates an enterprising spirit that’s required to tackle peatland challenges on a local level. Few people demonstrate this drive better than Emmanuela Shinta, a 24-year-old documentary filmmaker and founder of the Ranu Welum Foundation, a local activist group that is committed not only to raising awareness about peatland communities, but also implementing mitigation efforts on a community level in Kalimantan.

Born and raised in a Central Kalimantan native Dayak community, Shinta witnessed many tragedies during the 2015 fires, such as the young girl collapsing on her bike due to lung failure. Shinta’s eyes glisten with moisture beneath her red sumping headpiece – at public events, she always dresses in traditional Dayak clothing – as she recalls how the fires were not only pivotal for the global environmental community, but also for her own life.

“Growing up, when I woke up in the morning, there was always the sound of birds,” she said. “I would go on adventures as a kid into the forest, running in the peatlands, water up to my knees. It smelled so good. I remember it not only in my mind, but also in my heart.”

The first peatland fires occurred in Kalimantan in 1997. By the time she moved to Palangkaraya in 2009 for her university studies, she said that everything had changed. The air no longer carried the scent of fresh forest, but the harsh stench of burning.

“In 2015, Indonesia was surprised, all the world was surprised. But we locals weren’t surprised. The situation had been brewing for 18 years.”

Speaker Emmanuela Shinta of the Ranu Welum Foundation gestures as she speaks during the GLF plenary session on community perspectives and priorities in peatlands. Photo by CIFOR

Borneo, formerly nicknamed the “lungs of the world”, now seemed to have contracted lung cancer. The air quality index, at which 300 indicates a hazardous level of toxicity, skyrocketed to 3,000 within a week. “We were starving of oxygen,” said Shinta. “Can you imagine breathing in such poisonous air for three months?”

Shinta felt called to action, and without any professional skills, she did what she could: cook. She and her friends gathered scraps of money from the community and prepared meals for the local firefighters who had been surviving solely on eggs and noodles for days.

She also began documenting the crisis on film, to show to others elsewhere what was actually happening on the ground. From then on, her camera became her primary tool to help her community. Her latest documentary film, entitled When Women Fight, tells the stories of people who lived through the crisis firsthand. It was screened at the ASEAN People’s Film Forum in Timor Leste and at the Freedom Film Festival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

But spreading information is only one part of her mission. She is also distributing anti-pollution facemasks and developing airtight rooms for when the air quality index level heightens again. The Dayak people, she said, define themselves as the “guardians of the forest” and they should recover this identity. As her work goes to show, perhaps this begins with becoming guardians of each other.

Change in the air

Indonesia is now the world’s largest producer of palm oil. However, when oil palm crops were first instituted on a mass scale, a requisite transfer of knowledge did not follow.

As Eddy Saputra, a community leader from Sumatra, Indonesia, described in the Forum’s opening plenary, this crop has not been adequately tailored to the archipelago, let alone to the communities residing within it.

For hundreds of years, he said, his community managed the land by controlled, contained burning. “We used to always have water, so [land clearing] never burned trees all the way to the ground. But palm makes the land drier, so now it burns much more easily.”

Watch: Rewetting Indonesia’s peatlands

Observations of the change in ground conditions, alongside the government’s ban on peatland clearing, led Saputra to begin seeking other ways for his community to profit from their land. But they weren’t familiar with other farming methods, and the expense of herbicide to fertilize land was unaffordable. “Not burning means higher costs,” he said. “And the government never gave us alternate solutions.

It was a new environmental era, and it was up to him and his community to figure out how to adapt. In 2014, his community began planting rubber, and then in 2016, asked the government to help convert some of their land into rice paddies. They’ve also begun producing and marketing local handicrafts. His community has not used burning methods in recent years, and even through abnormally long dry seasons, their land has remained fire-free.

Nevertheless, finding economically-viable solutions while simultaneously upending longstanding practices of their community is a huge struggle. “We understand that burning is a bad practice. We’re trying to change our habits.”

The sky grows yellow due to the thick smoke of peat fires in Sebangau National Park, Central Kalimantan, in 2015. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

Bagus, a leader of a fishing community in a flood-prone area of East Kalimantan, also witnessed a change for the better in the habits of his community. Every five years or so, he said, his community would be at risk of a wildfire if they weren’t vigilant, but normally they experience one or two major floods a year. “Flooding is a fortune for us, because then the fish will be abundant,” he said.

