Indonesian President dams canal, vows to protect peatlands

Press release - 27 November, 2014
Jakarta, 27 November 2014 - Indonesia’s President, Joko Widodo joined a local community in damming a canal to stop the drainage of a peat forest in Sumatra, signalling his intent to decisively tackle Sumatra’s devastating forest fires.

“This canal dam, initiated by the community, is very good, and must be made permanent. What’s best is for peatland to be given to the community to be managed for sago. Community management is usually environmentally friendly, but if it’s given to companies it is turned into monocultures like acacia and oil palm,” President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said in Sungai Tohor village, in coastal Riau province on Thursday.

The newly inaugurated President’s intervention came during his visit to a fire-affected community in coastal Riau province. This location is in the same peatland ecosystem where Greenpeace works with local people to protect and restore peatlands from drainage and clearance by the plantation industry [1]. Drainage lays the foundation for forest fires that can burn for days or even months [2].

The President made the statement after a flyover of Padang Island where he inspected evidence of recent clearing and draining by APRIL. APRIL is the only major pulp player still involved in active forest and peatland destruction in Indonesia. This destruction is the root cause of the massive fires that plague the region every year.

Asked whether he would strengthen legal protection for peatlands, the president said “That’s right, yesterday I instructed the Minister. Peatlands can’t be underestimated, they must be protected because they constitute a special ecosystem, and it’s not only deep peat that must be protected, but all peat areas.”

Before leaving the province, the president vowed his administration would review plantation company operations. “Earlier I tasked the Minister for Forestry to go to the field and review them [companies], and if they are indeed destroying the ecosystem, disturbing the ecosystem because of their monoculture plantations, they will have to be terminated,”  Widodo said at Pekanbaru airport. “It must be stopped, we mustn’t allow our tropical rainforest to disappear because of monoculture plantations like oil palm.”

“We hope Jokowi’s commitment to protect the country’s peatlands is a sign of things ahead in Indonesia and forest protection. The country’s existing peatland regulations are weak and poorly enforced. We look to Jokowi now to take clear action to stop expansion by industry into peatlands, to crack down on illegality and to support the permanent protection of peatland landscapes,” said Longgena Ginting, Greenpeace Indonesia’s Country Director.

“I welcome President Joko Widodo’s vision for peatland protection, which has the potential to slow Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia’s new president has wasted no time stepping into an international leadership role, well timed to position his country ahead of next week’s UNFCCC climate negotiations in Lima, Peru,” said Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace’s International Executive Director.


Media contacts:

Greenpeace International Pressdesk: +31 (0)20 718 2470,

In Indonesia: Igor O’Neill, International media for Greenpeace Indonesia Forests Campaign, +62 811 1923 721,

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[2] Indonesia’s carbon-rich peatlands took many thousands of years to form, but are being destroyed by the pulp and oil palm plantation sector. Clearance and drainage canals dry the peatland, laying the foundation for forest fires that can burn for days or even months. The annual choking haze of smoke devastates the lives of millions of people in the region. Left in its natural state, peatland rarely burns, but since draining began, the number of fire hotspots recorded by satellite has sky-rocketed, reaching 6,644 in 2011 and climbing further to 21,467 fire hotspots so far this year.