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  • Why peatlands, and why now?

Why peatlands, and why now?

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Peatlands are increasingly playing a bigger role in forest conservation thanks to their extraordinary proficiency at carbon sequestration.

In November the Center for International Forestry Research’s (CIFOR) Forests News reported that the ‘bogs’ had finally been given the spotlight. The newly established International Tropical Peatlands Center (ITPC) is set to open its doors in 2019, to bring ‘researchers, governments, civil society and other stakeholders together to ensure the conservation and sustainable management of peatlands throughout Southeast Asia, the Congo Basin and Peru’.

Here, three scientists from CIFOR – a coordinating partner of the ITPC and longtime peatlands analysist – explain ‘why peatlands, and why now.’

Answers have been written in sic, though minor amendments have been made for easy reading.

Why are peatlands important for biofuel and bioenergy?

Himlal Baral: Peatlands provide a wide range of ecosystem goods and services- for example, climate regulation and water cycling. And they are a great source of biodiversity, as well as ecosystem goods- such as timber and nontimber products, including bioenergy. The biomass produced peatlands can be converted into sustainable energy production. That’s why it’s getting attention as bioenergy.

What are you working on right now?

HB: We are doing quite a few and different projects- but one of the projects is about bioenergy production potential in a variety of landscapes, including peatlands. We are looking at how peatlands can be utilized for sustainable biomass production without damaging their nature and characteristics. The technique is called paludiculture. It involves growing trees or growing things on wetlands conditions, it is an excellent example to utilize peatlands. We are currently developing, testing a wide variety of tree species that can produce bioenergy from peatlands.

Why is the study of peatlands important?

HB: Peatlands are extremely important to ecosystems. They are home to endangered species, rare species, such as orangutans. They are great sequesters of carbon and they provide livelihood opportunities for millions of people living on and around peatlands. So, they are not only for people, but also for nature.

Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?

Dede Rohadi: In leading this project I work with local partners, and our main focus is to understand how the community is using and managing the peatlands. We are trying to identify what other options there are in developing livelihoods other than oil palm, because the problem is it seems that everybody goes into the oil palm business, and we understand there are a lot of negative impacts to the environment because of this expansion. So, we’re trying to develop what are the other options that are more in line with peatland conservation strategies.

What is the relationship between humans and peatlands?

DR: I think it is interesting to understand the behavior of people, especially the farmers who are living around the area. For example, we can understand why the people are interested in expanding the oil palm plantations. Previously they used the peatland for growing paddy, silviculture, lots of fruits on their lands- but it seems because of the market, they turn to oil palm plantations.

Also, some people are selling their lands to other people for oil palm expansion. There is a lot of industry there and the market is good, so people are dragged in because they feel comfortable with oil palm as they have secure income from it. But actually, there are a lot of other commodities that may be prospective for them to develop. But, there are some questions. For example, we need to provide the market channel and also we need to provide them with the knowledge and the skills on how to use or develop these alternative products. That’s what my project is doing.

What are some alternatives?

DR: For example, we can develop on farm-based and off-farm-based options. On farm-based, for example, some commodities such as pineapple. Pineapples grow well in the peatlands and the peatlands don’t need to be drained. In fact some of the people also now plant them, and they have a good market. But, the question is if more people grow this pineapple what will be the market? If the market is saturated then that is an important question for us to develop. And coconut, for example. In one village coconut has been planted by people and up until now they’re still planting coconuts and it has been the main source of their livelihoods. And betel nuts too.

We can also develop off-farm activities such as honeybees, because the people in the area are still collecting wild honey. It’s a good product, and the market is there, but they need to improve the market channel. They need to improve, for example, the quality of the honey and how to also not only collect the honey but also cultivate the honey in the home garden. Because there are different honeys- we can provide them with the knowledge.

Another product is fish, for example. A lot of people are living around the river, which has a high potential for fish industry. Up until now it has not been used optimally- so we can provide the technology for example, on how to process fish into fish products, and add value to their products.

Why did you get into forestry?

Herry Purnomo: I got into forestry first, because I love nature and lots of things related to nature I would like to contribute to. Secondly, forests and forestry matter to our lives, to the sustainability of this planet. Forests can contribute to the economy of this country [Indonesia]. For example, timber production, as well as ecosystem services such as ecotourism, as well as providing lots of benefits to people and local communities.

