A three-year study conducted in Indonesia’s Central and West Kalimantan provinces found that there was an increase in the conversion of peat soi into oil palm plantation, especially by smallholders.
The study, conducted by a team from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)  said that after crunching the data they had collected, they found that their projections point to peat conversion rates rising for the foreseeable future, with the majority of smallholder oil palm expansion happening on peat soil by 2030, Forestnews said in its latest article published on February 12, 2019.
“The agricultural land that people are prepared to convert to palm oil has already been converted – and a lot of the existing farmland is becoming exhausted, so farmers are venturing further away and going into more marginal areas,”  CIFOR Senior Scientist George Schoneveld was quoted as saying in the article.
Schoneveld said that while the big companies have in the last couple of years, come under increasing pressure to clean up their supply chain and therefore most had done so to a certain degree, oil palm smallholders have gone largely unmonitored.
The study also found that contrary to what is generally believed, it was not migrants from other islands who were responsible for the conversion fo forest and peatland, but it was rather the indigenous farmers. It also found that it was comparatively inexperienced farmers who were mostly cultivating oil palm on peat soils.  Schoneveld explained this by saying that these farmers tended to have a more entrepreneurial perspective and tended to opt for the cheaper land — forested or peatland.
“From the perspective of greenhouse gas emissions – this type of conversion is especially disastrous,” Schoneveld says, explaining that peak forests have the biggest impact on climate change as peat soil stored huge amount of carbon and their deforestation and drainage released this into the atmosphere. The matter becomes further aggravated by the fact that peat is one of the most complex soil to farm responsibly and effectively.
“Our results showed that about a third of the farmers on peat soils have experienced fire problems, which is largely the result of mismanagement,” he said.
Smallholders currently cultivate an estimated 40 percent of the total national palm oil plantations and their role is expected to continue to rise and reach over 60 percent of the total by 2030.
Schoneveld’s team used Google Earth and another high-resolution satellite service, SPOT, to scour images of Kalimantan for the tell-tale signs of palm trees in its effort to map the smallholders. They then used random field validation, checking 947 plots in West and Central Kalimantan, or roughly 10 percent of the smallholder plots the team had identified.
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