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Jakarta Post

Peatland management could prevent forest fires

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, October 1, 2013   /  09:29 am

An official from the country'€™s climate change body has said that the effective management of peatland by farmers could reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and prevent the incidence of forest fires.

'€œIn Indonesia, traditional farmers convert peatland into rubber and oil palm plantations. Inappropriate land activities, such as clearing land by using slash-and-burn methods, as well as draining peatland contribute to a massive release of carbon,'€ head of the Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF), Syamsidar Thamrin, said late last week during a visit to Central Kalimantan.

According to 2010 data from the ICCTF, Indonesia'€™s peatland covers more than 20 million hectares and stores more than 40 gigatons of carbon. Climate change eventually leads to high temperatures and drought, which causes peatland fires in some provinces in Indonesia, including Riau, South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.

These peatland fires contribute 25 percent of Indonesia'€™s total carbon emissions, according to the ICCTF data.

'€œTo minimize peatland fires and reduce gas emissions, farmers should be involved in managing degraded peatland,'€ Syamsidar said.

A researcher on the emission of peatland gas at the Agriculture Ministry, Fahmudin Agus, said the peatland could be converted into productive farmland with the right methods.

He said that the soil, which is made of plant material remains and water mixture, had a high level of acidity. '€œThis high level of acidity could make it difficult for farmers to grow plants like tomatoes, corn, cabbage or pineapples,'€ he said.

Fahmudin said that farmers could reduce the high acidity levels by pouring more chicken droppings, grass ash and dolomite limestone, known as peat ameliorants, onto it.

'€œSome farmers from Jabiren Raya district in Central Kalimantan, for example, have applied these ameliorants onto the peatland as a
pH buffer and nutrient, which turns the peatland into agricultural land,'€ he said.

He added that farmers could also reduce the risk of fires from the drained peatland by creating a water management system and clearing the land from ferns and grassland, which were highly flammable.

'€œThe water management system could include creating artificial water canals to surround the peatland and reserve water for the peatland. All [these options] have been ignored by farmers for years.'€

Sustainable peatland management in Central Kalimantan was introduced in 2010 by the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development in collaboration with the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) under the framework of the ICCTF.

'€œWe asked a respected farmer in Jabiren Raya district, Pulang Pisau regency, Central Kalimantan, to participate in our agricultural training. That farmer had five hectares of land, which has become degraded due to fires,'€ the ICCTF'€™s national project manager, Amin Budiarjo, said.

He said that his team taught the farmer how to clear the land of bushes and ferns, how to build water canals and how to obtain a higher income from growing pineapples along the edges of a rubber plantation as a precautionary measure against forest fires.

The thick leaves of the pineapple plants, he said, prevented fires from spreading and burning the peatland too quickly.

'€œThis is only a pilot project. We hope that other traditional peatland farmers can learn and apply these methods in their areas,'€ he said.

The peatland management project in Jabiren, Central Kalimantan, is being paid for with funding from donor countries including Australia, the UK and Sweden.

The total budget, which amounts to Rp. 13.4 billion (US$1.2 million), is being spent on peatland management in Banjarbaru, South Kalimantan; Jabiren, Central Kalimantan; Muaro, Jambi, and Pelalawan, Riau.

The ICCTF claims that the schemes in Central Kalimantan, Riau and Jambi have reduced gas emissions by up to 40 percent.

'€œThe peatland management program implemented in Jabiren Raya district has also encouraged other local farmers to adopt the same agricultural methods,'€ he said.

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