The Palm Scribe

Basic Facts About Peat

Nazir Foead, Head of Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency



There is yet a globally accepted definition of peat. In soil science, peat is defined as a type of soil composed of vegetal matters that have been soaked underwater and partly decomposed, which have accumulated for some 10,000 years in a wet area where water does not flow smoothly (

In Indonesia, there are also many definitions of peat but in general, it is defined as a type of soil formed by an accumulation of organic material which is partly decomposed or decomposed in a water-saturated environment and has a minimal organic depth of 50 cm.


There is a total of 400 million hectares of peat in the world as of February 2016, or about three percent of the world’s surface. The world’s tropical peat covers 32 million hectares as of February 2016 or just eight percent of the world peat surface. Southeast Asia has 19.2 million hectares of peatland, as of February 2016, 60 percent of that in Indonesia while Malaysia has 36.5 percent (Source: International Peatland Society / IPS).


  1. International Peatland Society estimates that by February 2016 there were 11.5 million hectares of peatland in Indonesia. 
  2. Wetland estimates that in 2016, Indonesia had 18.8 million hectares of peatland or about 10.8 percent of the country’s land, with the depth of between one to 12 meters and in some place, the peat layers could even reach 20 meters.
  3. According to the Agricultural Land Resources Research of Development Body and Plant Research Body, Indonesia had 14.9 million hectares of peatland in 2011. Sumatra had 6.4 million hectares or 43 percent, followed by Kalimantan with 4.8 million hectares or 32 percent, and Papua with 3,7 million hectares or 25 percent.


  • As a Carbon Store: Peatland stores carbon within all its layers. Even though only about three percent of land in the world is peatland, it stores about 30 to 40 percent of the global carbon stocks (Cifor). Peatland in Indonesia is estimated to store 22.5-43.5 gigatons of carbon, an amount equal to the emission of 17-33 billion private vehicles (Pantau Gambut.)
  • As a Water Disperser: Peat has the ability to store water up to 20 times its dry weight. Every cubic meter of peat can hold 850 liters of water so that one hectare of peatland can hold some 88.6 million liters of water (Noor, 2016:113). Its hydrologic role is really important, such as controlling floods during rainy seasons, releasing water reserves during prolonged dry seasons, and assuring clean water supply throughout the year.
  • As a Climate Regulator: Because of its high carbon content, peat plays a really important role in safeguarding global climate change. If peatland catch fire, or is degraded, it will release various glasshouse gases (especially CO2, N2O, and CH4) into the atmosphere and thus lead to global climate change. Fires of ground and forests, including on peatland in 2015 is estimated to have release 1.6 gigaton of carbon dioxide equivalent (Pantau Gambut).
  • As a Source of Biodiversity:  The unique and specific conditions of peatland also means that it has characteristic biodiversity and several varieties cannot be found in other habitats.
    • Around 35 mammalian species, 150 avian species and 34 fish species as well as various reptilian species such as the sinyulong crocodile (false gharial), freshwater turtle, monitor lizard, and various insects. (WWF 2009).
    • An inventory of tropical peat marsh forests found 45 percent of mammalian and 33 percent of birds tropical pitcher plant identified as being in the list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)  under the status of being threatened, prone to extinction or threatened of extinction (
    • A number of orchids, medicinal plants and insect traps like the tropical pitcher plant, have made peat and mangrove forests their habitat. Peat marsh forests have the richest biodiversity among all peatland and more than one-tenth of plants live in that habitat. Some of these plants are trees, including giant tropical varieties such as Meranti, Ramin and Ulin Wood.

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