Managing peatlands in Indonesia

Managing peatlands in Indonesia - Challenges and opportunities for local and global communities

Kristell Hergoualc’h, Stibniati Atmadja, Rachel Carmenta, Christopher Martius, Daniel Murdiyarso, Herry Purnomo

Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)


Indonesian peat swamp forests cycle and store globally significant amounts of carbon. They regulate water across the landscape and buffer salt/fresh-water transitions in coastal areas. They host unique species such as orangutans and provide habitats for migratory birds. Local people traditionally benefit from peat swamp forests for timber to build their houses, nutrient-rich wild food and fish to supplement their diet, clean water and medicinal plants. These natural riches are also a source of income. These forests and the ecosystem services they provide are vanishing at a critical rate (2.6%/year in Sumatra and Kalimantan) between 2007 and 2015 (Miettinen et al. 2016). Growing demand for arable land especially for oil palm, attractiveness in relation to their flat topography (as opposed to alternative steep hills that present erosion risks) and non-active agricultural use have all led to intense conversion over past decades. Further, weak and unclear land tenure have led to overlapping land claims across individuals, communities and companies. Peatlands now represent a contested frontier region. In response to global market, oil palm has become one of the most economically attractive crops to cultivate in tropical regions. Indonesia is the leading global producer of crude palm oil with a production rate growing exponentially over time (Murdiyarso et al. 2010). The contribution of oil palm expansion to peatland deforestation also tends to follow an exponential pattern (Miettinen et al. 2016), even though oil palm development is not the sole driver of peat swamp forest disappearance.

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