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  • Unrelenting games: Multiple negotiations and landscape transformations in the tropical peatlands of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

Unrelenting games: Multiple negotiations and landscape transformations in the tropical peatlands of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

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Land use change is often a result of negotiation between different interests. Focusing on negotiation practices helps to provide a nuanced understanding of land use change processes over time. We examine negotiations within a concession model for land development in the southern tropical peatlands of Central Kalimantan province in Indonesia. This region can be described as a resource frontier, where historical landscape transformations from large development projects and oil palm plantations intersect with state models of forest conservation and recent Reducing Emissions from Degradation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) projects. The study drew on actor-network theory (ANT) and combined an ethnographic approach with document analysis for understanding how these landscape transformations and land allocation for large concessions has left a legacy of continuing uncertainty and conflict over land. There is considerable gaming between actors to achieve their desired outcome. Increased competition for land and contested legal arrangements mean that the negotiations are virtually never-ending. Winning at one stage of a negotiation may mean that those who feel they have lost will organise and use the system to challenge the outcomes. These findings show that attempts to implement pre-determined plans or apply global environmental goals at resource frontiers will become entangled in fluid and messy negotiations over land, rather than achieving any desired new status quo.

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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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  • Calls for greater momentum on forest initiatives, from REDD+ to ecotourism, at APRS 2018

Calls for greater momentum on forest initiatives, from REDD+ to ecotourism, at APRS 2018

Tribudi Syukur village in Lampung, Indonesia, is seen from above. Photo by N. Sujana/CIFOR
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Tribudi Syukur village in Lampung, Indonesia, is seen from above. Photo by N. Sujana/CIFOR

Asia-Pacific is the fastest growing region on earth, and home to the world’s three largest cities. Yet it also contains 740 million hectares of forests, accounting for 26 percent of the region’s land area and 18 percent of forest cover globally.

More than 450 million people depend on these forests for their livelihoods.

Through the theme “Protecting forests and people, supporting economic growth,” the third Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit (APRS) examined how the region’s economic and social development can better integrate with climate change and carbon emissions reduction goals.

Following the first APRS held in Sydney in 2014 and the second in Brunei Darussalam in 2016, this year’s was the largest yet, held in the Javanese cultural center of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. From April 23–25, more than 1,200 representatives from academia, civil society, business, government and research institutions gathered for panels, discussions, workshops and field trips.

Regional leaders formed the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Partnership (APRP) and its biannual Summit to help realize the global goal of ending rainforest loss by 2030, as well as reduce poverty through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), carbon emissions through REDD+, and climate change through the Paris Agreement – as discussed in the Summit’s first day of high-level panels.

Read also: FTA at the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit

“Since the summit in Brunei, I am happy to see substantial progress on REDD+ both regionally and globally,” said Australian Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg in the opening ceremony. “We need to maintain this momentum and step up the pace of change if we are going to protect our forests and our people while securing economic growth.”

As the host country – supported the Australian Government, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) – Indonesia highlighted its recent environmental achievements.

“In the last three years, we have managed to reduce the [annual] deforestation rate from 1.09 million hectares to 610,000 hectares, and 480,000 million hectares in 2017,” said Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya.

“We realize that forests are a major contributor to carbon emissions, mainly due to forest fires – especially in peatlands. Forests represent 18% of our national emissions reduction targets and are expected to contribute to over half of our [Paris Agreement] targets.”

CIFOR’s Daniel Murdiyarso speaks during a session on restoration and sustainable management of peatlands at the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit 2018. Photo by U. Ifansasti/CIFOR

Minister Nurbaya also pointed to community and social forestry as a major theme of the Summit. Indonesia has set a target to allocate some 12.7 million hectares of land for use by communities partaking in five social forestry schemes. Nurbaya said she hopes other countries are similarly prioritizing community-based forestry management.

Community forestry was one of the sub-themes highlighted in the second day’s expert panels, alongside restoration and sustainable management of peatlands, mangroves and blue carbon, ecotourism and conservation of biodiversity, production forests, and forest finance, investment and trade. Issues in focus are detailed below.


