Companies asked to pitch in to Indonesia’s peat restoration drive as early fires flare in Sumatra

Companies asked to pitch in to Indonesia’s peat restoration drive as early fires flare in Sumatra

08 April 2016

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Indonesia– Smog from forest fires and hotspots continued to threaten air quality in parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra on Friday as local authorities waited for the mid-April rainy season to arrive.

The Riau office of Indonesia’s meteorology agency, the BMKG, said satellite data at 5 a.m. on Thursday showed 22 hotspots across the province. More than 100 hotspots were common during the peak of the burning season last year. Forecasters expect the second rainy season to begin in Riau in mid-April, which will likely quell most fires. Dry conditions will then return around the end of May. This burning season will likely continue through August, but much will depend on the impact of this year’s La Nina, a climate phenomenon that brings increased rain.

A report by Indonesia’s state-run news agency this week indicates that the area worst-affected by haze pollution last year, the parts of Central Kalimantan around the provincial capital Palangkaraya, continue to suffer from an urgent shortage of doctors. A local politician said several areas around the capital had only nursing staff posted in their clinics. Last year more than half a million people were diagnosed with respiratory diseases across the archipelago due to pollution from fires — many of whom were in the Palangkaraya area.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has set a target of 2 million hectares of peatlands for restoration by the year 2019, a target run by the archipelago’s newly formed peatland restoration agency, the BRG. Agency head Nazir Foead said this week the restoration work “clearly needs urgent and constructive cooperation with business.” Plantation firms whose land falls into the 2.26 hectares of peatland the BRG has identified as in need of restoration are being asked to handle the operation in their own concessions, under the BRG’s guidance, using their own resources. The agency will provide funds for restoration in community land, while also welcoming donor support.

Some small pilot projects are being promoted by the agency as proof of what could be possible. On Monday Nazir visited a 20-hectare plot in the South Sumatran district of Ogan Komering Ilir where the local community has planted jelutong trees (Dyera costulata) and a genus of myrtle, among others.

“It’s incredible what has happened here in recent years,” Nazir said. “The plants that have been used are growing well.”

Environmentalists credit Jokowi’s decision to form the BRG as a significant step in ensuring greater accountability and quicker progress in restoring the archipelago’s damaged peatlands. Bureaucratic delays would likely slow implementation if the 2 million hectare restoration target were managed directly by the environment and forestry ministry.

Separately, the Indonesia country director of the World Resources Institute, an environmental NGO, has urged the government to consider a special government agency to oversee progress on the One Map initiative, a spatial plan that will plot all Indonesia’s oil palm and other concessions under a single reference.

“There was nothing in the presidential regulation,” Nirarta Samadhi said, referring to a regulation passed by Jokowi in February that created the peatland agency. “But hopefully it can be encouraged to form.”

The ministry of bureaucratic reform would need to sign off on the creation of a new agency.

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