Webinar Series “Soil & Water Conservation” Series #1 Soil & Water Conservation in Peatlands

Webinar Series “Soil & Water Conservation” Series #1 Soil & Water Conservation in Peatlands

Indonesia - 21 December, 2020

After the success of webinar series “Managing the Remaining Forests”, Tropenbos Indonesia launched another series “Soil & Water Conservation” which for the first series entitled “Soil & Water Conservation in Peatlands”. The webinar that was held on December 19, 2020 was attended by more than 200 participants and presented three expert resources: Dr. Ir. Lailan Syaufina, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Forestry and Environment IPB University, Prof. Dr. Junun Sartohadi, Chairman of the PC Soil and Water Conservation Society (MKTI) Yogyakarta, and Dr. Ir. Satria Jaya Priatna, Chairman of the PC MKTI South Sumatra.

In peatland management, Lailan Syaufina mentioned three related aspects, namely carbon emissions and climate change, water and peat fires, as well as the challenges of soil and water conservation in peatlands. Among the aspects, peatland fires in Indonesia actually rank highest in producing carbon emissions. "From the information on the Global Fire Emission database, forest and land fires in Indonesia in 2015 produced 2 billion tons of carbon emissions, which certainly contributed to climate change," said Lailan. Peat swamp forest, which is always inundated in natural conditions, can become dry and prone to burning due to human activities such as the construction of drainage channels for plantation land which also causes subsidence or peat layer decrease.

In rainy season, peat swamp forest can function as a sponge that absorbs excess water so that flooding does not occur. In dry season, it will flow water to the surrounding land, so there is no drought. When cutting occurs due to the construction of drainage channels, water from the peat dome will come out and over time it will dry the peat and cause it prone to burning. "Fires in peatlands start from the surface, move downwards to become ground fires, and can develop into surface fires, or crown fires," explained Lailan. Some of the factors that influence peat fires are peat moisture content, peat decomposition rate, water level, and rainfall. The lower the water content of the peat, the higher the rate of burning, vice versa, the higher the water content of the peat, the lower the rate of burning.

One of the ways to prevent water from peatlands from escaping uncontrollably causing drought is by building canal blocking which will retain water content to remain high so that the land is not dry and flammable. Another alternative is through agroforestry, which at the same time can be an alternative solution for food security, for example by integrating jelutong with corn or vegetables. Integration can also combine forests, agriculture and fisheries.

According to Junun Sartohadi, the mineral content of peat is very low, which is less or equal to 10% of the soil weight. The mineral soil layer on peatlands is usually only up to about 50 cm above the peat soil surface. With a very low PH, the nutrients needed by plants are not available. Peat areas are also inundated so that oxygen in the soil is very low which disturb the uptake of nutrients by plants.

To use peatlands as production lands similar to mineral lands, many peatlands are drained so that the organic material becomes dry and the volume shrinks. To clear land, burning is often an option because it is cheap and effective. By burning, the soil pH increases as well as the availability of nutrients so that there is an improvement in soil quality due to the presence of charcoal from burning. Unfortunately, this method is very unsustainable and causes systemic environmental problems such as carbon release, air pollution, soil volume shrinkage, and hydropobic peat. "Once drained, the peat will no longer be able to retain water as before," said Junun.

In order to maintain ecological function as water storage, Junus suggested that peatlands be used for the development of fisheries sector and education tourism. He also reminded that peatland management requires community readiness both in land management, plant maintenance, yield handling, including mastery of harvesting and processing technology, as well as marketing and distribution. Improving the quality of community resources can be done through training, assistance in the implementation of governance, and monitoring and evaluation for further improvements.

"Peatland management requires a scientific approach that cannot be generalized. It is a weakness that often occurs from various parties working on hundreds of thousands of hectares of peatland, "said Edi Purwanto, Director of Tropenbos Indonesia, who acted as moderator in this webinar. In fact, each 'land unit' in peatlands has its own specifications, both from biophysical and socioeconomic perspectives. For this reason, research is needed and the management carried out needs to be adjusted to the biophysical and social conditions of each existing land unit.

Meanwhile, quoting data from the Center for Research and Development of Agricultural Land Resources (BBSDLP, 2019), Satria Jaya Priatna said, the distribution of peatlands in Indonesia currently covers nearly 13.5% of the land area in Indonesia. About 8.98 million ha are found in Sumatra and the rest are scattered in Kalimantan, Papua and a small part of Java. The vast peatlands have the potential to be explored, although the exploration to become production land is still often debatable, especially where deep peatland are dominant such as in Sumatra.

Playing an important role as hydrological buffer in ecosystem, the conversion of peatlands is indeed the biggest cause of damage. "Activities related to draining/drainage are the main causes of forest and peatland fires, as well as land clearing for agriculture and plantation, and what is currently happening is the use of peatlands for oil palm and acacia plantations," said Satria. According to him, the area of peatland fires in South Sumatra for the 2015-2020 period reached more than 1 million ha. This figure is quite high when compared to other provinces in Indonesia.

To restore peatlands, according to Satria, 3R approach is commonly used namely rewetting, revegetation, and revitalization of livelihoods. The rewetting activities include canal blocking, canal filling, or drilling wells, while revegetation can be done by building nurseries and planting. However, Satria warned, "Very deep peat cannot be forced to be planted or developed for cultivation." Meanwhile, revitalization of livelihood sources or economic empowerment of local communities can be done through paludiculture, for example sago, jelutung, swamp taro, pulai, gaharu, etc., or through fisheries and ecotourism. "The level of the community's economy is very important in determining the success of peatland management," he said. In rural communities whose economic levels are quite good, the level of peatland damage is relatively small. However, in rural areas where poverty levels are high, facts on the ground show that there is a tendency for the level of peatland damage to also increase.

The presentations available for download HERE

Watch the recording of webinar: