Peat Agency Chief addresses concerns of CSOs

(foresthints.news) - In a wide-ranging interview with foresthints.news conducted in Jakarta on Thursday (Jun 2), the Chief of the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency, Nazir Foead, provided explicit details about the procedures and mechanisms to be followed in the peatland restoration process.

We are now mapping all the maps, including where the peat domes will be situated, and then more detailed mapping to calculate and measure the depth of the peat will be performed. Based on this map, the peatlands, peat domes, depth and so on, we will assign zonation - where protection zones will be or where could be used for cultivation.

He took the opportunity to respond to concerns that have recently been leveled against the peat agency, specifically with respect to the replanting of acacia in peat domes and peatlands, by reaffirming the agencys stance when it comes to peatland restoration.

Of course all the areas assigned as protection zones have to be protected and cannot be planted with acacia or palm oil, because protection zones have to be protected and they may need to be replanted, revegatated, and changed with species that are endemic to peatlands or species that grow naturally in peatlands.

Several civil society and environmental organizations have recently called for the original ecological functions of peatlands, and especially peat domes, to be reinstated through rewetting and the planting of endemic species suitable to the unique peatland environment. The Peat Agency Chief sought to address their concerns head on.

So these species (replacements for acacia and oil palm) can grow well in wet peat. Why? Because we need peat domes to be wet all the time. In the dry season, water from the peat domes will flow down to wet the surrounding areas in the peatlands, and even outside the peatlands, firstly to prevent fires and secondly to provide water sources for communities. That's why peat domes are very important and we need to protect peat domes.

Nazir went on to outline the different approaches to be adopted for protection and cultivation zones.

If the peat domes have been planted by companies, for example with palm oil or acacia, the (species in the) plantations have to be replaced by species that can only grow well in peat domes under the protection status. This is number one.

He then turned his focus to cultivation areas. What about the areas which can be used for cultivation in the peatlands that we will be mapping? We will also push to change the species, commercial species, because cultivation (species) can be used and can be harvested, but only the commercial species that can grow well in wet peat - we cannot allow species that grow on dry land to be planted in peatlands.

Nazir termed this new outlook a shift in paradigm, whereby only crops that grow well in wet peat should be planted, which excludes acacia and oil palm.

So this is a shift in paradigm. The government is changing its philosophy on how to manage peatlands. Peatlands can still be used for cultivation but only crops that grow well in wet peat should be planted, not crops like palm oil or acacia.

He expressed his gratitude for the observations made by various CSO and environmental groups which have been vocal in their opposition to the replanting of acacia at any depth, and elaborated on his agencys position on this issue.

I appreciate the feedback and input that civil society organizations and academics have provided to the peatland agency (BRG), and therein there are pros and cons. Some groups say this (that acacia must not be planted in peatlands), and other groups would argue that acacia and palm oil can grow in peatlands. They are saying both these things.

But we believe that cultivation in peatland should only involve species that grow well in wet peat - wet peat meaning at least 40 centimeters. Because thats what the law says - that the water table has to be at least 40 centimeters or above (0-39 cm), and we all know acacia and palm oil do not grow well in a water table that is above 40 centimeters - they grow well in 60 to 90 centimeters.

Nazir explained how the peatland agency was cooperating with other relevant agencies to instill a culture of awareness as to the suitability of crops for peatlands.

So, obviously they (acacia and palm oil) are not compatible, so we have to change the species, we have to change the crops. Now we are working with the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry on drafting sylviculture guidance, rewetting guidance, for peatlands that need to be restored. That guidance has to be used as a reference for companies in doing restoration, or in changing crops.

He also offered his view that companies themselves are responsible for finding substitutes for dry plant species like acacia to serve as their source of fiber.

I am positive. Ive heard that some HTI (pulpwood plantation) companies, pulp and paper companies are willing to test what timber species can grow well in wet peat, to replace the acacia. I hope the experiment can go quickly, so a decision can be made to change the species so the peat restoration can go well.

Nazir reemphasized that even in cultivation zones, only commercial species that grow well in wet peat can be planted. Cultivation in cultivation zones, not protection zones, can also go well, but using timber species that only grow above the 40 centimeter (0-39 cm) water table. That guidance would of course be fit into the policy issued by the Minister of the Environment and Forestry and BRG (Peat Restoration Agency).

The Peat Agency Chief went on to explain in some detail the stipulations for crop planting once the zoning process is completed.

Once the zonation mapping by BRG as to where the cultivation zones are and where the protected zones are is completed, the companies have to resolve their concession areas, for example, which are for tanaman pokok (acacia plantations) in kubah gambut (peat domes) will be not allowed anymore so the kubah gambut have to be in zona lindung (protection zones) in the companys zonation. Acacia plantations should also be removed from cultivation zones, because acacia grows only at 60 to 90 centimeters.

This is a challenge. All the companies have to intensify their R&D - Research and Development - so acacia can also grow in 40 centimeters. Will it be possible? I don't know, the Peat Agency Chief wondered.

In concluding the interview with foresthints.news, the man tasked by the President with restoring Indonesias depleted peatlands did not completely rule out the use of acacia in peatlands however.

So scientists should try to create something more like a genetic hybrid, or if not then change to a new species that grows well and whose timber can be used for pulp or can be used for other forestry industries, but which only grows in wet peat, because the canals have to be closed and the water will have to be raised unless we find a new acacia that can grow above 40 centimeters (0-39 cm) of water table.