His community was forced to question their centuries-old way of life a few years ago when a palm oil plantation bought and began clearing neighboring hectares of land. They didn’t want to give up their fishing economy, but conversations began with the local government on what to do with their land, revolving around the question: To sell, or not to sell?

Rather than reacting, they decided to wait and observe. After all, it seemed unnatural to live off the land in such a flood-prone area – and this proved to be true. The plantation’s planting abilities were dictated by the flooding and the weather, leading to a lack of rhythm and lack of profits.

“Our neighbors have been planting oil palm for two years, but without any significant yield because of the floods. Our community sees that if we clear the land and plant palm, we won’t get any benefits. And, the forest can’t be restored once it’s cleared.”

Ultimately, Bagus’s community not only kept their land, but they went one step further and decided to ensure its protection, establishing 27,000 hectares as a conservation area.

In Shinta’s words, they have become “guardians of the forest”.

By Gabrielle Lipton, originally published at CIFOR’s Forest News.


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

We would like to thank all donors who supported this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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  • Green growth in Indonesia meets the Bonn Challenge

Green growth in Indonesia meets the Bonn Challenge

Peat fires can smolder for many months, emitting large amounts of smoke and greenhouse gases. Photo by Robert Finlayson/ICRAF
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Peat fires can smolder for many months, emitting large amounts of smoke and greenhouse gases. Photo by Robert Finlayson/ICRAF

At the First Asia Bonn Challenge High-level Meeting in Palembang, South Sumatra province, Indonesia’s first Masterplan for Renewable Resources-Driven Green Growth was launched thanks to the technical support of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), a CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) partner.

Hosted by South Sumatra Governor H. Alex Noerdin, representatives of 28 nations and international research and development organizations met to discuss commitments to reforestation and progress towards them. The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million ha of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.

Under the leadership of the Environment and Forestry Ministry at the national level and of Noerdin in the province, South Sumatra is becoming a world leader in that commitment to restoration and the creation of a ‘green’ economy based on sustainable use of natural resources.

South Sumatra is of particular importance since more than 700,000 hectares of forest and peatland in the province were destroyed by fire in 2015, blanketing the province and neighboring parts of Sumatra, Singapore and Malaysia in a toxic, choking haze for months on end. In responding to such a catastrophe, a huge effort has been made by the provincial and national governments with strong support from nations such as Norway and Germany to ensure that it never happens again.

However, in a complex landscape such as South Sumatra, simply buying more fire trucks won’t do the job. An integrated, cross-sectoral approach is needed to address all the issues that contribute to land degradation and fires.

An oil-palm and forest landscape is seen from above in South Sumatra. Photo by ICRAF

The greater part of South Sumatra consists of low-lying plains covered with plantations, marshes, mangroves and remnants of natural forests, most of which were converted to monocultural rubber, oil-palm and pulp-wood plantations. The area under oil palm has increased rapidly from 0.87 million ha in 2011 to 1.11 million in 2014. Nearly half of the plantations are on farmers’ smallholdings of around 1–2 hectares. Clearing of the remaining forests, whether ‘protected’ or some other status, continues as people look for opportunities to establish or expand their livelihoods.

The results of the conversions by large companies and smallholders alike has increased economic growth but has also had negative effects, such as deforestation and then draining of peatland (16% of the province) resulting in high carbon emissions from the drying peat and its subsequent burning, illegal logging and a general deterioration of all ecosystems, highlighted by the declaration of the Musi River Watershed as one of the most critical in Indonesia. These effects, in turn, are having an impact on the very economic growth that drove them.

According to the World Bank, estimates of the total economic cost of the fires in 2015 in South Sumatra and several other provinces exceeded USD 16 billion, equal to nearly 2% of the nation’s gross domestic product. This estimate includes losses to agriculture, forestry, transport, trade, industry and tourism. Some of these costs are direct losses of crops, forests, houses and infrastructure, as well as the costs of responding to the fires and disruption of air, land and sea travel owing to the haze, or toxic smoke (featuring carbon monoxide, cyanide and ammonium), which also caused widespread respiratory, eye and skin ailments and deaths, especially among the very young and elderly.

Daily greenhouse-gas emissions from the fires exceeded those from the entire US economy. If Indonesia could stop the fires, it would meet its stated target of reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 29% by the year 2030.

At the heart of the province’s response to these seemingly insurmountable challenges is the Masterplan for Renewable Resources-Driven Green Growth, developed by ICRAF in collaboration with IDH, the sustainable trade initiative, which was launched by Noerdin at the meeting, timed to coincide with a major conference of the challenge in Bonn, Germany. The publication will be available to the public shortly.

