Woman Fighting Oppression: Esther HalukBy Pantau Gambut
Peat is a hero for the ecosystem that plays an important role in purifying water, reducing floods, providing habitat for flora and fauna, and storing large amounts of carbon. Although it only covers 3% of the world's land, peat stores twice the amount of carbon in all soils on earth.
Unfortunately, the conversion, drainage, and illegal logging have resulted in the destruction of peatlands. This damage not only harms the flora and fauna living on peatlands but also the communities around the peatlands. So, who will be the hero who saves the peatlands?
The following are some stories about peat heroes who strive to protect and restore peatland so that it can continue to prosper the community and protect other peat ecosystems.
Communities in Teluk Meranti
Teluk Meranti is located on the banks of the Kampar River, ±135 kilometers from the capital of Pelalawan District, Riau Province. In the past, this area could only be reached by using river transportation such as speedboats and boats from Pangkalan Kerinci. However, now people can reach this area by car.
The good natural potential does not just exist. There are people in Teluk Meranti who have struggled to cultivate peatland in this area so that they can earn their living from the harvests and from other sectors such as tourism.
The people of Teluk Meranti also maintain local wisdom in managing peatlands. They clear the peatlands by cutting down trees (tobe tobang) according to the wind direction and they practice farming during safe periods. Before clearing the forests, the community will consult the Bomo (shaman for farming) to ascertain which forest can be used as agricultural land. This practice protects the peatlands because then people can’t clear the land haphazardly.
Most people manage about five rows of rice fields with a size of less than two hectares. They clear the peat forest by observing wind direction and leave it for about three months until the slash marks dry out. Then, when the south wind blows (around May and June), they burn the land for three days using incense. After the fire and smoke are gone, they begin to sow the seeds.
They also choose the type of rice that is suitable for peat soil because not all rice can thrive on peatlands. After planting the rice, they keep it from being damaged by pests, and in the sixth month, they can harvest the crops.
Transmigrants in Ogan Komering Ilir
Apart from the people in Teluk Meranti, there are other peat heroes who have been trying to cultivate peatlands for years. They are the transmigrants from Java who live in Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) District, South Sumatra.
Since 1981, people in OKI have tried various methods to cultivate peatlands properly so that they can earn their living. For years, they have been using the sonor method where they burn the land before sowing the seeds.
Unlike land burning carried out by the plantation companies, the OKI people burn a maximum of two hectares of land for sowing seeds. They do it together and put out the fire before it spreads to other places. After the peat dries out, they slash the plants on it, then sow the seeds.
Previously, the OKI people did not know what crops could grow on peatlands. Then, after the forest and land fires in 1982, they saw various plants flourishing on their land. Since then, they know that peatland is suitable for various types of crops such as coffee, rice, coconut, and other secondary crops.
Although the government prohibits people from burning before planting, the OKI people believe that they need to burn the land to reduce its pyrite, a compound that will oxidize in dry conditions and can poison plant roots when exposed to water.
Moreover, the OKI people also try to protect peatlands by refusing investors from entering their territory. Unfortunately, the government has more power and grants permits to these investors so that all the OKI people can do is cultivate peatlands properly and hope that the government will conserve peatlands to prevent them from being degraded. That way, peatlands will remain sustainable and the people will remain wise and prosperous.
Januminro in Central Kalimantan
A Dayak man also became a peat hero by dedicating his time, energy, and money to protecting and restoring peatland in an area of Central Kalimantan which is now known as the Jumpun Pambelom forest.
Jumpun Pambelom is a rehabilitation forest located about 30 kilometers from Palangka Raya. This forest was saved from forest and land fires that hit Indonesia in 2015 because in this forest, Januminro dug more than 20 boreholes 100-150 meters apart to wet forest areas prone to fires, especially along roadsides.
Moreover, this father of three children also built seven canal blocks made of wood that are resistant to water weathering. However, Januminro was not alone. He also involved the local community to work together in protecting and restoring peatlands in this area, as evidenced by the formation of Serbu Api, a group of firefighting volunteers, in 2010. Apart from protecting the Jumpun Pambelom area, these volunteers also help fight fires in other areas.
This group even provides an emergency hotline so that people can reach them when they find any indication of fire in their area. For all of his efforts, it is not surprising that Januminro received the Kalpataru award in the Environmental Servant category.
Apart from the above three peat heroes who strive to protect the peatlands in our archipelago, who else deserves to be called a peat hero?
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