Can you tell us about your peatlands work?

HP: Now I’m working on a community-based fire prevention and peatland restoration in Riau province in Indonesia. We call this ‘participatory action research’. We try to work with the local community to understand the behavior of peatlands, to reduce the fire evidence, as well as to restore the degraded land.

So the community is not only the object of our work, but also the subject of restoring peatlands. It’s a 15-month project and very interesting actually to understand the peatlands, as well as transforming the local livelihood into more peatland-friendly. We use the theory of change for the current situation – in which people are likely to use fire fir agriculture and peatland, to reduce the fire as well as improve the livelihood of the people there. We’re funded by Temasak and the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise from Singapore.

Why is the study of peatlands important?

HP: Firstly, the fire in 2015- let’s call it a disaster because it produced a lot of toxic haze and people in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in particular suffered from the burning of the peatlands and forests.

So now we try to do research and science enquiry to provide more sustainable livelihoods by not only investigating, but by providing evidence and an action arena that communities as well as government can do – peatland management without fire. It’s not easy because using fire is common for local communities, but we provide evidence that a community can get benefits by not using fire, but more sustainable agriculture. We believe that good peatland management will happen in Riau in this way.

By Christi Hang, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

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

This research was supported by Temasak and the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise.

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  • Implementing sustainability commitments for palm oil in Indonesia: Governance arrangements of sustainability initiatives involving public and private actors

Implementing sustainability commitments for palm oil in Indonesia: Governance arrangements of sustainability initiatives involving public and private actors

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The palm oil sector in Indonesia has seen the adoption of zero deforestation commitments by the larger companies in the form of various pledges around No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation (NDPE). At the same time, at the national and sub-national level, new governance arrangements are emerging for sustainability initiatives involving government, the private sector and other non-state actors. These initiatives have created new forms of governance relationships, most notably a shift in the types of function that were once the sole domain of the state. Some initiatives are independent and formulated outside of the state, but others interact with, and support, state actions. This paper explores the interactions between public and private sectors in the palm oil arena in Indonesia. It examines tensions and complementarities between these sectors, the degree to which, and manner in which, private standards are pushing the sustainability debate and implementation, and the likely outcomes in relation to their design.

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  • Peatlands: From marginal lands to essential ecosystem

Peatlands: From marginal lands to essential ecosystem

Birds perch among mangroves in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by M. Edliadi/CIFOR
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If climate change is a global issue, then peatlands are too.

Peatlands, natural areas of the accumulated decayed plant material known as peat, have huge importance as carbon sinks, making them key in limiting global warming. Given this corresponding significance for climate targets, preserving intact peatland and restoring degraded areas are increasingly being recognized as international issues.

A new International Tropical Peatland Center (ITPC) is aiming to become a one-stop shop for countries that encompass tropical peatlands, providing research and knowledge to enable informed decisions on sustainable management of the areas. Its interim secretariat is to be based in Bogor, Indonesia, ahead of the formation of the center itself in the coming year.

“Tropical peatlands are found in more than 80 countries, yet they remain among the least understood and monitored ecosystems in the world, storing 30-40% of global soil carbon deposits, on only 3% of the world’s land surface,” Indonesia’s Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, said during the center’s launch event on Oct. 30, adding that it was crucial to preserve them from destruction and degradation given their importance in mitigating climate change.

Representatives of the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – both home to extensive areas of tropical peatland – joined together with Indonesia at the event to push forward a sustainable peatland agenda.

Throughout the day’s discussions, several speakers from government, international organizations and research institutions – including the ITPC’s coordinating partners the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), UN Environment Programme, and the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations – addressed the importance of international collaboration and mutual learning, particularly between countries in the global South.

Speakers also raised capacity strengthening at all levels, as well as community engagement and alternative livelihoods among people currently living on peatland, as key points in implementing sustainable peatland management.

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

Peatland is pictured in Peru. Photo by Rupesh Bhomia/CIFOR

Speaking during a high-level panel on national forest policy and peatland management, Robert Nasi, the Director General of CIFOR – which is the lead center of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) – emphasized the importance of bringing economics into peatland preservation and restoration, stating: “We have absolutely to conserve the peatlands that have been so far preserved […] because it is much more costly to restore than to conserve.”

“What we have now in Indonesia is a result of a decision that was taken 40 years ago to open the peatlands for industrial exploitation,” Nasi added.

