Peat Agency Chief provides optimistic summary of agencys performance

JAKARTA (foresthints.news) - Chief of the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG), Nazir Foead, spoke at length about the progress made by the agency in an extensive interview with foresthints.newsin Jakarta, on Friday (May 13). In the interview, Nazir outlined several measures the still new agency has already undertaken since it was established by President Joko Widodo earlier this year.

Nazir said that in its first three months of existence, the agency has been focusing on four main areas: creating indicative maps; formulating technical guidelines; engaging with relevant stakeholders, especially village communities; and promoting the establishment of provincial peatland restoration teams.

We have created indicative map of where restoration will take place in Indonesia in the 7 provinces as instructed by the Presidential Decree. This amounts to 2.26 million hectares of peatlands to be restored, out of which about 77 percent is located in cultivation areas, and the other 23 percent in conservation and protection areas, the agency chief explained, before describing how soon to be produced larger scale maps will enable stakeholders to pinpoint areas that require restoration more accurately.

Nazir went on to detail the technical guidelines created by the agency, which encompass the rewetting of peatlands, the building of dams to block drainage canals and the construction of boreholes for rewetting peat and as a source of water for extinguishing fires.

We have also worked with many stakeholders, looking into involving communities in a desa peduli gambut program, or villages that care for peatland. There are hundreds of villages located in peatland areas, and development programs for these villages have to be different. That's why we are talking a lot with our NGO friends, experts, professors, as well as the ministry of villages and rural area development.

Nazir also spoke about how provincial peat restoration teams had been established in certain provinces, but not yet in others, and that these teams would carry out a lot of fieldwork under the auspices of the respective provinces governor.

The agency chief used the example of Hokkaido, Japan, where he recently visited on a field trip, to highlight the massive challenges facing the peatland restoration agency in Indonesia.

Hokkaido is an island with many peatland areas. It took ten years to engage in peat restoration projects on a pretty small area. It took them ten years to restore a 1.6 kilometer canal (which is small) compared with our task in Indonesia of 2 million hectares in five years. So the key challenges will be limited time and huge areas that we have to work in.

Nazir added that overcoming these challenges would require close collaboration with important stakeholders such as local governments, land owners, land managers, and communities living in peatland areas.

Expounding on the importance of such collaborations, Nazir recounted the recent lengths he has gone to in meeting a wide variety of stakeholders. I have been traveling to many districts, provinces and villages over the last three months. I only have five years, while the task is 2 million hectares. It is huge. I cannot work alone. People expect us to work together to restore the peatlands and avoid more problems, such as fires occurring again. We share a common goal.

I am very encouraged with the meetings with different stakeholders. We have engaged in many productive discussions, enjoyed a very positive atmosphere, and agreed on ways of doing the restoration. I can also say these stakeholders in the field are looking forward to leadership from Jakarta - from the President, BRG, Ibu Siti Nurbaya, Pak Luhut, and several ministers. They are very keen to work together and are looking forward to effective leadership, Nazir enthused.

He claimed that all these positive and productive discussions have made him optimistic that the agencys targets can be achieved. He was also quick to praise his team for its work and the constructive relationship it has built with the ministry of the environment and forestry and other relevant government agencies and officials.

When asked about the agencys relationship with international donor groups - considered one of its strengths - the agency chief elaborated on the different types of support his agency is receiving.

The first one is funding, commitments and pledges coming from Norway, the UK, the US, and Japan recently. There are more to come. I have calculated, more or less, pledges amounting to around 130 million US dollars for the next 2 or 3 years. If we can show strong progress in peat restoration and the effectiveness of the moratorium on peat conversion, we believe more support will come in.

Second is experience and technical capability. We have done a lot in Indonesia. We have many experts and many groups who have been doing peat restoration in the past. (However), I also welcome colleagues from international forums and countries which have also done successful peat restoration. I welcome them and like to learn from them, not only about peat restoration, but also about the economic development of peatlands.

Nazir concluded the wide-ranging interview with foresthints.news by expanding on his vision for the economic development of peatlands.

Of course, the economic development has to be sustainable and peat friendly so as not to create peat subsidence or more drought and drainage from the peat. We do not want to have dry peat fires again. (We would like) the kind of development with agriculture, cattle, or fisheries on peatlands, while retaining the peats hydrology. I saw that recently in Japan and I was quite impressed. So I welcome collaborations with scientists as well as working practitioners in peat restoration. The work we have done here can be even further improved by learning from other parts of the world.