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The challenge

A landscape under threat

Firefighters battle a peat fire in Indonesian peatlands near a community. Image credit: Borneo Productions International.

Indonesia has around 18 million hectares of peatlands, mostly located in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua. However, more than 80 per cent of these peatlands have been cleared and drained for forestry and agriculture, and are the source of a significant proportion of Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions.

To prevent seasonal fires and peatland oxidation the Government of Indonesia has embarked on a major effort to restore much of the degraded peatland areas, focusing on the 3 R's – Rewetting, Revegetation and Revitalisation of livelihoods. But the scale of the task is immense because local communities and industry both rely on the cleared and drained peatland for their livelihoods.

Our response

Addressing community concerns

CSIRO is leading a multi-agency, inter-disciplinary team examining the biophysical, social and policy challenges to fire reduction and the transition to restored peatland. Understanding the relationships between the national mandate to implement peatland restoration and community imperatives for maintaining lives and livelihoods is fundamentally important. This is because very few sustainable and profitable options for communities have been defined to date.

In fact, communities often resist restoration efforts as they may result in fewer livelihood options and lower food security. This ultimately leads to a situation in which local communities pay a high price for the national and international benefit. For these reasons, innovative solutions need to be matched with community willingness and appetite for change in order for restoration to be equitably and successfully achieved.

The results

Showcasing sustainable opportunities

Our research suggests some of the options that match the key existing livelihood options of oil palm and rubber. Although communities still embrace the establishment of these commodity crops, the inconvenient truth is that these industries are not sustainable because they require the peat to be drained - making it more susceptible to fire and oxidation.

We are demonstrating that livelihoods on rewet peat are possible but take a lot more planning and support because they require the benefits to be stacked and require significantly more training and socialisation. Communities are interested in the full range of options, and in trialling different things, but knowledge availability and sharing is limited. To address this we have developed a bilingual project website to enhance knowledge availability to communities and increase awareness of peatland sustainability and fire issues. The website highlights engaging stories and accounts of our research findings.

With support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, CSIRO is working in partnership with the Indonesian Government, through the Ministry of Forestry and Environment and BRIN, the new national research agency of Indonesia. We have also partnered with the University of the Sunshine Coast, RMIT, ANU, La Trobe University, and the University of Palangkaraya.

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