'Indigenous communities must be fully involved in peat restoration work'

JAKARTA (foresthints.news) - The success of peat restoration efforts depends on indigenous and non-indigenous local communities, the chief of the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency, Nazir Foead, said during a speech to mark the inauguration of the agencys secretary and deputies on Friday (Feb 19) in Jakarta.

"If we look at the situation on the ground, the statement by the peat agency chief is true as these peatlands are inhabited by both indigenous and non-indigenous local communities. If they are not involved, the peat agency will not be able to do much, Abdon Nababan, the secretary general of Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), told foresthints.news on Monday (Feb 21) in Jakarta.

Abdon said that, logically speaking, it was undeniable that the success of the peat restoration efforts would depend on indigenous and non-indigenous local communities.

He stressed that from the technical perspective, the peat restoration efforts were primarily about rewetting peat that had been drained and burned. Thus, he said, there could be no restoration if the drained and burned peat was not rewet first.

"Consequently, there is no other option but to clarify the rights of indigenous peoples in the peat restoration effort. This is very important to note because, to date, much has been done that obscures the rights of indigenous communities, said Abdon.

To that end, he urged the peat agency to play a key role in clarifying the rights of indigenous communities in the peat restoration efforts to be undertaken by the peatland agency up to 2020.

"It should be clear who has what rights and where they have those rights. This is important. Thus, mapping the areas for peat restoration is not confined to solely mapping the depth of the peat, but also mapping out who owns the peat, where they have ownership rights and the extent of their ownership rights. This has to be done. The chief of the peat agency, together with his team, should establish a mechanism to do that, covering all aspects from mapping up to verification, he said.

Abdon stressed that the agency needed to be field-based so as to be able to forge effective collaboration with local stakeholders, including indigenous and non-indigenous local communities.

"The peat agency and local governments need to get to work on the ground so as to explain the peat area restoration map. This then needs to be overlaid with a map showing the distribution of indigenous and non-indigenous local communities. The peat agency must clarify the roles and responsibilities of the indigenous communities at this stage, especially their rights, roles and responsibilities as part of the process of rewetting burned peatland, he explained.

Abdon said that it would not be difficult to get indigenous and non-indigenous local communities on board as they were living on the front line and suffered the most as a result of land and forest fires.

"The peat restoration work must be carried out jointly with indigenous and non-indigenous local communities. If there is a fire, it wont be difficult to encourage them to work together for the restoration of the burned peatland, he said.

In reality, Abdon continued, the economic wellbeing of indigenous and non-indigenous local communities has long been disrupted as a result of the establishment of large-scale oil-palm and pulpwood plantations on the peatlands that had previously played an important part of their economic systems.

"The practice of drying peat on a large scale has inflicted suffering on indigenous and non-indigenous local communities, he said.

Consequently, Abdon said that the peat agency needed to involve indigenous peoples, ensure that their rights were fulfilled, and assign responsibilities to them in keeping peatlands wet so that the peat-based economies that had previously supported such communities could be restored.