President gets peat agency report card, demands further peat restoration action

(foresthints.news) - The resolve and commitment of President Joko Widodo to save undrained peatlands remains solid, as demonstrated by his continued ban on granting new concession permits in unopened peatland areas. In fact, the President has gone even further, also ordering an end to the draining of any unexposed peatlands situated in existing concessions.

In keeping with these moves, the President has also shown his position on the restoration of previously drained peat domes to be set in stone, especially when it comes to those found in pulpwood and palm oil plantations.

Furthermore, President Jokowi has also ordered immediate and clear on-the-ground action to be taken to restore both peatlands burned last year, in particular those located in concession areas, as well as all peat domes currently spread among existing pulpwood and palm oil concessions.

Chief of the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency, Nazir Foead, elaborated on all of these initiatives to foresthints.news when asked for clarification after wrapping up a closed-door meeting with the President at the State Palace which was also attended by a number of ministers associated with the land and forest fires on Friday (Aug 12).

“In the meeting, I explained to the President about the progress already made by the peat agency since its formation in early January until now, and also outlined the imminent steps we plan to take over the rest of this year, including several important breakthrough proposals that require the approval of the President.”

According to Nazir, the President has instructed the peat agency and Environment and Forestry Ministry to designate all undrained peat domes located in existing concessions as permanent protection zones.

“Undrained peat domes spread among pulpwood concessions will continue to be incorporated into protection zones on a permanent basis. This will be accomplished legally by revising the work plans of pulpwood companies concerned, and of course by using a clear and measured phasing-out approach based on the rotation of planting and harvesting.”

Nazir also expounded on the fate of peat domes in existing palm oil concessions that have already been drained, saying that these would also be incorporated into protection zones on a permanent basis after one rotation.

“After one rotation, those parts of peat domes that have already been drained located in areas belonging to existing holders of HGU (Land Cultivation Rights) will be switched to the HGU-peat restoration scheme. Existing HGU holders will be given right of first refusal for obtaining this HGU-peat restoration. Of course, we will offer some incentives to companies that are willing to implement HGU-peat restoration.”

Nazir went on to say with some confidence that this scheme will apply to unopened peatlands located in palm oil concessions, especially those that have already been granted HGU.

“HGU palm oil concessions containing undrained peatlands will be offered participation in this licensing scheme for conversion into HGU-peat restoration, without having to wait for the completion of a single rotation.”

When asked just how confident he was about this HGU-peat restoration, the peat agency chief replied: “I have no doubts about it, as this HGU-peat restoration represents a win-win solution for peatlands and the corporate sector alike.”

Nazir said that the President had emphasized that the most important thing was for on-the-ground action to get underway at the concession level, naturally with clear and strong legal back-up. Equally essential, he added, was to ensure that there would be a positive impact in terms of efforts aimed at peat restoration and preventing the recurrence of peat fires at the concession level.

Observing health of drained peatlands

Nazir also explained that the peat agency was in the process of installing monitoring equipment (SESAME) to measure the moisture of peat, particularly in drained peat domes situated in pulpwood and palm oil concessions.

“This equipment will also be installed in the President's office. This shows just how serious the President is about this matter. It means that the President will receive time series-based reports on the health level of peatlands found in concession areas. We will also require all companies involved to install this same monitoring equipment.”

Nazir cautioned the corporate sector that the installation of this monitoring equipment in a number of government agencies, including in the President's office, would compel companies to provide accurate and unmanipulated data.