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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Developing biodiverse agroforests on rewetted peatlands in Indonesia 

PI: Sonya Dewi,, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
U.S. Partner: Randall Kolka, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station
Project Dates: December 2017 - November 2020

Project Overview

The policy on peatland restoration in Indonesia is to rewet, requiring a minimum water table of 40 cm below the surface, to avoid future fire and haze episodes. Although rewetting is the most logical and effective means for restoring and conserving the biophysical condition of peatlands, the social and economic perspectives are overlooked. Four constraints to effective tropical peatland management (van Noordwijk et al., 2015) are (1) lack of scientific understanding of peatland and vegetation responses; (2) unwillingness to act by the national and local governments; (3) inability to act within existing legislative and economic realities; and (4) lack of attractive land-use options for smallholders and communities living on the edges of peatlands. With Indonesia’s new restoration policies, significant progress has been made to relieve constraints 2 and 3, but the primary constraints have shifted to 4 and associated parts of 1. This project aims to fill knowledge gaps through rigorous research assessing vegetation responses to drainage and rewetting in a range of disturbed peatland conditions, as current information is not sufficient to evaluate restoration options that have an economic return through utilizing valuable vegetation and fish. A plant ecological (functional traits) approach will be applied to focus on root-system adaptations to survive in wet conditions. Concurrently, the researchers will interview smallholders and the broader community to assess local knowledge, perceptions and preferences for peatland restoration economic development using well-established methods for participatory research.

Specific objectives include (1) assessing the richness and composition of peatland tree and plant species; (2) evaluating assess plant functional attributes in response to rewetting; (3) determining the domestication and adoption potential of adapted species; and (4) synthesizing and providing advice for policy and practice. The U.S. partners will provide guidance on study design, restoration methods, and vegetation options and help with data interpretation and publication across all aspects of the work. Expected outputs will be (1) options for peatland restoration that lead to local economic sustainability; (2) scientific publications and a database that can be leveraged for future studies; and (3) synthesis publications developed specifically to inform policymakers and practitioners that can be broadly used to advise peatland restoration actions regionally and nationally. More widely, the team’s results should inform those involved in peatland restoration, including private, industrial and governmental sectors, to gain a better understanding on choices of species for economic gain and potential for further domestication. This can inform extension programs being set up to assist smallholders and communities restore peatlands. The researchers will provide policymakers and executing agencies for peatland restoration evidence-based information on the potential species and practices for restoration that can improve local livelihoods in a range of land-use options.

Summary of Recent Activities

From the start of this new project in December 2017 through the end of the first quarter of 2018, Dr. Sonya Dewi and her colleagues worked hard to set roles and responsibilities of the various partners involved from the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), the Forest Research and Development Centre (FRDC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of Indonesia), and the University of Palangka Raya (UPR). Following a series of meetings, the team agreed that ICRAF will take the lead on three thematic areas in the project: TA1, assessments of plant community composition and diversity and identification of fish species across a range of peatland degradation stages; TA3, assessments of local knowledge on peatland species utilization and the potential of adoption and domestication of specific peatland tree species by farmers; and TA4, syntheses on the adoption potential of peatland-focused species and practices and restoration policy advice. FRDC will be in charge of TA2, assessments of plant functional traits in rewetted peatlands for species with economic value. UPR’s role will be focused on supporting the planned field activities, including data collection, lab analysis, and local workshops. Dr. Dewi and colleagues at ICRAF will collaborate with relevant UPR lecturers who will supervise students to be involved in the data collection and analysis efforts.

After this initial planning stage was completed, seven staff members from ICRAF and FRDC conducted a scoping mission to Central Kalimantan March 1-9, 2018, which featured stakeholder meetings and discussions, a field survey, and interviews with local people. The objectives of the mission were to (1) identify potential sites to address the four thematic areas of the project, especially in stratifying levels of degradation; (2) learn about the existing projects, policies, programs, and challenges relevant to peat ecosystem restoration in the study area; (3) map the key stakeholders in peat ecosystem restoration in Central Kalimantan, particularly in the three Peat Hydrological Units (PHU); (4) assess the indicative map of peat conditions officially published by the Peat Restoration Agency by collecting georeferenced data at some plots and landscapes; and (5) make logistical arrangement for field activities. This latter objective was especially important, as many of the sites are remote, with challenging transportation and accommodation requirements varying by season. The scoping visit was very effective in allowing the team to address many issues, including variations in biophysical aspects on the ground and specifics of local culture and politics. They introduced the PEER BAR-Peat project to a broad network of relevant and welcoming stakeholders and gained increased awareness of the complexity of the peat ecosystem restoration issues, particularly in areas where local people rely on peatland for their livelihoods.

The PI and her colleagues selected three relatively accessible sites (Sebangau National Park, the natural laboratory of UPR’s Center for International Cooperation in Sustainable Management of Tropical Peatland, and Pulang Pisau Block C) as their focal areas for the study, as in combination they offer examples of the five stages of degradation of peat landscapes. The first two sites cover the intact, degraded, rewetted, and rewetted-revegetated stages, while the last site features the degraded, degraded-cultivated, and rewetted stages. In addition, the sites have been the subject of previous studies, so leveraging those results can help speed progress on this new effort. Furthermore, other existing programs and activities in the areas, including by USAID LESTARI (, potentially can take up and upscale the results of BAR-Peat. The PI has already met with LESTARI staff to ensure close coordination.

In late April and early May, U.S. partner Dr. Randall Kolka of the U.S. Forest Service and co-partner Prof. Rodney Chimner of Michigan Tech University will visit Indonesia with support from a PEER Partner Cooperation supplement. During the trip they and the local project team will conduct a field visit to Central Kalimantan to finalize the site selection and spend time at ICRAF for technical discussions and publication planning. In May, Dr. Dewi plans two workshops and a kickoff meeting. One workshop will take pace in Palangka Raya with the local partners and participants and the other will be held at ICRAF in Bogor with national partners and participants. The workshops will focus on the Science-Action and Science-Policy interfaces in peat ecosystem restoration, respectively. In May and June, the team will work on survey instrument development and testing and selection and preparation of students. From July through September they plan extensive field surveys and data collection.

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