The 'Food Estate' Narrative in Jambi, Project or Necessity?By Feri Irawan
President Jokowi Widodo virtually attended the Leaders’ Summit on Climate on Earth Day (22 April) from the Bogor Presidential Palace. During that meeting the President stated that Indonesia has been able to reduce fires by 62%, hence reaching the lowest levels in the last 20 years. The President also mentioned that Indonesia has successfully halted the conversion of 66 million hectares of Natural Forest Peatland.
This might have been an accurate statement if it was referring to the reduction in 2020-2021. Indeed, there was a relatively significant reduction throughout 2020. In Riau, "only" 15,442 hectares of forest and land were burnt. In other words, there has been a significant reduction from the 90,550 hectares burnt in 2019 according to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s data in the SiPongi platform.
The President may appreciate this data. However, he must be mindful that as of May 2021, a total of 4,813 hectares of forest land has been burnt in Indonesia. West Kalimantan ranks first with a total area of 1,268 hectares. This is considered to be a high figure for the first four months.
What about Riau?
Riau is ranking third, with a total burnt area of 851 hectares and most of the fires occurred in early 2021. The highest number of hot spots were found in February (10 hotspots) and in March (16 hotspots) through the SNPP LAPAN satellite imagery.
In April, The Riau Community who were fasting could finally breathe a sigh of relief as not many hotspots were found according to LAPAN data. The public immunity and lungs are not required to work even harder to fight the virus and haze.
It's difficult for me to imagine because Riau is already ranking within the Top 10 provinces with the highest number of COVID-19 cases even without the haze. As of the 5th of May, there were 46,061 COVID-19 cases in Riau.
If these two disasters were to occur simultaneously, there is a possibility that a COVID-19 tsunami might occur in Riau. The COVID rate at the end of April was relatively high, breaking the record since the start of the pandemic.
Special attention is required for forest fires. The Pekanbaru Meteorological, Climatological, and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) have given a reminder that 2021 will be drier than the previous year. BMKG predicts that the dry season will start in May and will peak in July. The BMKG claims that this year’s dry season will not be as worse as the dry season of 2015. However, the potential for forest fires and land fires remains relatively high.
Riau has a lot of peatlands. The characteristics of peatland in Indonesia, especially Riau, is very unique. Canada has the largest peatland area in the world and only has an average peat depth of 3 meters. Riau has an average peat depth of 15 - 20 meters and 14,605 million tons of total carbon stock. This is the highest carbon stock in Sumatra and even Southeast Asia.
The Riau government is committed to supporting the peatland restoration program. According to the 2016 Peatland Restoration Indicative Map, approximately 814,714 hectares of land in Riau are targeted for peat restoration. Approximately 37,567 hectares are located in conservation areas and 69,779 hectares are located in forest areas or Non-Forest Areas that are not restricted with licenses. Approximately 87% of the restoration targeted area are located in forest concessions or plantations.
At the end of the first working period, the BRG has successfully restored 78,649 hectares of peatland in Riau. This is a relatively high figure although the question remains: what about the restoration in concession areas? On a national scale, out of a total of 892,248 hectares of peatland concession areas, approximately 778,181 hectares are reported to have been restored. Out of a total of 1,784,353 hectares of peatland in concession areas, approximately 523,113 hectares have been successfully restored as reported by President Jokowi in the Leaders’ Summit on Climate.
In reality, the regulations that the President claimed can reduce the incidence of forest and land fires are often ignored, especially by companies
For example, the Minister of Environment and Forestry Regulation Number 16 of 2017 concerning The Technical Guidelines for Restoring Peat Ecosystem Functions stated that the peatland in concession areas shall be under the responsibility of the companies. This responsibility covers maintaining, preventing, and extinguishing any potential fires. This regulation also instructs concession holders to replant the burnt areas with the natural vegetation for that type of land, instead of the company's production plants.
The same regulation also stipulates that companies are required to build canal blocking and waterworks in their area.
The analysis carried out by Kaliptra Andalas and Pantau Gambut on 11 companies indicates that the burnt land has been planted with acacia and oil palm of various ages. This certainly violates the mandate of the Ministerial Regulation.
In addition, companies owning peatland ecosystems with protected areas were also found to have planted acacia and oil palm. The regulation stipulates that the protected areas of the peatland ecosystem need to be maintained.
These stubborn companies will eventually embarrass Indonesia in the eyes of the international community, as President Jokowi claims that Indonesia has successfully overcome forest fires. Moreover, the Governor of Riau, Syamsuar, at the beginning of his leadership also promised to make Riau greener, but there has not been any progress.
In the context of peat restoration, there is no valid and publicly accessible information and data regarding the restoration progress carried out by companies.
Some time ago, Edwin Pratama Putra, a member of the Riau Local Parliament (DPD) said in an online discussion that a compliance audit for plantation companies and industrial forest plantations (HTI) will be required for peat restoration. This audit must also be supported with the disclosure of information and data on the company’s performance in peat restoration.
This data is deemed important for promoting transparency and inclusiveness, so the public can be actively involved in overseeing the protection of the peat ecosystem. This will support the work of the Governor of Riau because it provides space for public involvement.
“The public would be grateful if the provincial government published this (monitoring data) and provided a wide space for discussion. Therefore, the control function can also be carried out by the community," he said.
At that time, Erwin said, this information and data were rarely disclosed to the public. “Even if it were disclosed, it’s only partially disclosed. This should serve as feedback for us.”
The public is still waiting for restoration transparency in corporate concession areas.
*The author is the Coordinator of Simpul Jaringan Pantau Gambut Riau and Director of Kaliptra Andalas
**THIS ARTICLE WAS PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED ON MONGABAY.CO.ID ONLINE MEDIA PORTAL ON 20 MAY 2021**
Blessing from the Village's Commitment to Protect Peat in Naga Sakti LakeBy Zamzami Arlinus