The Palm Scribe

Expert: Good Water Management is Key to Peatland Restoration

Good water management is the key in the restoration of peatland or their use for agricultural purposes, a number of experts said.

Faizal Parish, Global Environment Center & Co-Chair of the Peatland Working Group Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) stated that peatland was a fragile ecosystem and must therefore be properly protected, including through a good water management system.

“In my opinion, it is very important to treat peatland as a very fragile ecosystem, and we need to treat it well. Apart from that, water management is a very good long-term action to protect peatlands,” Parish told a  webinar held by Sawit Watch on Wednesday (2/12).

Suryanta Sapta Atmaja, from the Directorate of Peat Damage Control, Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) agreed with Faizal, saying that water management was the most important process in the peat rehabilitation process.

An effective water management  in peat areas would maintain an optimal ground water level so that the peat would not dry out during the dry seasons and would not be flooded during the wet seasons. This could be achieved with the building of canals equipped with sluice gates to control the water, keeping the water during the dry season and letting it flow during the wet seasons.

He added that one of the functions of peatland was to retain water, keeping existing water in the soil. If  peatland dried up, disaster may occur.

“We have to well maintain the ecology of the peat, the function of the peat itself is to retain water, keep the water there, if the water is gone it might be a disaster for us all,” said Atmaja.

Dermawati Sihite, Head of the Sub-Working Group for Supervision of Concession Land Management, Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) who also shared the same opinion, that while water management was the main challenge in maintaining the sustainability of peatlands, another challenge in peat restoration laid in the  large number of parties involved.

“In peat restoration there are not only concessions and related units, there are also NGOs, local communities, government, the private sector, so, sometimes there are too many heads and that makes it  difficult to narrow down a solution. So, there must be unity between the various parties to make peat restoration work smooth,” said Sihite.

Sihite added that this collaboration between all parties was easy to plan but difficult to implement. There have been many schemes designed by RSPO or the government but none have been so far jointly implemented well .

“The key is a togetherness among various parties, in jointly carrying out a sustainable peatland management and this is a task for us all. Because it is easy to say but hard to do. There have been many schemes from the RSPO, the government, now we just need to work on this,” added Sihite.

For I Nyoman Suryadiputra, Chairperson of the Executive Board of the Yayasan Lahan Basah, one of the problems that he has often experienced in peat restoration efforts was the  differences in the results of mapping conducted by the government and peat institutions.

“There is a kind of disharmony between the policies in our own country, whether on the water level in peat land, or the mapping data are often different,” said Suryadiputra.

He also added that peat land was different from mineral soil, as peat land was more dynamic and its surface often changed with  time. 

“The result of what we map today, may not necessarily be the same as the result next week or in a month. The key,  that we must all understand, is that peatlands are very fragile and dynamic, unlike mineral soils,” added Suryadiputra.

Sofyan Ritung from the Center for Research and Development of Agricultural Land Resources also suggested monitoring peatland regularly, using the same mapping technique, in order to obtain a more definite data.

“We need to do it in a sustainable manner, because there are fluctuations that may be due to mapping techniques or real changes, monitoring is very important and should be conducted at least every ten years, or five years whenever possible, because peat is very dynamic,” Ritung concluded.

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