Separately, Minister Siti spoke in more detail about Indonesia’s peatland management experience, for which it has enjoyed international recognition in recent years. According to Minister Siti, the country’s experience in managing its over 15 million hectares of peatlands began early last century, when local tribes such as those in Kalimantan managed peatlands in a sustainable manner. Following that was the period of extensive peatland utilization beginning in the 1970s, which saw timber plantations, large-scale agriculture and draining that degraded significant areas.

The present was a “corrective era”, Minister Siti said. Since severe fires and haze in 2015 that focused the world’s gaze on the region’s peatlands, Indonesia has enacted a peatland restoration agency, strengthened a moratorium on new licenses, improved primary forest, and overseen strict enforcement of its policies. It is now also instrumental in the establishment of the ITPC.

A researcher measures tree diameter in a tropical peat swamp forest. Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito/CIFOR

It is this experience that could benefit countries such as the Republic of the Congo and the DRC, following the discovery in recent years of the world’s biggest single area of peatland in the Congo Basin.

Following a panel discussion on best practices in Indonesian peatlands, including lessons learned, opportunities and challenges, CIFOR Senior Scientist Daniel Murdiyarso – whose work also forms part of FTA – moderated the day’s final panel on international collaboration and experience in peatlands.

Read also: New map reveals more peat in the tropics

During the session, in a pertinent description of community engagement, CIFOR researcher Dede Rohadi outlined the Haze-Free Sustainable Livelihoods project, which is also part of CIFOR’s work on peatlands that links to FTA. The project itself is designed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and complements a bigger project on the sustainable management of peatland ecosystems in Indonesia, led by the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

A major objective of Haze-Free Sustainable Livelihoods, an action-research project in Riau province, is to find a way to involve communities in peat conservation, Rohadi said. This would help to improve community members’ livelihoods while also remaining in line with peatland conservation strategies.

Communities are an important actor in peatland management, he emphasized, and policies or interventions could fail if the constraints and objectives of communities were ignored. Researchers and decisionmakers must understand community behavior when designing interventions and writing regulations, he added.

In Riau, some communities historically used fire for clearing land, but this did not result in wildfire because at that time the peatland was still wet. Coconut, betel nut and pineapple are among possible alternatives to the oil palm that is often associated with peatland draining, if they can be made adequately financially attractive.

In addition to this action research, CIFOR is also carrying out biophysical research in five of the seven Indonesian provinces currently targeted for restoration efforts, Murdiyarso said, adding that a special issue on peatland challenges containing 12 papers was set to be published soon.

In the past, Indonesia’s peatlands were described as marginal lands, Murdiyarso said. However, they are now considered to be an essential ecosystem. “Now there is a lot of hope when we are talking about peatlands and sustainable development of peatlands,” he added.

From local community livelihoods to global emissions targets, the launch of the ITPC looks set to place peatlands at the forefront of climate discussions.

Read also: Peat fires and toxic haze: The power of perception

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

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  • Peatlands and ecosystem services at the Tropical Peatlands Exchange 2018

Peatlands and ecosystem services at the Tropical Peatlands Exchange 2018

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The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), with support from the government of Indonesia and participation of the private sector, organized a one-day event, the Tropical Peatlands Exchange 2018, to provide a platform for exchanges of information between stakeholders concerned with the sustainability of tropical peatlands in Indonesia. The outputs of the exchange can be scaled up to explore the possibility of engaging a broader range of partners and countries for a more effective south-south cooperation to tackle challenges around peatland conservation and restoration.

This is the recording of a session titled “Peatlands and ecosystem services”, in addition to the summary of the event, which took place on Aug. 8, 2018, in Bogor, Indonesia.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • Peatlands and climate change at the Tropical Peatlands Exchange 2018

Peatlands and climate change at the Tropical Peatlands Exchange 2018

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The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), with support from the government of Indonesia and participation of the private sector, organized a one-day event, the Tropical Peatlands Exchange 2018, to provide a platform for exchanges of information between stakeholders concerned with the sustainability of tropical peatlands in Indonesia. The outputs of the exchange can be scaled up to explore the possibility of engaging a broader range of partners and countries for a more effective south-south cooperation to tackle challenges around peatland conservation and restoration.

This is the recording of a session titled “Peatlands and climate change”, which took place on Aug. 8, 2018, in Bogor, Indonesia.

Originally published by CIFOR.

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  • Good governance and sustainability incentives can provide alternatives to land conversion fires

Good governance and sustainability incentives can provide alternatives to land conversion fires

During land burning, haze blankets the landscape in Riau Province, Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
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During land burning, haze blankets the landscape in Riau Province, Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

In Indonesia, palm oil is a hot industry in more ways than one. In 2015 alone, it contributed USD 20.75 billion to the country’s export revenue. Oil palm plantations cover more than 14 million hectares of the country and, together with Malaysia’s, dominate the global market.

However, fire is still widely used in the development and planting of oil palm, including in carbon-rich peatlands. Resulting smoke and toxic haze have impacted the economy, the health and the environment of Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. In 2015, Indonesia’s peatland fires contributed to an economic loss of at least USD 16.1 billion and more than 100,000 premature deaths around the region.

In light of this, a new study led by Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist Herry Purnomo, which also forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), looks at the extent to which good governance principles are applied to Indonesia’s palm oil value chain and analyzes options to help reduce the use of forest and land fires in the industry.

“Palm oil is one of Indonesia’s main commodity exports, surpassing oil and gas,” says Purnomo. “But if we do not manage its sustainability, this sector can fail.

The research focuses on Indonesia’s Riau Province, which experienced massive forest conversion to have the largest area of oil palm plantations in the country. Now, it has the highest domestic frequency of fires too.

“We know that 20% of fire incidences happen in oil palm plantation areas, so we tried to find out what caused the fires and how to reduce them.”

Read more: Towards responsible and inclusive financing of the palm oil sector


In theory, the central government has power to influence the oil palm supply chain through law and policies; district-level governments have the most jurisdiction for law enforcement and information-spreading; and village governments are closest to plantation developers, thus having the responsibility of dealing directly with them.

However, good governance for the industry is not as simple as a top-down approach. From consumers to mills, refineries and developers, players in palm oil influence governance processes in different, sometimes unexpected ways.

“With the governance analysis, we looked at how existing powers contest,” says Purnomo. “Along the value chain, power is not at the landscape level but at the consumer level, or at the mills and refineries. The central government can only function through the district government, but mills can influence local government using incentives and coercion.

“Sometimes the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Ministry of Agriculture get the blame for forest and land fire incidences. While potentially, the problem starts from the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) welcoming investment for refineries without considering whether there is enough capacity to supply them from legal sources.”

Furthermore, the study found that illegal oil palm developers can hold a lot of influence at local levels and force village governments to support them, often through deceptive use of a Certificate of Land (SKT).

This imbalance between governance and supply chain capacity can drive actors at the landscape level to meet the mill demands in ways detrimental to landscapes.

“Now there are mills everywhere, even in national park areas. People respond by developing plantations everywhere. The fastest and cheapest way is by burning.”

Scientists observe a drone flying over burning peat outside Palangkaraya, Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR


When demand is high and burning has long been practiced, what reason do farmers and developers have to change their habits to more arduous land-clearing methods?

“We calculated whether existing incentives in the market are enough to change the situation on the ground,” says Purnomo. “The analysis looks at benefits distrubuted from oil palm plantation development using fire, who benefits, and what alternatives can be adopted to compensate.”

The first step is for the market to support certified producers, incentivizing them not to burn as well as to employ value-added farmers. This, however, raises production costs, as well as the cost of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) of oil palm fruits. As this price margin grows, the next step is to make sure that the financial benefits go back into the hands of the farmers, to incentivize their good practices as well.

“Intermediaries have taken the benefit from this margin until now. Farmers should unite to gain more bargaining power, so once they receive a delivery order, they can cut the middleman and go straight to the mill. This will increase their value added. It is important that palm oil businesses are not only certified but also fair.”

Another key step to fire reduction is agrarian reform. While many farmers possess an SKT, the land is still legally part of a state-owned forest area. The unclarity of land status dissuades farmers from investing resrources in land.

“Why should they spend money, when the government can take their land away at any time? The farmers should be guaranteed land legality at least for 25 years, so they can invest safely.”

Read more: The long and winding road to sustainable palm oil


Recently on the international stage, the European Union in January approved draft measures to ban the use of palm oil in motor fuels by 2020. While this sent Southeast Asian governments reeling, Indonesia’s included, Purnomo believes that this boycott will change little. Instead, he says the EU market should give incentives for sustainable production, and Indonesia should create an environment in which that can be done.

