Ministry criticizes peat agency’s misleading claims of ‘peat restoration interventions’

JAKARTA (foresthints.news) - Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment and Forestry has explicitly asked the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency, known by the local abbreviation BRG, not to use the terminology ‘peat restoration interventions’ when making claims about its performance as the interventions they are referring consist merely of the preparation of data.

This request was made after the ministry conducted a ground assessment in Pulang Pisau regency which lies in Central Kalimantan province, one of the peat restoration priority regencies designated by means of a presidential regulation in early January last year.

“The peat agency claims to have made peat restoration interventions in the form of community preparations in 105 villages covering an area of more than 800 thousand hectares over 2016. As it turns out, almost all of these interventions only involved a data preparation process. As such, these claims are excessive and misleading to the public,” Professor San Afri Awang, a member of the peat agency’s steering team, told foresthints.news on Friday (Jul 13) at the ministry’s office.

San Afri emphasized that these public statements from the peat agency claiming to have made peat restoration interventions in over 100 villages, but which in fact have almost solely comprised a data preparation process, have unquestionably given rise to misperceptions and unwarranted public expectations.

“It’s as if there really have been peat restoration interventions at the village level in an area in excess of 800 thousand hectares. Actually, it’s just been a data preparation process. This is what I mean by misleading the public.”

This is the fourth reporting compiled by foresthints.news in evaluation of the peat agency’s actual performance over 2016 with respect to its primary mandate of accelerating peat restoration efforts.

Examples of cases in non-state forest areas

Professor San Afri urged the peat agency to elaborate, for example, on exactly what peat restoration interventions it made in palm oil plantations across the Pulang Pisau regency engaging in new development during 2016, as depicted in the following photos. These plantations fall within the indicative targeted peat restoration map.

“They shouldn’t use the terminology ‘peat restoration interventions’ in the form of community preparations because after a ground level inspection, it was not clear what was meant by ‘interventions’. Just call it a data preparation process, if in fact that is all it is,” implored the professor, who also serves as the Ministry’s Director General of Forest Planology and Environmental Governance.

Examples of cases in protection forests

The peat agency’s misleading use of the terminology ‘peat restoration interventions’, San Afri continued, is also evident in villages whose administrative areas partially include protection forests incorporated in the peat agency’s indicative targeted peat restoration map.

The peat agency steering team member went on to explain that the facts on the ground clearly show that no real peat restoration interventions whatsoever were undertaken by the peat agency with regard to protection forests burned in 2015’s extensive peat fires, as demonstrated by the following photos.

“The photos above only serve to reinforce our demand for the peat agency to stop making unfounded claims using the terminology ‘peat restoration interventions’,” he exhorted.

The Director General also appealed for the peat agency to remove the usage of the term zona budidaya (cultivation zones) with respect to the protection forests within the peat agency’s indicative targeted peat restoration map, because their legal status is not as cultivation zones.

Cases involving conservation areas

Monitoring performed by the ministry also encompassed villages whose administrative jurisdiction partially includes conservation areas incorporated in the peat agency’s indicative targeted peat restoration map.

Just as in the case studies involving protection forests - as detailed by Professor San Afri above - claims of ‘peat restoration interventions’ by the peat agency in these villages really only amount to a data preparation process, as opposed to tangible peat restoration interventions on the ground level.

He also produced the following photos to prove that no true peat restoration interventions at all had been made in the conservation areas ravaged by 2015’s catastrophic peat fires.

To this end, he added, the peat agency should avoid using terminology that misleads the public such as ‘peat restoration interventions’ in the form of community preparations, which upon assessment merely equates to a data preparation process.

The Director General also brought up the peat agency’s use of the term zona budidaya (cultivation zones) once again, stressing that it was not appropriate for the conservation areas in the indicative targeted peat restoration map, given that it is legally incorrect and could have a very negative impact on genuine ground level peat restoration efforts.

Giving wrong signals

The distribution of blocked canals and constructed boreholes in Pulang Pisau is indicated in the peat agency’s end of year report, released at the end of December 2016.

Based on the map, the Director General noted that the distribution of blocked canals and constructed boreholes was very limited in number and particularly insufficient in light of the vast area of peatlands burned in 2015's which have been targeted for restoration by the peat agency.

Moreover, the distribution of these boreholes, he added, is still concentrated in areas that are accessible, whereas the extent of burned and drained peatlands that need to be restored in the regency concerned is huge and covers an area that is mostly inaccessible.

He went further, underlining that if factors aimed at preventing massive peat fires in the future were taken in consideration, it was obvious that extraordinary efforts and resources were needed in Pulang Pisau.

This doesn’t only pertain to the constructing of boreholes. The distribution of blocked canals is also hugely limited when taking into account the whole area encompassed by the peat agency’s indicative targeted peat restoration map in Pulang Pisau.

The conclusion reached by Professor San Afri is that it would be better for the peat agency to acknowledge the various limitations it endured throughout 2016, rather than claim it has accomplished peat restoration interventions in the form of community preparations in more than 100 villages, whereas the facts indicate that the majority of these ‘interventions’ simply involved data preparation.

“Don’t give the wrong signals to the public. The peat agency should remember that it doesn’t need to show off by polishing its performance over 2016,” he cautioned.

To follow up on these claims of ‘peat restoration interventions', foresthints.news asked the peat agency by email about the definition and scope of the supposed ‘peat restoration interventions’ (Jan 3). No answer was forthcoming from the peat agency.

As pointed out at length by Professor San Afri, after a spatial check was conducted, it turned out that most of the claimed peat restoration interventions actually only referred to a data preparation process.

The effective performance of the peat restoration agency is crucial. President Joko Widodo maintains a solid commitment to restoring and protecting damaged peatlands as well as those which remain relatively intact.

This commitment is very apparent, most notably in the President’s actions in terms of legal measures, policies and his eagerness to crack down on peatland violators.