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Jakarta Post

Govt to restore damaged peatlands

  • Hans Nicholas Jong

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, November 18, 2015   /  05:10 pm

The government is gearing up to restore as many as 2 million hectares of peatlands destroyed through decades of mismanaged oil palm plantations.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry said on Tuesday that the government had finished mapping the entire peatland ecosystem in Indonesia, which would serve as the base map of the five-year peatland restoration project.

'€œIf we look at Sumatra, we want to look at where the peatland area is. What are their sizes? It'€™s all here. But this is still an indicative map, we still need to do ground checks first to see whether the sizes of the mapped peatland have altered,'€ the ministry'€™s environmental pollution and damage control director general, Karliansyah, told reporters.

Besides ground checks, the ministry plans to boost the resolution of the map from the current scale of 1:250,000 to 1:5,000 in order to determine the category of individual peatland areas, separating them into either protected or cultivated.

'€œThe environment and forestry minister [Siti Nurbaya Bakar] will determine the area in accordance with Government Regulation No. 71/2014 on peatland ecosystem protection and management,'€ Karliansyah said. '€œThe restoration attempt will be focused on protected peatland areas. The peatland areas that are small in size and scattered, we will just let them recover on their own.'€

The government plans to restore damaged protected-category peatlands by pumping in sufficient water to restore adequate dampness. If a peatland area has been taken over by oil palm trees, the government plans to begin the restoration process by blocking the canals that are built by palm oil producers to drain all the water out from the peatland.

'€œIf the peatland is critically damaged, we will rehabilitate the area using a paludiculture method, as suggested by our friends from Wetlands International,'€ said Karliansyah.

Paludiculture is a process whereby peatlands are cultivated with crops adapted to wet soil conditions, as opposed to oil palm plantations, which need dry soil in order to be cultivated.

'€œThere are lots of native crops that have prospects for cultivation in peatland. We don'€™t have to force crops [that are not suitable]. From now, industry should seek local crop alternatives, native crops that do not need drainage,'€ Wetlands International senior forestry and rehabilitation specialist Yoyok Wibisono said on Tuesday.

He also urged the government to make sure that the sizable rehabilitation and restoration project would be sustainable long-term.

'€œIn past rehabilitation attempts, the government approach viewed them as mere projects and the measurement of success was based on the number of trees planted. In fact, that is just the starting point. What we want to see is how many plants are alive [after being planted],'€ Yoyok said.

Last Friday, Vice President Jusuf Kalla confirmed the plan would restore at least 2 million hectares of peatlands in the next five years. Kalla also admitted that the peatland areas had been abused by previous administrations who gave permits to palm oil firms to cultivate peatlands.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti said that the government would start the restoration project in three peatland areas severely damaged by this year'€™s forest fires: Pulang Pisau Regency in Central Kalimantan, Ogan Komering Ilir Regency and Musi Banyuasin Regency, both in South Sumatra.

'€œThe total size of the three areas is around 460,000 hectares,'€ she said on Tuesday. '€œThis project will involve multiple ministries. In terms of construction, it will involve the Public Works and Public Housing Minister. I have talked to him.'€

Currently the government is still finishing the grand design of the project under the coordination of the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) and the Coordinating Economic Ministry.

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