NGO network gives guarded response to issue of peat restoration priorities

RIAU (foresthints.news) - Jikalahari, the Riau Forest Rescue Network, has given its view on how the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) should determine peat restoration areas, and also commented on other related issues that deserve the attention of the peat agency in carrying out its peat restoration efforts.

This response came from Woro Supartinah, Coordinator of Jikalahari, in an interview with foresthints.news conducted from Jikalahari’s office in Pekanbaru, the capital of Sumatra's Riau province, last Thursday (Jul 21).

Woro began the interview by giving a reminder that the peat agency was established with a specific mandate and specific targets, to the effect that its peat restoration efforts must take place within the corridor of this specific mandate and targets.

“We understand that the establishment of the peat agency came with a specific mandate and that's why the peat agency should come out with some specific targets in order to make sure that the restoration is carried out. So for us it is understandable and acceptable that the peat agency has set their priority on heavily degraded peatland.”

Woro also cautioned about the weight of public expectation placed on the peat agency, most notably with respect to peat management and restoration in its seven priority provinces.

“It is worth noting also that the peat agency’s establishment had a starting point with so much expectation. There was so much expectation put on the agency not only to restore degraded peatland but also to fix peat management that is embeded with social problems and issues of legal violence.”

She also advocated that the peat agency take the initiative and address several other crucial issues.

“For us it is important that the peat agency goes beyond their mandate. They should prepare and capture the issues, not only the physical aspects, but also the social and legal issues in peat management as a whole.”

When asked whether the peat agency should change its focus to restoring less degraded peatland areas only, Woro offered a guarded response.

“I think the peat agency should prioritize their work on heavily degraded peatland, but this should also be extended to less degraded peatland. If you're talking about peatland, we cannot talk about it in partial terms. It is more important to see peatland management as a landscape, so if at the moment they prioritize heavily degraded peatland, they have to extend that to less degraded peatland also.”

Pressed on the issue further, the Jikalahari coordinator seemed to hedge her stance.

“As I mentioned before, I agree that the peat agency should first prioritize heavily degraded peatland because we know that when fires happen, the quality of the peat (suffers) and damage to the peatland occurs. That is why (these areas) should be restored first, but after that they also have to think longer term and make more efforts to ensure that longer impact from peat management takes place.”

She went on to urge the peat agency not to let its guard down with respect to peatland areas that seem well managed.

“One qualification that raises questions is about well managed areas with operations of companies there, whether it is a pulp and paper plantation or palm oil plantation. Because we realize that once a peatland has been developed or opened, the risk of fire in the future is always there.”

Woro concluded the interview with foresthints.news by reiterating her warning about the risks to peatland areas even if they are in good condition, implying that this could be deceptive.

“So even if the peat agency at the moment sees that the condition of the hydrology and vegetation is quite good, it doesn't mean that in the future the risk of fire is any less.”

The views expressed by Woro certainly add substance to the debate over which areas the peat agency feels should be prioritized for restoration and those recommended by Greenpeace, as previously reported by foresthints.news.

With regard to this debate, Greenpeace stated that the limited resources available for restoration work as well as the need to make as great an impact as possible in minimizing future fire risks are the reasons why it feels the agency should focus on the restoration of less degraded peatlands.

In contrast, Chief of the Peat Restoration Agency, Nazir Foead, asserted that peat restoration priority areas should encompass all peatland conditions, including those that are relatively good, less degraded and heavily degraded. In effect, the peat agency cannot focus solely on peat restoration in less degraded peatlands, as recommended by Greenpeace.

As to peat domes located in concession areas, Nazir confirmed that these will be incorporated into protection zones, as instructed by the President. Furthermore, the management of burned peatlands situated in concession areas would come under the control of the government. The peat agency chief cited as an example of this the burned peatlands spread among pulpwood concessions in priority regencies, especially those in South Sumatra.