Environmental group downplays effectiveness of peat agency

( - If the Indonesian government is truly committed to protecting peatlands, of course it must incorporate all peat domes, including deep peat, into protection zones. The government must also liberate all deep peat from pulpwood concessions so that the ecological functions of this deep peat can be restored.

If the government has the courage to take this course of action, it will prove that it does indeed have a genuine commitment to protecting peatlands, and especially deep peat. This has been our demand since last years massive peat fires took place.

Furthermore, peatlands spread among pulpwood concessions must not be planted with acacia any longer. This species should instead be replaced by local plant species under community-based management.

These were just some of the points made by Hadi Jatmiko, Executive Director of WALHI South Sumatra, during an interview with on Tuesday (May 31).

Hadi explained that peat domes are found in the upstream section of a peatland landscape, and if they are drained then the downstream section of the peatland landscape will obviously be adversely affected.

We wont be able to save peatlands if we only look at them in a fragmented way. We have to look at the overall landscape, from upstream to downstream areas. Actually, no pulpwood or palm oil concessions should be operating in peatlands at all anymore. Now is the time for peatland restoration. All acacia and oil palms planted in peatlands must be replaced with endemic species. Whats more, the restoration of the peatlands must also involve local communities in its implementation.

As to the role played by the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency to date, Hadi feels that the agency has only concerned itself with technical matters such as canal blocking and creating boreholes. He went on to describe how placing too many expectations on the peat agency would inevitably lead to disappointment.

If we place all our hopes with the peat agency, that would mean we are relying on technical issues that clearly are not going to solve the problem of peatland destruction. The fact that peatlands are largely controlled by a handful of companies needs to be addressed, as this is the source of the destruction of these peatlands. Theres really no point in anticipating that the peat agency will do this."

He stressed the need for the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry to play a greater role in reinforcing the legal basis for the comprehensive protection of all peatlands located in concessions areas, especially pulpwood and palm oil plantations.

Hadi reiterated that there is much more to the restoration of peatlands than simply performing canal blocking and making boreholes. The issue of peatland restoration, he continued, is one of substance and concerns the control over peatlands, the majority of which are currently situated in pulpwood and palm oil concessions.

So if these companies do some canal blocking and make some boreholes, they shouldnt think that the restoration of the peatlands in their concessions is complete - because this is clearly not the case. In fact, the restoration of the peatlands involves reinstating the ecological functions of the peat, most of which has been drained to make way for the planting of acacia and oil palm."

The facts on the ground demonstrate that last years peat fires, which destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares in APP-linked pulpwood concessions in South Sumatra, had a devastating environmental, social and economic impact.

In mid-December last year, the Minister of the Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, issued a ministerial regulation decreeing that all burned areas, including burned peatlands, found in pulpwood concessions be taken over by the government.

The APP-linked pulpwood concession areas in South Sumatra, which were the most widely burned in the peat fires, are thus due to be taken over by the government for the purpose of restoration.