Noerdin’s initiative has inspired other Sumatran provinces. Representatives of the 10 provinces of Sumatra signed a joint declaration of commitment to green growth commitment following the launch of the masterplan.

The vision of the South Sumatra administration for a fire-free and sustainable province features five areas of achievement adopted from Indonesia’s national development goals: sustainable economic growth; inclusive and equitable growth; social, economic, and environmental resilience; healthy and productive ecosystems as environmental services’ providers; and reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Inspired by the vision, ICRAF’s Sonya Dewi and team used three principles to guide their approach to development of the masterplan. The first was ‘inclusivity’, in which government agencies, communities and businesses were actively involved in the creation of various growth scenarios, ensuring that aspirations and barriers were identified early on.

The second principle demanded ‘integration’ of the plethora of national and provincial government programs, particularly the province’s spatial and development plans, to ensure no overlap or conflict. The third, ‘informed’, stressed the necessity of valid evidence and scientific modeling that could project the socioeconomic and environmental impact of any particular development scenario, to be used to analyze trade-offs between economic growth and environmental health and in making decisions about which was the optimal scenario.

Sonya Dewi (left) and H. Alex Noerdin at the First Asia Bonn Challenge High-level Meeting. Photo by Arizka Mufida/ICRAF

The Land-use Planning for Multiple Environmental Services (LUMENS) methodology and software created by ICRAF, which forms part of FTA research, was used to develop green-growth scenarios and compare them with ‘business as usual’. LUMENS had previously been mandated by the Ministry for National Development Planning for use in all 34 provinces.

“To transform a process that has existed for years and years within an established bureaucracy is not easy,” acknowledged Dewi.

“Improvements in policies and technical abilities along with a change in mindset are needed for successful green development. In the past, actions did not run well and were uncoordinated. Hence the need for a jointly agreed plan that involves everyone, including local officials, the private sector and the commitment of the leader, which we have in Governor Noerdin.”

In essence, the masterplan combines the government’s spatial and land-use plans and its development plans to focus on low environmental impact, drive economic growth and ensure high engagement among the people of South Sumatra and beyond.

Dewi and team designed the masterplan to be implemented in several steps. First, government land-use plans need to be adjusted to include the actual existing conservation and commodity-crop areas, which at present are not well delineated. Further, degraded land is identified for restoration, including agroforestry, and social justice and agrarian reform carried out to distribute land to the poor as part of the national government’s programs.

Second, people’s capacity in all sectors of government, community and business needs to be built, based on the ‘five capitals’ of finance, human resources, physical, natural resources and social. Third, productivity of specific commodity crops needs to be improved through application of good agricultural practices, agroforestry and better management.

Fourth, value chains for commodities need to be improved hand in hand with building the capacity of farmers’ management and entrepreneurship skills to achieve the best possible post-harvest results. Fifth, remote agricultural production areas need to be better connected with transit centres and distribution lines by developing infrastructure.

Sixth, restoration of degraded land needs to be carried out. Land currently under agriculture will not be able to meet the needs of the people. Hence, degraded land needs to be brought into production through forest-landscape restoration, agroforestry and other restoration methods.

Finally, mechanisms need to be established to reward people for maintaining and improving the services provided by ecosystems, such as clean and plentiful water, and for innovating to ensure continuous supply of quality commodities or eco-certification for higher sale prices. The masterplan, if implemented successfully, will allow South Sumatra to grow economically in an equitable manner and raise the resilience of farmers, maintain watershed functions and biodiversity, reduce fire risks, curb natural forest loss, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

After the launch of the masterplan, discussions were held on the sidelines with a number of representatives of nations who were keen to continue their support of South Sumatra’s efforts as it begins implementation.

By Rob Finlayson and Angga Ariestya, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World. Edited by Hannah Maddison-Harris, FTA.


This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). 

We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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  • On land and in space, understanding the impacts of fires

On land and in space, understanding the impacts of fires

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By Deanna Ramsay, originally posted on CIFOR’s Forests News

David Gaveau, CIFOR Scientist explains that fires are burning on degraded lands, previously the site of the 1997 forest fires. Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/ CIFOR
David Gaveau, CIFOR Scientist explains that fires are burning on degraded lands, previously the site of the 1997 forest fires. Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/ CIFOR

As flames swelled over a swath of peatland outside Palangka Raya in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia in October 2015, a group of scientists was downwind, measuring what was being released into the air.

And while that group worked amid smoldering land, satellites orbiting the Earth were recording detailed information at a distance – of the power of the fires and the carbon in the atmosphere.

