Paludiculture: Utilizing peatlands to keep them wet

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Many people assume that peat ecosystems have low productivity, marginal land and cannot be utilized. But in fact, peatland supports the development and life of the Indonesian people because of its functions related to water regulation, carbon storage, sources of community life, harbor of biodiversity and reducing hydrometeorological disasters”. The statement was delivered by Dr. Kirsfianti L. Ginoga, Head of the Center for Forest Research and Development, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which was read by A. Gadang Pamungkas, Head of Collaboration and Dissemination Division of the Forest Research and Development Center, at the opening of the Paludiculture Workshop and Seminar on the Development Strategy and Sustainable Business Investment of Peat / Paludiculture Original Commodities , at the Morrisey Hotel, Jakarta, 12 December 2019.

In its natural condition, peat provides a variety of important environmental services for human life, both directly and indirectly. Peat is a very effective water storage during the wet season, and then releases it in the dry season. Peat is naturally in a state that is flooded. Peat is also a source of livelihood for the community because it provides food, energy sources, building materials and medicines. As the knowledge developed, peat is known to play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation because peat is able to store carbon more than other types of ecosystems do.

Problems begin to emerge when there are efforts to convert peatlands into other uses through the drainage process. This will cause emission of below ground carbon into the air. Under drier conditions, peat will then be more prone to forest and land fires, and the sad story of Indonesia will be repeated year after year. Long-term impact seems to be more visible, land subsidence occurs, resulted into potential flooding. To stop the repeated severe peat damage, a fundamental change in peat management patterns is needed, without involving, or at least minimizing, the drainage process. Paludiculture is one of the recommended management options. “Paludiculture is the use of peatlands that are always wet. Paludiculture is developed with the aim of re-wetting peatlands that were previously drained, so as to enable the re-establishment or maintenance of peat ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and storage, water and nutrient storage, as well as cooling of the local climate and provision of habitat for wildlife, ”explained I Nyoman Suryadiputra, Head of Office of Yayasan Lahan Basah/Wetlands International Indonesia.

Sago and Purun are two native commodities on peatlands which are mostly practiced by local communities for various purposes that make a significant contribution to their livelihoods. Both Sago and purun are having characteristics to grown on wet-flooded peatlands, which in line with efforts to overcome the forest and peatland fires that have been the sad story of Indonesia for the past 30 years. The community will defend the peatlands because of the sustainable benefits that can be earned immediately. “Since before the Indonesian independence we have been utilizing and eating sago. No less than 700 tons of sago we produce per month. For us, sago is identical to peat swamp, that is why we want the swamp to be overgrown with sago so that it can prevent forest fires. In our village, even the President once blocked the canals to improve hydrology on peatlands. So we ask the government to help increase the prestige of sago, so that it can help the economy as well as ecological resilience in peat areas, “said Abdul Manan, a resident of the Sungai Tohor community, Meranti Islands, Riau. “Sago actually has a high competitive value because of its uniqueness. Not many countries in the world have a stretch of sago, so there is great potential to supply sago products in a sustainable manner. But in reality, there are still many parts of sago that are discarded after the community uses other parts to make sago flour. No less than 1,900 tons of sago pulp are discarded per day, even though people are accustomed to feeding poultry, goats and pigs with sago pulp. Further research is needed to provide economic added value of pulp and sago peel, so that it can ultimately improve people’s lives in a sustainable manner ” said Teuku Rivanda Anshori, Business Model Specialist of Yayasan Lahan Basah.

Not only sago, another commodity that is also being cultivated on peat is purun, which is also a native plant on peatlands, and likes waterlogged conditions. Sarifuddin Gusar from the Purun Institute, Riau, who has been struggling for a long time in assisting the community to utilize purun in a sustainable manner said that “Weaving the purun mat has been done for generations and is like local wisdom for ladies in our region. No less than 15,000-20,000 mats are marketed every month in Padamaran District. Therefore we approach the Local Government to issue regulations to protect peat areas that are overgrown with purun in the long term, and not to issue permits to convert peatlands for industrial development. ”

Apparently it is not only local people who implement the Paludiculture system on peatlands. Ririn Nurul Hidayah from PT Wana Subur Lestari said that the HTI company where he worked had also implemented the system, “Paludiculture is also suitable to be applied in Industrial Plantation Forests, especially in buffer zones and community development areas. The Paludiculture System also helps to regulate water in our work area.

The future of the implementation of the Paludiculture system on peatlands actually has a quite encouraging. “Not only does it provide economic and ecological benefits, the use of peat through Paludiculture can also help resolve conflicts in an area. The experience in Tanjung Jabung Barat, Jambi, shows that the joint efforts of Jelutung planting with the community have helped to slightly mitigate the conflicts that have taken place in the region” said Dr. Hesti Lestari Tata from the Center for Forest Research and Development, Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

The paludiculture system has actually been applied long ago by people living around peatland areas, long before the term paludiculture was widely known and introduced, especially among the scientific community, scientists and practitioners in the forestry sector. “Do people really understand what is meant by paludiculture? or is this term only understood by certain parties, while the community actually has been practicing paludiculture for a long time? “asked Dian Afrianti from the Peat Restoration Agency. There is a need for harmony of communication so that the message of conservation from both parties, the community and outsiders, can run well, and the restoration, revegetation and revitalization efforts of community livelihoods that were initiated and implemented by the Peat Restoration Agency can run and succeed well.

In addition to the things mentioned above, the application of paludiculture in the field needs to be supported by the simultaneous engagement and leadership of the Regional Government, including the participation of Village-Owned Enterprises that manage community business initiatives. Further research is still needed to develop the most appropriate commodity for certain conditions, with community involvement. In dealing with peat ecosystems, it is highly recommended to take a landscape approach, where upstream – downstream conditions are fully considered, and then integrated into regional spatial planning.

To support the increasingly rapid exchange of information and knowledge, the Paludiculture Forum launched a forum’s web site and book on Paludiculture. The launch was carried out by Agustinus Tampubolon, Chair of the Paludiculture Forum and Anyta Thamrin representing the author of the book.

Of course there is still much to be done to introduce paludiculture as a form of peatland utilization by taking into account the characteristics of the peatlands themselves. Because Indonesia does not want the sad story on peatlands to repeat itself every year.

Yus Rusila Noor
Head of Programme
Coordinator of Policy and Communication
Yayasan Lahan Basah (YLBA)