“Incentives can change the situation. The government of Indonesia should be more transparent with environmental problems faced by the palm oil industry, show real progress in improving the industry’s sustainability, draw a clear roadmap to meet international standards in three to five years and invite the EU to participate in palm oil in more constructive ways.”

Cleaning up supply chains will come at a cost, but market incentives combined with strengthened national policies and international regulators (namely the Indonesian Sustianable Palm Oil system and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) can together compensate to make this effort viable – and cool things down.

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

For more information on this topic, please contact Herry Purnomo at [email protected].

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 Department for International Development United Kingdom (DFID UK) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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  • New map reveals more peat in the tropics

New map reveals more peat in the tropics

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Key messages

  • An expert system model underpins a new global wetlands map with high spatial detail (232 x 232 m2) and a multisource approach (satellite, climatic and topographic data). The map suggests that much more peat exists in the tropics than was previously reported.
  • Unprecedented extents and volumes of peatlands are identified in the tropics, three times the size of previous estimates, and mainly outside Asia.
  • South America appears as the main host of peat areas and volumes with Brazil at the top the list, closely followed by Indonesia.
  • Tropical and sub-tropical countries hosting peatlands in all continents can use the map to direct, locate and prioritize conservation and management of wetlands and peatlands in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Scientific engagement should be continued through intensive field campaigns to validate these new peat hotspots; the interactive map will facilitate this process
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  • More peat in the tropics: Implications for climate change

More peat in the tropics: Implications for climate change

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Peatlands are gaining increasing global attention for their potential contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as their values to livelihoods.

Originally published at CIFOR.org

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  • Interview: Leveraging peat to beat the heat in Peru

Interview: Leveraging peat to beat the heat in Peru

Peatlands are home to diverse fauna and flora like this colorful butterfly. Photo by Jeffrey van Lent/CIFOR
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A researcher measures peat degradation in Peru. Photo by Kristell Hergoualc’h/CIFOR

FTA researchers are working to recognize the potential of Peru’s rich peatlands in tackling climate change.

Peru – Peruvian peatlands are of huge environmental importance, not only locally but also globally. They not only house enormous stores of carbon, but are home to diverse flora and fauna, and provide essential ecosystems services that support local livelihoods.

Located in Amazonia, the Pastaza Marañon Basin stores an amount of carbon in peat soil equivalent to more than 100 years of the country’s anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG).

However, most of this carbon has only been partially protected and now, Peruvian peatlands are showing clear signs of degradation. At this vital crossroad, these peatlands can either become part of the problem, or the solution in the global battle against climate change. This depends greatly on the country’s actions towards their sustainable management.

In work that forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, Kristell Hergoualc’h, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), has been studying Peruvian peatlands for CIFOR’s Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP).

Based in Peru, Hergoualc’h was part of a team of scientists who recently published a pilot study that was the first one to attempt to map and characterize the degradation of palm swamp peatlands in the Peruvian Amazon. The study combined remote sensing data and carbon in biomass from inventories.

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

Peatland is pictured in Peru. Photo by Kristell Hergoualc’h/CIFOR

“Providing solid and credible estimations of the impacts of degradation is an essential step in planning and adopting conservation strategies,” says Hergoualc’h. “Peruvian peatlands should be considered as priorities in any national conservation program for climate change mitigation.”

Hergoualc’h discussed the study’s results and the pressing need for the country to develop strategies and policies that ensure their sustainable management.

What are peatlands and why are they important, particularly in the context of Peru?

Peatlands are wetland ecosystems located in depressions that remain flooded during most of the year. The continued oxygen-poor conditions in the soil lead to a slow decomposition of the dead branches, leaves and roots and result, over thousands of years, in the accumulation of a soil layer extremely rich in carbon.

This layer can be very deep. For example, in Peru, peat deposits with a depth up to nine meters were found in the Amazon basin. Peatlands are therefore very important in terms of carbon storage and cycling. Peru holds a substantial area of peatlands, most of which is located in the Amazon basin, but there are also peatlands in the Andes. Lowland peatlands are mostly forests hosting a high density of Mauritia flexuosa palms – locally known as aguajes.

