Facts about Peatland in Indonesia

Written by Eli Nur Nirmala Sari on .

Peatland area in Indonesia

The recent data about the Indonesian peatland, published by the Ministry of Agriculture (2011) in their publication of research on peatland area, shows a total 14.905 million hectares for its total coverage. However, different figures are shown from other sources, such as a total 26.5 million ha from Puslittanah (1981), while according to Rieley et al. (1997) and Radjagukguk (1997), the total coverage of peatland area in Indonesia is 20.072 million ha. Other sources, such as Dwiyono and Rachman (1996), Subagyo (1998), Wibowo and Suyatno (1998) and Wetlands International (2004) mention that the total coverage of peatland area in Indonesia is 20.6 million ha. All these data shows that from 1981 to 2004, peatland area is gradually reduced by 6 million hectares.

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The rate of destruction and degradation of peatland in Indonesia

In the past 10 years, from 2000 until 2010, peatland has been rapidly degraded with rate up to 2.2 million hectares. The data from Miettinen et al. (2011) shows that the largest peatland degradation up to 1.3 million ha occurs in Sumatra; while Kalimantan with its 1 million ha degradation rate sees the second largest area; and finally Papua has 366.000 ha of peatland degradation rate. The Indonesian Forestry Planning Agency (2005) states that the deforestation rate within and outside the forest area from 1997 to 2000 was 2.83 million hectares, and this includes peat forest.

The unique nature of the peat

Peat is formed from the accumulation of partially decomposed organic matter in a very long period of time, and always wet. Peatland stores carbon in significant amount, which is 20-35% of the total carbon stored in the earth's surface. Indonesia's peatland has three to six (3 – 6) times higher of carbon storage capacity than that of the temperate region, which keeps at least 550 Gigatonnes of carbon that is equivalent to any other terrestrial biomass (forest, grass and shrubs) or twice the total carbon stored in forests around the world.

The biggest cause of peatland degradation

The major cause of peatland degradation in Indonesia is peat fires and drainage resulting from land conversion to other land uses. According to the National Development Planning Agency (1998), a total of 1.5 million ha of peatland in Indonesia was burned during the dry season in 1997 and 1998. Parish (2002) reported that the fires in Kalimantan during the dry season in 1982 and 1983 have burned 0.5 million ha of peatland. Other than the plants and their residual on the ground, a variety of materials such as humus and peat were also burned, resulting loss of litters and peat upper layers (Jaya et al., 2000).

How much emissions resulting from fires in peatland?

Compared to the emissions from other sectors, peatland contribute the largest emission (DNPI, 2011). A WWF study concluded that the land and forest fires occurred in 1997-1998 have burned about 10 million hectares of land and the released 810-2563 for Megaton of carbon (C) into the atmosphere (Page et al. , 2002). This is equivalent to 13-40% of total global carbon emissions generated from fossil fuels per year. About 80% of these fires occur in peatland (WWF, 2008). Meanwhile, ADB (1999) estimates that carbon emissions from peat fires reached 75% of total carbon emissions from these fires. Thus, the fires have eventually contributed to the global warming, which leads to the change of the climate.