Environmental activists have warned the government to be cautious about converting peatland into crude palm oil ( CPO ) plantations, as it could have a detrimental long-term impact.
Nyoman N. Suryadiputra of the Wetlands International Indonesia program said that peatland was often thousands of years old, waterlogged and inflammable in its natural setting.
He said the water volume in peatland was very high, reaching 90 percent of its total area. For this reason, the development of a plantation required that the peatland be drained, which could be destructive.
Nyoman said that building canals on peatland for water management would dry out the peat and cause it to become flammable. He pointed out that Indonesia had 21 million hectares of peatland absorbing 1,600 tons of carbon per hectare, and argued that peatland was an entire ecosystem that helped to support human life.
The government has regulated that peatland more than 3 meters deep should be left alone, stipulating that only shallow peatland ( 0.5 to 1 meters deep ) and medium-depth peatland ( 1 to 2 meters ) could be exploited for agricultural purposes.
Nyoman said that recurring peatland fires along the eastern coast of Sumatra had caused land subsidence and incursions of seawater.
'Peatland in coastal areas is now similar to coastal lagoons,' Nyoman said during a conference in Jakarta on Tuesday on the agricultural sustainability of peatland.
'It took 5,000 to 6,000 years to create the peatland along the eastern coast of Sumatra,' Nyoman added.