Speakers throughout the Summit echoed the need for increased private-sector support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and policies that help enable this.

Companies need more incentives – and assurance of profitability – if they are to balance their business activities with ecological protection and support to local communities. Similarly, there needs to be proof of returns in order to increase private investment in environmental efforts.

The commitment of USD 500 million by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was highlighted as a best-practice example. Announced in May 2017, the pledge is now being used to back select business proposals that creatively address climate change.

Juan Chang, a GCF senior specialist in forest and land use and panel speaker at the Summit, said the Fund’s forestry and land use portfolio of 10 funded projects around the world so far includes 2 REDD+ projects.

Within GCF’s portfolio as a whole, around a third of its USD 3.7 billion goes to projects in the Asia-Pacific region.


This year’s APRS comes roughly a decade after the UNFCCC COP13 in Bali gave birth to REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), an initiative that – much as its name says – seeks to lower global carbon emissions by preserving tropical forests.

As its goals broadened to give more attention to sustainable forest management and carbon stocks, REDD became REDD+, which now has numerous development and research projects running throughout the region.

Indonesia’s Minister of Environment and Forestry, HE Siti Nurbaya, opens the 3rd Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit. Photo by U. Ifansasti/CIFOR

Around 2 billion hectares of Asia-Pacific forests are degraded, and research experts expressed that production forests – such as those used for bioenergy – hold new opportunities for REDD+ implementation.

Contrasting this, however, was the difficulty some countries’ delegates said they’re facing in setting the many pieces in place required to uphold such a detailed effort as REDD+.

While Indonesia and Papua New Guinea now have much of the REDD+ architecture up and running, both countries have met roadblocks in implementing emissions measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) systems as well as results-based payments mechanisms.

Emma Rachmawaty, Director of Climate Change at Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, said, “We are in the process of establishing a financial institution to manage financing for REDD+. [Until then] we cannot implement results-based payments for REDD+.”

Danae Maniatis from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) analogized REDD+ framework construction with that of a building.

“Pillars for REDD+ need to be really strong at the readiness phase,” she said. “If you have a house that has a roof but nothing else, would you use it? No. You need it to be functional. So, the challenge that we face is: how do you take these elements and make them functional?”

Read also: Social forestry impacts local livelihoods in Indonesia


Mangroves and blue carbon – carbon captured and stored in oceans and coastal areas – have been hot topics of late.

“There is one ecosystem that has been close to my heart for a long time, that encompasses all the issues you can think of for forests: peatlands and mangroves,” said CIFOR Director General Dr. Robert Nasi.

“Although they represent a small percentage of forests, they are probably the richest and most carbon-rich ecosystems in the world – and the most threatened. I can only encourage and commend Indonesia for all the efforts they’re doing in terms of restoring and rehabilitating peatlands and mangroves.”

Comparatively little research has been done on these ecosystems so far. But the vast carbon sinks of Indonesia’s mangroves – the largest in the world, spanning 3.5 million hectares – have begun to make their way onto the archipelago’s national agenda, potentially contributing to the country’s commitments to the Paris Agreement and becoming grounds for financial support to local communities through payment for ecosystem services (PES).

Another way to link local communities to financial institutions and global markets? Ecotourism – responsible recreational activities that encourage conservation and preserve biodiversity.

Panelists called for philanthropic foundations and development organizations to give this growing sector more attention. In the realm of sustainable development business ventures, ecotourism is an on-the-ground way to aid land rehabilitation and biodiversity conservation while still turning a profit – however small that profit may be.

This echoed Dr. Nasi’s opening ceremony statement that the Asia-Pacific region is “a region of superlatives and a region of many contrasts,” with a vast array of businesses, landscapes, socioeconomic levels and governments.

Yet, everyone attending the summit “comes together for one reason: because forests matter.”

By Nabiha Shahab, 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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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?


