A solution to destructive industrial-scale
oil palm plantations

Oil palm plantations have expanded rapidly over the past two decades in Indonesia, clearing large swathes of natural forest and critical peatland areas. Promises of economic development and jobs to local communities have not come true for many. An innovative, independent small-holder approach has delivered social and economic benefits and helped protect the remaining forest. The Dosan community has committed to protecting its forests and moving to improved environmental management practices that include zero burning, no herbicide use and improved water management to maintain the peatland water system.

Dosan community leader Pak Dhalan talks about how this new way of farming can help protect the forest.

Why protect
the forest?

The destruction and degradation of forests systems is driving climate change in two ways. First, the clearing and burning of forests releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and second, the area of forest that absorbs carbon dioxide is reduced. Their role in regulating the climate is so crucial that if we destroy the last tropical forests, we will likely lose the battle against climate change. Forests are home to much of the earth's terrestrial biodiversity – m illions of unique plants and animals. Furthermore, hundreds of millions of indigenous or forest-dependent people globally rely on them for their livelihood.

oil palm

In the early 2000s, the Siak District Government along with a state-owned plantation company, set up an oil palm small-holder scheme that resulted in the developed plantation being handed over to local community cooperatives. Since 2008 the Dosan community has managed the plantation itself, allowing the profits to return to the village, while also providing full employment. With the support of local NGO Elang, improved management practices have increased yields and reduced the environmental impact. The small-holder scheme with improved management is succeeding so that now it has become a model for integrated peatland management across the country.


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Harvesting timelapse

Why water is so important to Dosan

What's so special about Indonesia's peatland?

Peatlands are formed when waterlogging delays the decay of organic material – mostly vegetation – and collects over thousands of years. Globally, peatlands absorb 25-30% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions every year and the soil of tropical peatland forests may contain 1,200 times more carbon than the trees above.

When peatlands are drained, the stored carbon reacts with the air to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The dry peat then becomes highly flammable, increasing the risk of large-scale and long-term smouldering underground fires. Indonesia's peatlands, cover less than 0.1 per cent of the Earth's surface, but through draining and fires are already responsible for 4 per cent of global emissions every year, making Indonesia the worlds third largest carbon emitter.

What is a vital carbon sink is becoming a dangerous carbon source.

Peat holds 20 percent of the world's fresh water, vital for drought and flood mitigation. Tropical peatlands are biodiversity hotspots, their unique (often inhospitable) conditions also makes them one of the least studied.

Dosan village is on the edge of the Kampar peat dome. Covering thousands of hectares and reaching depths of beyond 15 metres, the Kampar dome is one of the largest and most endangered peat systems in the world.

Drainage effects on a peatland dome modified from Delft hydrolics 2006

Natural situation
Peat accumulates over thousands of years, sequestering carbon from the forest above and creates a waterlogged dome between 5 - 50km in diameter. The water table lies close to the surface.

When sections of the peat surface is deforested and drained, the water table is lowered, preventing further carbon intake. Once exposed to the air, peat starts to decompose.

Continued drainage
Decomposition of dried out peat releases C02 and causes land subsidence. With dried out peat comes a high fire risk of long term smouldering underground fires.

End stage
Unless conservation/mitigation measures are taken, within decades, most of the carbon above the drainage limit will have been released and the land will have subsided.

The community that protects
the forest

The forest has always been an important part of life in Dosan, and conserving it is now both a necessity and a priority as it provides the community with rubber, rattan, food and wood. Once abandoned land is now carefully managed for the community oil palm plantation and the people have a much better quality of life. The cycle of life has now come full circle. There is no more poverty in the village.


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Dosan village forest

How education has been improved

The story of Dosan village

Where are the tigers and elephants?

Dragon Lake (Danau Nagasakti) is an incredibly crystal clear peat lake with a backdrop of primary forest. Once home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, the area still supports a great deal of biodiversity. Part of the Kampar peat dome, this area is affected by changes in the water table and forest cover of the entire dome system. The people of Dosan believe the lake is sacred and understand the importance of safeguarding the area – they are the guardians of this forest.


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Biodiversity of Sumatra's peatland forests

Rico Kurniawan from Elang on the Dosan initiative

Local action for a global solution

There are local solutions in the oil palm sector that protect the forest and provide good socio-economic benefits. Local communities are the forest and environmental guardians – they have the most at stake and rely on a healthy functioning ecosystem. In turn, they can provide an example of how growing oil palms with greater local control can provide benefits to communities and environmental outcomes including reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Where peatland has already been converted it can be well managed to maintain the water quality and quantity, reduce the impact on the peat dome and reduce emissions.

Greenpeace campaigner Rusmadya Maharuddin about the community palm oil project in Dosan village.

Future of the forests

Greenpeace is calling for:

1. An end to deforestation – in particular no conversion of forest to plantations, no conversion of peat land areas to plantations or non-forest, zero burning.

2. Restoration of critical peatland areas already cleared and integrated peatland management for the remaining cleared areas

3. Expansion of the independent small-holder improved management scheme (like that of Dosan) on degraded forest lands throughout Sumatra and Indonesia.

4. Support for local communities to conserve and protect their forests, and adopt ecological farming methods to improve land management.

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