The combination of those unique measurements and subsequent calculations has resulted in a pioneering study under the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry recently published in Scientific Reports – the first to determine the greenhouse gas emissions from the fires of 2015 in maritime Southeast Asia. The study’s authors determined that the carbon emissions released by the fires in September and October 2015 of 11.3 million tons per day were higher than those of the entire European Union, which daily released 8.9 million tons over the same period.

Starting from the bottom

The widespread landscape fires in parts of Kalimantan, Sumatra and Papua last year generated noxious smoke and haze affecting millions – and international attention – and the team on the ground was the very first to assess the emissions from actively burning peatland.

Farmers say that smoke from the fires are disrupting their harvests. Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
Farmers say that smoke from the fires are disrupting their harvests. Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

“There have been some isolated studies before where people artificially set fires in the lab to try to understand the chemical characteristics of peatland fire smoke in Indonesia. But no one had done this on natural fires, and especially not on the kind of extreme fires seen in 2015. We are the first people to do that,” said King’s College London professor Martin J. Wooster, one of the study’s lead authors.

The team used their measurements of ground-level smoke from burning peat to derive the emission factors, i.e. to understand how much carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane is released for a particular amount of tropical peat burned.

Satellites provided data on the heat output being radiated by the fires, as well as information on the amount of carbon monoxide present in the surrounding atmosphere. From this, the total carbon emissions were determined by combining the satellite measurements and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) modeling framework with the newly determined emission factors from fires around Palangka Raya – one of the hardest hit sites.

The researchers concluded that 884 million tons of carbon dioxide was released in the region last year – 97% originating from burning in Indonesia. The corresponding carbon emissions were 289 million tons, and associated carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions 1.2 billion tons.

Out of orbit

Indonesia's fire and haze are also monitored by satellites. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
Indonesia’s fire and haze are also monitored by satellites. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

This groundbreaking work builds on decades of research following the massive fires in the region in 1997 (an El Niño year as was 2015) and new technological innovations like the CAMS framework, which can swiftly and accurately track fires and make assessments of their atmospheric impacts, and which offers its data freely.

“This sort of modeling has only been possible quite recently. When we saw the fires start in the region – knowing that it was an El Niño year – we were able to quickly start analyzing the situation, and we started contacting others who could contribute,” said study lead author Vincent Huijnen of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, who works on the CAMS framework.

Wooster concurred about the clarity of their calculations because of fresh technologies. “We found that this was the largest single fire event in terms of carbon emissions from Indonesia since 1997. We can much more confidently make our calculations because of the new satellite, modeling and field instrument technology that is now available compared to 20 years ago.”

Peat and El Niño

Comparing their findings to past exceptional ‘mega’ fire events helped to clarify landscape changes in the region and the altered emissions compositions, as approximately three-fourths of the fires in 2015 were on peatland.

“The conversion of peatland will remain a potential source of greenhouse gases, especially when fire is involved and when associated with prolonged drought in an El Niño year. It is so essential to protect peatland because it is a huge storer of carbon and Kalimantan has 50 percent of the world’s peat reserves,” said CIFOR scientist and study co-author Daniel Murdiyarso.

For David Gaveau, also a CIFOR scientist and study co-author, the fires in 2015 were different because they were primarily on drained, idle peatland.

“In 1997 the drought lasted longer, the fires were more severe and a lot more forest burned. In 2015, fires mostly burned on degraded peatland covered with shrubs and wood debris,” he said.

El Niño, already degraded landscapes and peatland are important to the story of the 2015 fires, and the team’s emissions finding are striking, being the first to understand what is being released into the atmosphere from fires occurring on the region’s unique tropical peat.

“The last year has seen the largest single year atmospheric carbon dioxide increase since records began in the 1950s, and we calculated that the fires burning in Indonesia made up a significant component of the increase over what is ‘normal’ in non-El Niño years,” Wooster said.

Less hazy days

The impact of such work is, ironically, hard to quantify because of its wide implications. For Huijnen, such research contributes to larger debates about climate change.

“In measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and attributing changes to different sources, you know how much is purely anthropogenic, or human, induced,” he said.

And with anthropogenic causes come anthropogenic effects that can impact millions. According to Murdiyarso, good policy is key – and providing numbers related to the 2015 fires can help. With the Indonesian government’s Peatland Restoration Agency established following the fires last year, there is movement to avert future fires.

“What is important is the applicability of a study like this in helping policy makers to use more accurate fire emission factors to design policy and act to prevent further fires,” he said.

