Japanese academics express cautious optimism on peat restoration efforts

(foresthints.news) - Two leading Japanese academics, Professor Kosuke Mizuno, an expert on peatland restoration from the Center For South Asian Studies at Kyoto University, and Professor Mitsuru Osaki, from the Faculty of Agriculture at Hokkaido University, expressed their views in separate interviews with foresthints.newsin Jakarta on Monday (May 30) about Indonesias peatland restoration plans, and in particular its intention to restore up to 2 million hectares by 2020.

Actually the abandoned peatlands caused by the fires are so extensive that 2 million hectares is not enough. Every step should start from past steps but if Indonesia really wants to control peatland fires, 2 million hectares over 5 years is not enough. The Indonesian goverment has set a target of 600 thousand hectares this year which it is quite ambitious, but if it really wants to control peat fires, all efforts should be made to accomplish this target, Professor Mizuno explained.

Asked his thoughts about the prospects of peatland restoration efforts, the professor appealed for cautious optimism.

People should be optimistic even though it is not easy. The peatland fires are very serious, and so many people have suffered, in Singapore, Riau and Kalimantan. If this issue is not tackled immediately and seriously, people will suffer forever. So even though the government had said its target is so ambitious, actually it is still not enough.

Professor Mizuno welcomed the recent establishment of the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency, but stressed that much more work was needed to remedy the situation caused by the widespread destruction of Indonesias peatlands.

The government has initiated a pilot project and started efforts at rewetting and developing the horticulture and I think this is a good step. The peatland restoration agency was only set up four months ago in January and it has made good efforts. However, it needs to work faster, with a bigger budget and more staff, because the budget and staff are not enough - for the time being at least the budget given to the agency is not enough.

So much effort needs to be made - making plans, creating ideas to restore the degraded peatlands, mapping, creating ideas for more effective time usage and developing horticulture. There are so many issues that should be tackled in a short time, but the agency has made good efforts, I think.

The professor ended the interview by calling for greater emphasis to be placed on the issue of peatland restoration.

While we should be optimistic, maybe more efforts should be made, more budget given, more people mobilized, more organizations should pay attention to the issue and more people should be consistent on the issue because of its seriousness and the need for immediate action.

Meanwhile, Professor Osaki also sounded a note of guarded optimism on the issue of peatland restoration while lamenting a lack of action until recently.

Yes Im very optimistic, but unfortunately for almost 20 years previous goverments have decided not to make adequate conclusions to address such a big issue. At least now, the new government under President Jokowi has created the restoration agency. Seeing that all the relevant technology is available, this means we can study and apply this technology together in the new commision, which makes me optimistic.

Asked what steps the peat agency could take to expedite the achievement of this years peatland restoration target, the professor outlined a four-pronged strategy.

We propose four action plans to accelerate restoration efforts. The first one is rewetting, the second is fire protection, the third is reforestation and the fourth is MRV - measuring, reporting, and verification. These steps concern estimations on the success of the restoration, estimations on carbon emmisions and estimations on fires, so these four steps are very important.