Peat Swamp Forests

In recent years, the Indonesian government has made new commitments to reduce deforestation and to rehabilitate and restore degraded peatlands. In 2011, Indonesia issued a moratorium on the award of new concessions for the exploitation of primary natural forests and peatlands, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo made this moratorium permanent in August 2019. 

In addition, the President also established the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) in January 2016. From 2016-2021, the BRG was charged with coordinating and facilitating the restoration of 2.4 million ha of degraded peatlands in seven key provinces: Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, East Kalimantan and Papua. The BRG program aims to systematize peatland restoration and regeneration. It conducts canal-blocking activities in fire-prone landscapes and supports the establishment of peat-friendly tree crops such as native rubber, rattan and candlenut, as these crops tolerate flooded conditions. 

Smallholders however, prefer to plant rice as a staple food, and oil palm as a cash crop, even though peatlands must be cleared, burned and drained to grow these crops. This will likely continue to be the case as long as economic options for more sustainable uses of peatlands remain limited. Furthermore, smallholders most commonly use peatland drainage and slash-and-burn practices for agriculture, and these practices bring negative environmental consequences that are extremely costly to reverse.  For these reasons, a variety of wetland-adapted livelihoods and financially viable agro-business options urgently need to be developed for communities living on peatlands. Successful peatland restoration will certainly also require economic and environmental trade-offs as well as negotiated agreements between stakeholders that hold divergent interests. Thus, the success of Indonesia’s peatland restoration efforts will very much depend on how the diverse priorities of corporate concession holders, local communities and local governments are reconciled.

Landscape Approach

To overcome these collective obstacles, some agencies now promote a landscape approach to the management of peatlands. A ‘landscape approach’ is a peatland management strategy that seeks to address the pressing issues of unsustainable land use, biodiversity loss, lack of food security, poverty and the needs of a growing population. This approach to sustainable landscape management acknowledges the interconnected nature of the hydrological system of a peatland while seeking to achieve multiple objectives for multiple stakeholders. Landscape approaches to peatland management may differ in the extent to which they balance cultivation and rehabilitation, but all recognize the need to address the priorities of people who live and work within peatland landscapes.