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


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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  • 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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  • Agroforestry on peatlands: combining productive and protective functions as part of restoration

Agroforestry on peatlands: combining productive and protective functions as part of restoration

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The ASEAN countries, in particular Indonesia and Malaysia, are home to the worlds largest tropical peat stocks and have suffered the brunt of the conversion from natural forest cover to “fastwood” (trees grown for pulp and paper), oil-palm plantations and other agricultural use. In order to control the use of fire and to avoid the deep drainage that is responsible for degradation, government commitments need to go beyond good intentions alone. Land-use solutions are needed that provide local livelihoods while keeping the peat profiles wet. Fortunately, certain forms of agroforest offer solutions and can be promoted more widely.

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  • Activist Emmanuela Shinta discusses tackling peatland issues on a local level

Activist Emmanuela Shinta discusses tackling peatland issues on a local level

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Forests News editor Leona Liu spoke with Emmanuela Shinta, Dayak leader, filmmaker and activist from the Ranu Welum Foundation, during the Global Landscapes Forum: Peatlands Matter event in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 18, 2017.

Originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

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  • ICRAF Geospatial Analyst Atiek Widayati talks about people and peat at GLF

ICRAF Geospatial Analyst Atiek Widayati talks about people and peat at GLF

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Forests News editor Leona Liu spoke with CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) scientist Atiek Widayati of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) during the Global Landscapes Forum: Peatlands Matter in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 18, 2017.

Originally published at CIFOR’s Forest News.

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  • FTA seeks to influence debate at GLF on peatlands

FTA seeks to influence debate at GLF on peatlands

A plant emerges from the ground in Mendawai, Indonesia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR
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A plant emerges from the ground in Mendawai, Indonesia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF): Peatlands Matter takes place on May 18 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The significance of the conference is underscored by the need to reach a common understanding of problems and solutions around peatlands — key hotspots at the intersection of certain Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including food security, water and biodiversity — and of addressing climate change.

The GLF is an important forum for a program like FTA, which is not only a research program but a research for development program. Because of this, FTA works in the sphere of research, and beyond that in the sphere of influence, in order to affect the way stakeholders behave and adopt suitable solutions.

Working with stakeholders is also important to ensure the “legitimacy” of the research that FTA designs and implements, so users feel that the research and researchers have understood and accounted for their interests, values and concerns — necessary for successful uptake.

Read also: Strength in numbers: How the Global Landscapes Forum connects the land use community

A man plants a young tree in Mendawai, Indonesia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Importantly, working with stakeholders is fundamental for issues where the nature of the problem (and related solutions) is not easily agreed upon. Peatlands are one such issue, as one cannot apply a single lens (be it the carbon lens, the local environment lens, the biodiversity lens or the livelihood lens) to understand the potential solutions.

That is why FTA and its partners are proud, once again, to be one of the key providers of knowledge at the GLF, namely for mutual understanding and action. At the Jakarta conference, this will feed into three debates on the “science behind peatlands”, set to be heard during the event’s discussion forums.

Fueling three debates

The first discussion forum, titled “Black gold” for climate mitigation? The rediscovered carbon stocks in tropical wetlands and peatlands and hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), looks at the latest tools for identifying and locating wetlands and peatlands, and reveals how scientists are reassessing carbon stocks.

Ahead of the conference, CIFOR produced a set of six briefs illustrating the science behind peatlands, all the result of research under FTA. The briefs point out that peatlands are the most threatened type of ecosystem, especially in Southeast Asia, due to agricultural development. Another publication, Managing peatlands in Indonesia: Challenges and opportunities for local and global communities, shows that the drainage of peat swamp forests and their conversion into agricultural land causes considerable and irreversible environmental, social and economic damage.

CIFOR has also published a new map that reveals more peat in the tropics, with “unprecedented extents and volumes […] three times the size of previous estimates, and mainly outside Asia.” It states that “South America appears as the main host of peat areas and volumes with Brazil at the top of the list, closely followed by Indonesia.” These publications address where peatland can be found, its characteristics, what can be done at a management level to protect it, and the human aspect relating to those who live on and around it.

A canal runs through a peat landscape in Mendawai, Indonesia. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

A second debate at the GLF covers Peatland fires, haze and health, a session organized by UN Environment, raising awareness on the impacts of peatland fires on the climate and human health, and showcasing innovative tools for tracking, preventing and managing the impact of fire and haze events.

