Finding long-term solutions for degraded peat land: video
A video has been released that documents research in Jambi Province, Indonesia on how best to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from land use on peat, including intercropping oil palm and other crops.
A video released by the World Agroforestry Centre documents the background and research carried out by a team of Indonesian and international scientists to help the Tanjung Jabung Barat district government on the Indonesian island of Sumatra identify which parts of the district have been producing the most greenhouse gasses from different land uses.
Each of the more than 400 district governments in the country are required to prepare plans to reduce greenhouse gasses as part of the national government’s commitment to a reduction of up to 41% by 2025. Preparing such plans is a challenge for most districts owing to a shortage of skilled staff. Through the Securing Ecosystems and Carbon Benefits by Unlocking Reversal of Emissions Drivers in Landscapes (Secured Landscapes) project funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the World Agroforestry Centre has been working with the Tanjung Jabung Barat government and farmers to find land-use options that will contribute to reducing emissions.
Around 40% of the district is peat land, most of which had been covered by dense swamp forest until as recently as the 2000s, when much of the forests had been removed to make way for agriculture and plantations, predominantly oil palm.
Using various techniques, such as spatial and carbon analyses, the scientists found that removing the district’s peat-swamp forests had released a lot of greenhouse gasses because of the large amount of carbon stored in the decaying, sodden, plant litter, which can be metres thick. When the trees are removed and the swamp drained, the peat becomes dry and can easily burn. The scientists also found that even though the forests had been cleared the peat was still emitting greenhouse gasses.
The research team argued that stopping clearance of the peat-swamp forests could more easily reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from the district compared to changing logging practices associated with timber-production forests that were mainly on mineral soils in other parts of the district.
The peat-swamp forests were cleared mostly by internal migrants from other parts of Indonesia, who sold the timber and established farms, as part of a ‘pioneering’ tradition supported historically by the government’s transmigration program, designed to move people from densely-populated areas, such as Java, to less populated regions, often as labour associated with plantation expansion.
To try and keep the remaining forests and repair the degraded land, the district government declared peat-swamp forest land was protected and could not be cleared or used for farming. This mainly resulted in conflict between the government and the people who had cleared the land and now relied on it. The migrants were often unaware that the forest they were clearing had been designated as ‘protection’ forest by the government or that they even ‘belonged’ to anyone. Indonesia has a long and complex history of conflicting claims over land by government, traditional communities and migrants. So despite the protection status, people continued to clear the peat-swamp forests, aided by a ‘land market’, which involved local people selling the forests or other land even though they had little or no legal right to do so.
Based on the research, the district government and the researchers agreed that rehabilitation was necessary for halting further environmental damage in the already-degraded peat-swamp forests but any such program had to address the other problems of conflict over land ownership and the need to make a living.
To try and resolve these problems, the research team experimented to find the ‘best practice’ for agroforests on degraded peat land and the district forestry office started a peat-swamp rehabilitation program.
The star of that program is ‘jelutung’ (Dyera polyphylla), a once-widespread, indigenous tree. Its latex was once the primary ingredient of chewing gum but was also widely used in other industries. Its habitat—the peat-swamp forests—had been largely destroyed. Demand for jelutung latex had also dropped over the years and the tree had lost much of its economic value. But the government felt other markets could be found for the tree’s products.
The researchers worked with farmers and the forestry office to test different combinations of jelutung and other trees and plants—such as rubber, coffee, fruit and pineapple—that grow well on the unique qualities of peat soil.
The researchers also concluded that the best solution for all these problems—rehabilitating degraded land to reduce emissions and further clearing of forests, land rights and the need for farmers to make a living—was a government licence for land use known as Community Forestry (Hutan Kemasyarakatan). The licence included secure tenure as a non-financial incentive for rehabilitating land, which under certain conditions could also be used for making a living. To promote the use of Community Forestry licences, the researchers explained the idea to local government officials and community groups, including taking farmers and officials on visits to other villages that already had Community Forestry licences, mapping with farmers their potential community forests, training them in how to plant and manage jelutung for greatest benefits, and improving the relationship between farmers and district government officials so that the process of applying for a licence would run more smoothly.
Now the farmers are working together with the scientists and government and are looking forward to great results. The jelutung and other crops are growing well and the first Community Forestry licence proposal has been submitted and awaits final approval. The district government now has evidence and strong hope that Community Forestry on peat-swamp land will not only restore the ecological functions of the land but also improve the economic situation of the local farmers, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change by storing more carbon while also securing land tenure and incomes.
The video will be used to promote the process and findings to district governments throughout Indonesia (in Indonesian) and to international audiences (in English). An animation used in the videos to promote better understanding of peat processes is also available as a separate video.
Watch the videos
This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry