Peat restoration not as easy as flying automated drone, says Partnership Director

(foresthints.news) - The Executive Director of Partnership for Governance Reforms in Indonesia, Monica Tanuhandaru, spoke about the challenges of community-based peat restoration and canal blocking efforts, particularly in the province of Central Kalimantan, in an interview with foresthints.news on Wednesday (May 11).

She said that any such efforts should prioritize the villages and communities living in the areas concerned and these communities should be involved in the peat restoration process.

I think we need to look at the communities first. They cant simply rely on the government. There needs to be a consensus among residents as to how they can contribute to restoring peatlands and preserving these restored peatlands in a way that benefits them, Monica suggested.

She stressed the need for proper mapping and said that any attempt to engage communities in the restoration and preservation of peatlands without addressing their impoverishment would prove fruitless.

If we want to involve communities, mapping is the first thing that is needed. We require certainty about the areas of different community factions in the planning process as well as certain specifications with regard to the restoration and protection of peatlands. Equally important is the issue of livelihoods. The Jokowi administration says it promoting what it calls the rural economy, but you cant ask people to help in restoring and preserving peatland areas if they remain poor.

The Partnership Executive Director pointed out that integrated planning was required between the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) at the national level and villages, especially in light of the plan to create 700 desa peduli gambut (villages that care about peatlands).

This plan is not going to work if they focus solely on peat issues. The social and economic conditions of communities in these areas also have to be taken into consideration, she implored.

She explained that village-based peat restoration and preservation would ultimately need to come from the villages themselves. Village-based peat restoration has to be integrated with village planning, village budgetary management, and village governance. Only then will villagers really have the motivation to care about peatland restoration and preservation. The government can only do so much. It can initiate matters, provide a vision and guidance, as well as a policy framework but then its up the villages or local districts themselves.

Monica appealed for the involvement of all stakeholders, not just government ministries and agencies, but actors on the local level too. She underlined that local knowledge is vital as not all localities are the same and, as such, different approaches are necessary in different areas.

After mapping has been done, when it comes to canal blocking, exact technical knowledge is required. The same canal blocking approach is not applicable to all peatland areas so proper technical capabilities are essential to ensure that the appropriate approach is being used. Maybe the BRG can play a role in this. Whats certain is that not all villages in peatland areas are the same and a uniform approach will not work, she explained.

Monica was cautious when asked about the possibility of the targeted restoration of 600 thousand hectares of peatlands this year being achieved. She expressed her hope that coordinated long-term planning on various levels could take place in addition to the formulation of yearly plans in line with the state budget. She then addressed the question more directly.

Maybe the target can be achieved this year. However, this is about sustainability and the involvement of people at the village level is needed. Sure, the central government can initiate and control mega-projects, but this is about the preservation of peatlands. Whos going to be looking after and managing these areas eventually? Villages, right?

She said that donor organizations should have a role to play in peatland restoration, but warned against an overreliance on such organizations in striving to achieve restoration targets.

Well, the regency where we are working in Pulau Pisang has no donors, but sure, donors could help the BRG attain its yearly target. However, dont forget that it is essential to involve local communities. They must be consulted when it comes to making decisions. We cant just treat these places like a project. That would be like sending in a drone without the permission of the residents.

Monica explained that while it was important for the BRG to optimize the role of donors, even more important was for these donors to work with agencies that empower communities to look after their own peatland areas, and not just abandon the communities once the peatland problem was sorted out.

She once again used the analogy of a drone to illustrate the dangers of neglecting local communities in the peatland restoration process.

If we just fly in an automated drone and then fly it out again once the job is done, all the work done will be unsustainable. Local residents need to be empowered. Peat restoration project is not like a drone that can fly by itself. Donors are certainly helpful, but we shouldnt get carried away with figures and targets and numbers of hectares. Lets not get too fixated on what we consider success. Instead, lets make sure that local villagers are able to look after peatlands themselves, she urged.