There is a need to support local governments and planning agencies in understanding the need for clear spatial planning for peat areas and identifying areas for planting and restoration. This discussion is informed by FTA’s work, and especially builds on the UK Department for International Development (DFID)-supported project with Indonesian and UK scientific partners on the political economy of fire and haze.

Third, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) holds People and peat: Livelihoods in context, focusing on livelihood options for local communities using a case study landscape in Jambi, Indonesia, as the starting point. The case looks at conflict resolution in forests.

ICRAF previously acted upon a request from farmer groups to help with “zonation management rights”, said the session’s moderator Ingrid Öborn and FTA scientist Meine van Noordwijk. They could therefore provide “on-demand help”, they explained, as they sought to “manage wet forests in ways relevant for people”. The session is expected to explore social aspects of the peatlands issue, including how local livelihoods can be secured in such areas.

A policy brief published by ICRAF, titled Agroforestry on peatlands: combining productive and protective functions as part of restoration, states that: “In order to control the use of fire and to avoid the deep drainage that is responsible for degradation, government commitments need to go beyond good intentions alone. Land-use solutions are needed that provide local livelihoods while keeping the peat profiles wet.”

A CIFOR research assistant measures root growth in an oil palm plantation in Jambi province, Sumatra. Photo by Adam Gynch/CIFOR

FTA’s role in the GLF motto of “reaching 1 billion”

The GLF aims to reach 1 billion stakeholders to advance landscape approaches and address sustainable development challenges. This event will gather key stakeholders from around the world around on the issue of peatlands.

The role of FTA is to engage in debate and provide scientific evidence that sheds light on broad and complex issues, which integrate social, environmental, economic and governance elements.

Therefore, FTA’s goal at the GLF is to bring relevant, credible and legitimate results to the forum, which will contribute to the overall effectiveness of FTA’s research, for progress, mutual understanding and to change perspectives on the ground.

As applied at this GLF peatlands thematic event, FTA’s ambition to is to lay the groundwork for evidence-based, legitimate and effective debates, to enable agreements between stakeholders on solutions to be rolled out for the sustainable management of peatlands and to preserve this inestimable resource.

Click here to find out more about attending the GLF or watching the livestream. 

By Vincent Gitz, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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

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  • Getting down and dirty in degraded lands

Getting down and dirty in degraded lands

CIFOR's SWAMP project works at peatlands restoration sites in various parts of Indonesia. Outside Dumai in Riau, one site is now planted with rubber trees, which local residents tap to make additional income. Photo: Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR
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CIFOR’s SWAMP project works at peatlands restoration sites in various parts of Indonesia. Outside Dumai in Riau, one site is now planted with rubber trees, which local residents tap to make additional income. Photo: Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR

By Deanna Ramsay, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

Tropical peatlands are massive carbon sinks. But what happens when they are depleted of the water that sustains them, or subject to other land-use changes?

After fires raged in 2015 over Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, in part due to the widespread draining of peatlands, these wetland ecosystems and their environmental significance catapulted to the center of global discussions.

“Protecting tropical peatlands is essential to combating climate change. By monitoring the emissions from degraded peat and the resulting fires, we now know just how important they are,” says Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist Daniel Murdiyarso.

At one of Murdiyarso’s research sites in Riau – a swath of Sumatra now covered in oil palm – he is looking into what happens after peatlands are drained, burned and then subject to restoration.

But what that restoration looks like varies, as is how it is defined.

CIFOR’s SWAMP project uses a variety of measurements to better understand peatlands, their degradation and their restoration. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR


“There have been few studies of restoration of tropical peatlands. Boreal, yes,” he says, an indication of why this work off a bumpy road from Dumai is so important, and cutting-edge.

According to Murdiyarso, the restoration question is a complex one, involving not just ecological processes but also socioeconomic ones that likely led to degradation in the first place.

“We need to involve the local community, and use local initiative in these landscapes,” he says, work that is necessary if we want to protect peatlands and prevent further degradation.

