Peatland Restoration Agency established to prevent forest fires

Indonesia`s peatlands are estimated to cover an area of 20.6 million hectares, or about 10.8 percent of Indonesia`s total land area, of which some 7.2 million hectares, or 35 percent, is located on Sumatra Island.
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), under Presidential Regulation No. 1 of 2016, dated January 6, 2016, has established a Peatland Restoration Agency to prevent forest fires, particularly affecting peatlands, and to restore areas destroyed by fires.

The president ordered the body to draft an action plan to immediately demonstrate to the world that Indonesia is serious about handling the destruction caused to peatland areas.

Jokowi announced the appointment of Nazir Foead as chief of the new agency on January 13, 2016, describing him to be a competent and experienced figure.

The agency is a non-structural body under the president and is answerable to him.

Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar explained that the agency is tasked with restoring the landscape of the peatland ecology with regard to saving and protecting them as well as preventing them from fires or being burnt down.

Between two and three million hectares of peatland areas will be restored by the agency in cooperation with several institutions and ministries such as the environmental affairs and forestry ministry, the public works and housing ministry, the agriculture ministry, the agrarian and spatial layout ministry, and the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas).

No single country in the world has ever restored peatland areas at such a large scale, according to the minister.

Indonesias peatlands are estimated to cover an area of 20.6 million hectares, or about 10.8 percent of Indonesias total land area, of which some 7.2 million hectares, or 35 percent, is located on Sumatra Island.

Peatlands help to preserve water resources, mitigate flooding, prevent sea water intrusion, support biodiversity, and control the climate through carbon absorption and storage.

Bambang Handroyono, secretary general of the environmental affairs and forestry ministry, remarked in Palembang, South Sumatra, on January 12, that a similar agency will also be established at the provincial level.

"At the national level, the restoration agency will be coordinated by the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Forestry, while at the local level, it will be under the coordination of the governor," he noted.

In the meantime, new presidential spokesman Johan Budi informed the press on January 13 that Indonesia expects to restore two million hectares of peatland areas, ravaged by fires last year, within the next five years.

The agency is also tasked with mapping and determining reserve zones and cultivation areas, implementing the construction of infrastructure and other means to restrict the zones and to manage the burnt peat areas.

"Ensuring familiarization and education as part of the peatland restoration framework, supervision of implementation, and maintenance of infrastructure in conversion lands fall in the ambit of the agency, as also other duties assigned by the president," he affirmed.

The agency, with a tenure until December 31, 2020, will have a secretariat, four deputies, an expert team, and a technical steering team that will include provincial governors, relevant deputies, and director generals.

The members of the expert team are professionals from universities, research institutes, and the larger community.

In October 2015, President Jokowi announced that the government had stopped issuing concession permits for palm oil plantations and industrial plant forests in peatland areas to prevent forest fires in future.

"No more concession permits for palm oil plantations in peatland areas. The government will impose a moratorium," the president emphasized.

The government has, so far, issued concession permits for plantations in peatland areas covering 8.2 million hectares, or an increase of 6.3 million hectares over the past decade.

The president has instructed Minister Nurbaya to halt the issuance of forestry and plantation permits and to revise the existing permits in order to prevent future forest fires.

Nurbaya affirmed that plantation companies must completely extinguish the fires in their areas, build water canals, and install fire extinguishing devices.

"They must take responsibility for the fires raging in their areas," she stated.

Minister/State Secretary Pratikno stated at the Presidential Staff office on January 11, 2016, following a meeting to discuss the preparations for the establishment of the peatland restoration agency that the government wanted to ensure that forest fires would not recur, and in this case, the proper management of peatland areas would be crucial.

Earlier, Vice President Jusuf M. Kalla had chaired a meeting on peatland management at his residence.

The meeting, attended by several high-ranking officials, discussed the governments plan to restore peatland areas, according to Husain Abdullah, a spokesman of the vice president.

Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Minister of National Development Planning/Chairman of the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) Sofyan Djalil, and Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa were among those attending the meeting.

Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono, Agrarian and Spatial Planning Minister Ferry Mursyidan Baldan, Chairman of the Financial Services Authority (OJK) Mulyaman Hadad, and Head of the Presidential Staff Teten Masduki were also present during the discussion.

"Both forest fires and burnt peatland areas have to be dealt with simultaneously," Kalla stated on October 26, 2015.(*)

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