What is causing the current degradation of Peruvian peatlands?

There are different types of activities causing peatland degradation, such as peat extraction in the Andes or illegal gold mining in the region of Madre de Dios. We’ve been looking more specifically at the degradation of the palm-dominated forests that spans the entire Amazonian basin.

People consume the fruit of the aguaje palm and a weevil – called suri– that develops inside the dead trunk of the palms. These products are important sources of vitamins and proteins, especially for rural communities. Unfortunately, the harvest of the fruit has not been very sustainable. It has been extensively cultivated in the past decades by cutting down the entire palm instead of climbing it.

Water ripples in a peat landscape in Peru. Photo by Kristell Hergoualc’h/CIFOR

What are some of the conclusions of your recent study into the drivers of Peruvian peatland degradation?

We’ve been working in an area of about 350,000 hectares in the region of Loreto and combined data obtained by remote sensing and data collected on the ground to evaluate the extent of degradation and the impact of degradation on the structure and composition of the forest.

We found that 73 percent of the area of palm swamp forest on peat was degraded. Our results suggest that degradation induces a shift in forest composition; the forest becomes dominated by woody trees instead of palms.

We also found that degradation translates into significant reductions in tree carbon stocks with initial stocks decreased by 11 percent and 17 percent following medium and high degradation.

Are Peruvian peatlands being protected?

Some areas that include peatlands like the Pacaya Samiria reserve in Loreto are protected. However, Peru doesn’t have a regulatory framework for specifically protecting its peatlands. The country doesn’t have a soil classification map and has not adopted a definition for peat soil or peatlands. The term “peatland” appears in only one official document – The Wetlands National Strategy – where it is used to designate high-altitude peatlands in the Andes.

What actions should be taken to ensure their conservation?

The peatland areas that are legally under protection were effectively conserved which is encouraging, but these sites remain limited and should be extended. Initiatives such as REDD+ projects should be regarded as an opportunity for more peatland protection.

There is also a general need to bring awareness about what peatlands are and why they are important for Peru at the decision-making level in the national and regional governments, as well as in academia.

Peatlands are home to diverse fauna and flora like this colorful butterfly. Photo by Jeffrey van Lent/CIFOR

You have studied Indonesian peatlands as well, which have been largely deforested and degraded. What are some recommendations you have for Peru so that it does not encounter the same scenario?

Indonesian peatlands have been devastated as the result of large governmental programs aimed at relocating people within the country, expanding agriculture, and extracting timber. For these purposes peatlands have been drained and, as a consequence, turned into fire-prone areas. The environmental, social and economic damages caused by land-use change and fires in Indonesian peatlands are considerable and are of major international concern.

Read also: Managing peatlands in Indonesia: Challenges and opportunities for local and global communities

Peatlands are not suitable areas for agriculture because the soil is acid and nutrient-poor and most crops can’t cope with flooded conditions. It is unexpected and dicey for the Peruvian national strategy for forests and climate change to recommend technical capacity-building on wetland drainage as a way to reduce migration of communities towards fertile soils and/or forested areas.

The main lesson we learned about peatlands worldwide is that they should not be drained. There are other sustainable options for livelihoods in these ecosystems, and these need to be defined and developed in tandem with the communities living within them.

By Yoly Gutierrez, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Kristell Hergoualc’h at k.hergoualc’[email protected].

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

This research was supported by USAID.

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  • People and peat: Making a living on protected land

People and peat: Making a living on protected land

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Indonesia – Deep in the forests of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, the murmur of a paddle sliding through water joins the mesh of bird song. Lined on all sides by clouds of vegetation, Adam is maneuvering his wooden canoe through the peat-soaked river. Light begins to sift through the leaves. The day’s fishing has begun.

Adam catches up to 10 kilograms of sheatfish, kissing gourami and giant mudfish a day, making roughly 50,000 Indonesian rupiah (US$4). His family has lived in Parupuk village for decades. As fishermen, they exist in close relation with the peat and the waters that flood it.

“If there were no lakes like this, we’d be in trouble. We wouldn’t be able to eat,” he says.

The practice of draining, clearing and burning peatlands in this part of Indonesia – to clear space for agricultural plantations like palm oil and pulp wood – is putting Adam’s livelihood in jeopardy. As peat is extinguished, so is the water that naturally sustains it, along with its aquatic inhabitants.