On peatlands in Indonesia – which is home to most of the world’s tropical peat – the first step is to block the canals that had served to drain the land of its moisture, enabling the water table to rise again.

But does this allow the peat to return to its original state?

Dendrometer bands measure tree growth, here on a rubber tree planted on degraded peatland. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR

“Re-wetting peatlands has to be combined with re-vegetating the landscape,” Murdiyarso says, adding that the organic materials present in peat are often forgotten amid the bigger restoration picture.

In order to determine how peatlands degrade and how best to rehabilitate them, CIFOR scientists have established research sites in Sumatra and Kalimantan with partners, including the University of Riau, Palangkaraya University and government agencies. The emerging scientific evidence is being used to inform the country’s Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG), as well as global climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.


The work comprises a range of data gathering tasks, such as measuring carbon emissions, analyzing soil composition and monitoring tree growth.

A seven-hectare research site outside Tanjung Leban village in Bengkalis district, Riau, has peatland plots ringed by now-blocked canals, with watergates managed by the local community. The land is covered with a mix of peat swamp tree species, oil palm and rubber.

Sofyan Kurnianto, a PhD student at Oregon State University who works with CIFOR, researches water levels in intact and degraded peat.

Peatlands are important carbon sinks, and part of the study of degraded peatlands involves monitoring carbon emissions, as is being done here. Photo by Deanna Ramsay/CIFOR

“Canal blocking will influence how much water the peat can store. The big question among scientists is – after restoration – how much that storage capacity changes,” he says.

Draining and re-wetting causes peat to shrink and expand, resulting in changes in surface elevation. To monitor these kinds of changes, several rod surface elevation tables (RSETs) were installed to monitor subsidence.

And, in a pioneering move, Ground Penetrating Radar was employed. The innovative survey technique involves transmissions to receiving antennas, and is frequently used to study boreal peatlands, but used here in tropical peatlands for the first time.


The work resulted in peat depth mapping of each land-use type, offering valuable information about these rich, muddy landscapes.

In Riau, this groundbreaking research – in both the literal and figurative senses – is developing the science to impact these policy processes and the restoration they steer. Scientists are also training others to continue this necessary monitoring, data analysis and interpretation work.

“Research on peatlands is very important in Indonesia, especially in Riau as it is the dominant landscape. Management is important, and mismanagement will have a big impact on human life and the environment,” said Sigit Sutikno, a professor at the University of Riau who was visiting the research site with his students.

In the shade of trees dripping with fresh rubber, scientists and scientists-in-the-making practiced soil coring, jabbing a spear-like instrument into loamy soil over and over and collecting portions in plastic bags to be taken back to a Bogor laboratory. They measured ground-level carbon stocks, placing a small device into specific plots of peat and noting the results. Dozens of dendrometers were carefully fixed around tree trunks both small and large, with litter traps to collect forest debris adorning the area in bright orange.

Sutikno researches the effectiveness of canal blocking for ground water. His peatland research includes modeling to both estimate and predict peat water levels.

“Hydrological modeling in peatlands is not easy because peatland hydrology is unique,” he says, adding that an important element is understanding how to mitigate the risk of fire.

Charred pieces of wood are scattered about the site in Riau, remnants of fires that burned there years ago. Now planted with rubber trees tapped by nearby residents to earn extra income, and oil palm trees in a plot managed by a local landowner, the restoration that is underway has definitely taken its own shape.

When asked the tricky question of how to define “restored” peatlands, Murdiyarso said simply, “The return of original species and water regimes.”

Whether this is possible is another question, but we know at least one species has returned – humans.

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by USAID and the US Forest Service.

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Can communities and lawmakers stop Indonesian peatfires?

CIFOR's scientist Herry Purnomo with the community group and government representative of Bengkalis, Riau, at the sagoo planting site. This is one of the efforts to keep peatland from fires. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR
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CIFOR’s scientist Herry Purnomo with the community group and government representative of Bengkalis, Riau, at the sagoo planting site. This is one of the efforts to keep peatland from fires. Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

By Rose Foley, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

On the outskirts of Dompas village in Riau province, a group of men is peeling back the black earth with rhythmic strokes. Armed with hoes, they move slowly in the afternoon sunshine, sliding scores of thick-set seedlings into the ground, one by one. These baby sago palms are being planted on Indonesian peatlands that are degraded, drying and highly vulnerable to fire.