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  • Don’t inhale: Scientists look at what the Indonesian haze is made of

Don’t inhale: Scientists look at what the Indonesian haze is made of

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By Suzanna Anderson, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

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Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires. Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan. Photo: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

The fires raging across Indonesia, and the hazardous smoke they create, are causing even greater damage to the environment, wildlife and communities than first imagined. While much of the recent focus has been on Sumatra—and the spillover into Singapore and Malaysia—the province of Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, faces a greater crisis.

Once called the “lungs of the world”, the rainforests and peatlands of Borneo are struggling to breathe, as they spew vast quantities of smoke into the air, amid some of the worst fires in almost 20 years. Despite major efforts to douse the flames, in this dry El Niño year, there is no telling when the fires will subside and the air will clear.

The causes of the fires are many and complex. Researchers analyzing socioeconomic and political causes and biophysical impacts say that long-term solutions and prevention require a clear strategy, with buy-in from all those involved.


Fire and haze is a key topic at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum, 5-6 December in Paris, the largest event on the sidelines of the UNFCCC COP21.


 

And that’s where science and robust data come in.

“It’s really important for countries in general to be able to measure what’s happening,” said Louis Verchot, Director of Forests and Environment at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “If you can’t assess the impact, you don’t know how big of a problem you have.”

Verchot is one of 10 scientists who traveled to the provincial capital, Palangka Raya, in mid-October for a workshop with local partners, led by CIFOR’s Daniel Murdiyarso. “We are running the training with colleagues here in Palangka Raya University, with the Forest Management Unit and also the research center here,” said Murdiyarso.

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  • Work to avoid further fires starts now

Work to avoid further fires starts now

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The rainy season has begun in Indonesia, dousing most of the fires that have been burning across Sumatra and Kalimantan. Nature may have solved the problem for now—but the threat is far from over.

“Some parts of the country are going to be naturally drier in February and March—parts of Sumatra and eastern Kalimantan—and in an El Niño year, that will be more pronounced,” said Louis Verchot, Director of Forests and Environment at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“So we can expect another surge of fires,” he added.

The fires and the toxic haze they emit have had a major impact on people and the environment. Indonesia estimates that some 1.7 million hectares has been affected. Economic costs could rise to billions of dollars, and the country’s greenhouse gas emissions could reach new levels. More than half a million people have been treated for respiratory symptoms so far; the long-term health effects remain unknown.

WATCH THE VIDEO
Beyond the blaze: What next for Indonesia’s forests?

IN THE TRENCHES

Authorities faced a massive task in battling the fires, even with international support. And with more fires likely, identifying which actions worked and which didn’t is essential.

One issue under consideration is the digging of canals, or ditches.

“The reason the government digs ditches is to get access to water, but that water comes from within the peatland,” Verchot said.

Peat is organic matter with a very high water table in it; this slows down decomposition, which is why the peat accumulates.

“When you dig a ditch, all the water comes out and into the ditch, which means the peat now is drier, deeper in the profile, so it burns more,” Verchot said.

 

Don’t inhale: Scientists look at what the Indonesian haze is made of

 

Verchot and other CIFOR scientists are working with experts from Palangka Raya University in Central Kalimantan to measure the long-term effects of drainage and fire on the peatland. They have installed 22 field-based tools, known as R-SET-MH, to observe changes underground over time.

“We want to see the carbon loss due to drainage and belowground processes,” said Sigit Sasmito, a graduate researcher at CIFOR.

“We can also measure the benefits of re-wetting the peatlands.”

These data provide just one example of research that can support strategies to help overcome the problem.

But Verchot warns that long-term solutions must get underway sooner rather than later.

“This fire and haze, this event, was totally predictable. This problem can be solved,” he said.

“It is going to require strong political will. It’s going to require a lot of people doing things differently. And it’s going to require facilitation for people doing those things differently.”

And success will require more than enforcement.

“It also requires incentives, and creating the opportunities for people to do something to move off of these peatlands, and still find a way to make a living to ensure their livelihood for the future of their families,” Verchot added.

“That’s what this is all about—it has to be more of a human story. Solving it really means putting people in the center of the solution.”

This topic will be featured at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum.
View the event details

THE BILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION

Research shows that millions of tons of carbon dioxide were emitted during the 1997–98 fires, contributing significantly to climate change. This year, the volume of emissions is expected to be the second worst on record.

FACT FILE
Clearing the smoke: The causes and consequences of Indonesia’s fires

Delegates at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris will aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2


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