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Jakarta– Greenpeace Southeast Asia warns that President Jokowi’s plan to convert carbon-rich peatlands in Central Kalimantan into paddy rice fields may lead to another environmental disaster in times when the country’s efforts should be focused on protecting these crucial ecosystems.

Indonesia’s past fire catastrophes with uncontrolled carbon emissions have been a result of peatland conversion for agricultural business followed by lack of transparency and law enforcement. The current health crisis exposes an additional reason to protect and restore these ecosystems instead of putting the region at risk of a potential haze crisis with unprecedented health and economic consequences”, said Greenpeace Southeast Asia Forest Campaigner Rusmadya Maharuddin.

The Peat Restoration Agency (BRG), established in the wake of the 2015 fires and tasked to lead nationwide efforts to restore peatlands, has expressed its support for Jokowi’s plans, despite 266,484.9 ha of ​​peat burned in Central Kalimantan alone in 2019. [1] The BRG has identified the province as a priority for peatland restoration with a target of ​​713,076 ha.

In 1996, President Suharto ordered the Mega Rice Project that aimed to turn the peat swamps of Central Kalimantan into rice fields with the goal feeding the nation. The project failed drastically, leaving kilometres of fire-prone wasteland and producing almost no rice.

“Since the Mega Rice Project, land in Central Kalimantan continues to burn almost every year, sickening thousands and destroying local economies. Restoration projects are especially needed in these areas to address the years of destruction. It’s critical that before moving into another large scale project within vulnerable peat landscapes, the government shows the results of the peatland restoration program in the province. Food security can’t be used as an excuse to rush Indonesia into plans that can’t secure a haze-free season”, added Maharuddin.

The government must also provide alternative development opportunities for local communities and promote local crops such as sago and corn, which do not depend on peatland exploitation. Keeping Indonesia’s remaining peatland areas intact is a priority, which together with the restoration of degraded peatland by rewetting, revegetation and revitalization should significantly reduce the chance of fires.

Note:

[1] Analysis of data for the burned area (2015-2019) and Peat Ecosystem Function from MoEF showing total burned peatlands in Central Kalimantan 266,484.9 ha

Contact:

Sol Gosetti, International Communications Coordinator, Indonesia Forest campaign, [email protected], +44 (0) 7807352020