However, the canal that once ran along the edge of this plantation and sapped the site of its water and vital nutrients, has now been transformed into a deep mirror. Blocked by villagers with a series of small concrete dams, it is now feeding resources back into the soil.

Experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) have been working with the local community for several months, advising on measures to tackle peatland fires.

“Riau province has the most frequent fires in the whole of Indonesia,” says scientist Herry Purnomo, who runs the project for CIFOR. “These blazes are contributing to climate change and the smoke causes serious public health issues.”

Canal-blocking and crop planting serve important practical purposes. Dried or degraded peatlands are highly flammable due to their high carbon content. They are often set alight by companies and individuals to make way for more financially lucrative palm oil plantations. By encouraging communities to rewet the degraded land by blocking canals and replanting native vegetation that they can sell and eat, a viable economic and environmental alternative is introduced.

Aerial view of canal blocking in Dompas, Riau.
Photo by Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR


However, this particular project also serves a wider purpose. It plays a vital role in an investigation by CIFOR into the deeper economic, social and political reasons behind the fires in Riau.

New research shows that local elites often control and exploit peatland fires, siphoning off the majority of earned profits. This, combined with complex systems of patronage, lack of law enforcement, and few resources allocated centrally, mean that the Indonesian government’s attempts to address the problem of forest and land fires over the past 18 years have been severely hampered.

The study suggests a number of ways to help overcome this stalemate. One of them is to introduce local laws at both district and provincial levels to hold individuals and companies accountable. National laws are often poorly implemented and, up until now, other measures have been largely nonexistent.

“We should not rely on national initiatives only,” says Purnomo. “Legislation adopted at the local level is closer to the community and is much more likely to be enforced and have a positive impact on the ground.”

CIFOR’s consulations on canal-blocking and crop planting are designed to show communities the kind of fire prevention and peatland restoration work that a new law could help fund and enforce. They are also an excellent opportunity for researchers to seek local views on how to stop fires and what measures would be helpful to include in the local laws.


The process of developing local laws in Riau first began in February 2016, focusing on two sets of legislation for the district level in Bengkalis and the provincial level in Riau. A large number of concerned parties were consulted – from parliament members to NGOs, academics, farmers, government and the private sector.

Each constituency has its own view on what the laws need to address. Local communities asked for provision for fire prevention tools like pumps and water cannons. Others asked for clear prohibitions on burning, for the law to be binding and for it to be tied to the existing national legislation. CIFOR’s research findings on issues like the economic incentives for peatland fires and restoration, de-facto mapping of land at local level and canal blocking and peat restoration costs, also fed into the process.

Overwhelmingly, all groups asked for a clear budget to be allocated for fire prevention and restoration work. Complaints ranged from the police saying they do not have the budget to investigate fires to local communities saying they do not have the resources to invest in fire-fighting kits or alternative ways of making a living.

“I asked local authorities why they are not giving money to fire prevention and they said there is no obligation by law,” says Purnomo. “No one is telling them that they have to allocate sufficient money for peat restoration, mapping, law enforcement.”

The draft laws, incorporating all of these elements, are now with parliamentarians. Purnomo hopes that they will be passed by the end of 2017. Jambi is currently the only province that has comparable legislation.

Back in Dompas, even local politicians, the police chief and the provincial parliamentarian have pitched in with the sago palm project. 800 seedlings have been planted in total.

However, as long as agricultural land remains more profitable than forest land, and the power structures ruled by local elites maintain an iron grip, huge challenges remain to stopping peatland fires.

“There is support from the community in Dompas, but this is just one site,” says Purnomo. “We hope the laws will lead to more actions on peat restoration and canal-blocking all over the province and that we will see the development of more local laws in other areas across Indonesia.”

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

This research was supported by DFID-KNOWFOR

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