“That peatland over there already has no water,” says Adam, pointing his finger across the horizon.

The sky takes on a yellowish hue due to the thick smoke of peatland fires in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, in October 2015. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

Tough tactics

So-called slash and burn techniques – designed to clear land, eradicate pests, and fertilize ground with ash – have often spread into vast forest fires in Indonesia. They can smoulder for weeks on peatlands, which are highly flammable once dried and degraded.

The smoke and flames lead to devastating consequences for human health, endangered animals and plants, as well as the environment. The fires in September and October of 2015 in Indonesia alone released higher levels of carbon per day than the daily average emitted by the entire European Union over the same period.

In response, the Indonesian government introduced a series of measures designed to stop the fires. Slash and burn is now illegal, and a ban on converting peatlands to agricultural plantations has been expanded and solidified in law.

The government has also ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change, committing Indonesia to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 29 percent by 2030, and they have launched the national Peatland Restoration Agency with the aim of restoring 2.4 million hectares of peatland in seven provinces.

A difficult balancing act 

However, while many hail these restrictions (which, if enforced, should help boost the day-to-day living of fishermen like Adam), the consequences for small-scale farmers could be very different.

Authorities are facing a potential Catch-22. Could policy measures designed to protect the environment have unintended adverse effects on the local people’s livelihoods?

Farmer Alin works in a paddy field in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Alin has been successfully farming rice in Kampung Melayu village in Kalimantan for more than five years. Each year, he has cleared his paddy with fire, allowing the ashes to enrich the land for the next planting season.

But in 2017, everything changed.

“The harvest failed for the first time because I am no longer allowed to burn my land,” he says.

Alin is afraid of the long-term consequences for his family. “If it carries on like this, we’ll struggle because pests won’t be killed – like rats, rice bugs, birds, ants, caterpillars. All of them can cause harvest failure.”

And it is not just the failed harvest that is contributing to Alin’s financial worries.

“Before, when we would burn, we could just scatter the seeds and we could get rice,” he says. “Now, it’s not possible. Now, we have to pay to replant, pay to clear the grasses as well because grasses live if they’re not burned. For one hectare, it can cost 4-5 million rupiah [USD $300- $400].”

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

Working together 

The Indonesian government, research and civil society organizations are now taking steps to mitigate the effects of fire restrictions on individuals’ lives.

“Solutions are complex because they need to address several dimensions,” says Peter Holmgren, Director-General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“They need to address people’s livelihoods and they need to address how the climate is disrupted by emissions from peatlands. The solutions also need to take into account the need for biodiversity conservation.”

Across Indonesia, a variety of schemes are in place- from bringing in local laws that can help allocate budget to assist communities, to agroforestry, where trees or shrubs are grown in agricultural land.

The Indonesian government has also introduced measures to protect local livelihoods, with plans for social forestry across 12.7 million hectares of land and reforms that will provide 9 million hectares of land to communities.

Father of three Ayus taps a rubber tree in in Central Kalimantan. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Sustainable alternatives 

In Central Kalimantan, the organization Rimba Makmur Utama is running a forest regeneration project, working with farmers on a variety of tactics, including diversifying the crops they grow. They operate hand-in-hand with local people to address the concerns and priorities they identify, rather than forcing solutions.

“Communities in peatland in Indonesia are currently in a very challenging situation,” says Dharsono Hartono, CEO of Rimba Makmur Utama. “There’s no quick fix.”

One key problem raised by the local community is the need for affordable alternatives to slash and burn farming, in order to manage and fertilize their soil. Now, the organization and smallholders are introducing what are called ‘cover crops’, like local beans, which are planted after harvest. These crops feed nutrients into the soil and protect it from bacteria and infection, so that the land is ready for planting season, without the need for burning.

“Once you have increased soil productivity through proper soil management, you can plant a lot of crops,” says Hartono.

Researchers emphasize that this practice of involving the community, and working together to consider and address their needs, is vital to successfully managing peatlands and reconciling diverging interests.

On 18 May, community leaders joined environmentalists, government officials, academics and policymakers at the Global Landscapes Forum: Peatlands Matter thematic event in Jakarta, Indonesia, to move forward the discussion.

“We need to bring different sectors and different perspectives into the solutions,” said Holmgren.

By Rose Foley, originally published at CIFOR’s Forest News.

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

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