Government to maximize peatland economic development
Hans Nicholas Jong
The Jakarta Post
In addition to its primary target of restoring 2 million hectares of peatland that had been degraded by the recurring forest fires, the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) is also seeking to boost the country's agriculture sector in peatland areas.
BRG head Nazir Foead said on Friday that he had received instructions from the presidential office to also look at the economic aspect during the restoration project, where the agency, in response, would seek suitable methods to restore damaged peatland while at the same time increasing the livelihoods of local people.
'We are looking at plants that are suited to peatland, such as sago. Companies are also thinking about finding suitable trees to plant, so that their fiber could be used for pulp and paper,' he told The Jakarta Post on the sideline of the fifth International Conference on Oil Palm and Environment (ICOPE) in Bali.
Nazir assured that the economic aspect of the agency's job would not jeopardize the main peatland restoration project.
'The plants can only be planted on land that has been opened but not cultivated. As for peatland which has not been opened yet, it will remain untouched,' he said.
Furthermore, sustainable agricultural practice and the government's restoration project would support each other, according to Nazir.
He said productive agriculture did not only mean production as productive agriculture could only be achieved if the peatland was restored.
'I believe these two go hand-in-hand because if you develop agriculture on peatland, the peatland has to be well managed as it's the main asset for the crops to grow,' the agency's chief said.
As part of the project, the government has also planned to distribute 2.2 million hectares of open-access (areas which have been converted to plantation without an existing permit) peatland to indigenous people so that they could improve their livelihoods.
'It's very possible to allocate peatland for indigenous people. If the peatland area is left as open-access, then it will keep burning. If we give clear rights [to the area], then the one who owns the land will protect it,' Nazir said.
The 2.2 million hectares is part of the government's pledge to give 12.7 million hectares of forest for use to the country's local and indigenous people.
The Environment and Forestry Ministry said it was still in discussion with Nazir on the possibilities of converting open-access peatland to becoming a social forest.
'We're still discussing with Pak Nazir whether it can be used as a social forest or not because President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo said there is no new permit,' the ministry's social and partnership forestry director-general, Hadi Daryanto, said on Thursday.
As the government is seeking to restore peatland while at the same time develop local agriculture, it will require a huge amount of funds. Therefore, Nazir said the BRG was currently looking for an innovative financing scheme to both fund the restoration project as well as improving sustainable practices among farmers working on peatland areas.
He said the BRG was aiming to lure impact investors from Europe and the US.
'We want to work with progressive investors and companies,' said Nazir.
Besides looking at potential investors, the agency is also hoping to tap into the dana desa (village fund), which the central government had started disbursing to villages since last year, according to him.
'We are thinking about how to help the [restoration plan] by using the dana desa on village peatland, but at the same time, ensure that [the funds] will be used wisely,' Nazir said.
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