What threatens our peatlands?

Threats is a feature on the Peatlands Map which displays data and information on various types of threats against peatlands. Information on Threats is displayed through map visualizations, geospatial data, and stories. It will cover many of the questions you might have about the biggest threats to peatlands.

Hero image chapter 2

What are the threats to peatlands?

The biggest threat to peatlands is land conversion. Land conversion involves destructive activities, namely logging, draining, and massive burning, which cause peatland degradation, resulting in carbon emissions being released into the air.

Deforestation on peatlands © CIFOR - GCS Kalimantan Fieldtrip, 2014
Draining of peatlands fandiadhitya.web.ugm.ac.id (2015) © Greenpeace
Forest burning on peatlands in Kalimantan © CIFOR - Fire and Haze, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Logging on peatlands

Logging on peatlands can be observed from tree cover loss data, which refers to the loss of tree canopy. Tree cover loss is used as an indication of land clearing.

Tree Cover Loss Peatlands in Indonesia

Global Forest Watch

Logging on peatlands

Cleared peatlands are usually drained by making canals or waterways so that the land can be used for planting dryland trees such as oil palm or acacia.

Drainage of peatlands by making canals

© Pantau Gambut

Canal blocking and deep wells

Degraded peatlands must be restored. In Indonesia, peat restoration is mandated under Government Regulation Number 1 of 2016. Restoration activities begin with the process of rewetting peatlands, followed by replantation of native peat vegetation. Peatland restoration infrastructure includes canal blocking and drilled wells.

Canal blocking

© Pantau Gambut

Deep wells

mediacenter.palangkaraya.go.id (2019) © Isen Mulang

Who is affected by peat damage?

Local communities are most affected by peat damage, which causes flooding as well as soil and air pollution.

But beyond that, we are all exposed to these threats even if we do not live near peatlands. Peat damage causes the loss of habitat of flora and fauna. Furthermore, the release of carbon into the atmosphere eventually contributes to the climate crisis.

Carbon emissions and decreased biomass in damaged peatlands due to land conversion © CIFOR - Fire and Haze, Kalimantan, Indonesia
Threats to endemic fauna living on peatlands © CIFOR - Indonesian Peatlands
Disruption of indigenous people’s activities due to air pollution © CIFOR - Fire and Haze, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Carbon emission and threats to biomass

The conversion of peatlands into monoculture plantations of dryland tree species, such as oil palm and acacia, results in the release of carbon emissions and reduced biomass

Between 1985 and 2000, as much as 20 percent of peat forest trees were cut down for the conversion of industrial oil palm plantations. Each year, the average conversion rate is 1.3 percent of the total peatland areas, or 47,932 square kilometers. This area is equal to the size of 6,190 soccer fields.

Over the past 18 years, the draining of peatlands has resulted in an average of 632 Mt CO2 being released into the atmosphere every year. This amount is equivalent to burning 71,115 liters of gasoline.

Scorched peatland

© CIFOR - Fire and Haze, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Carbon emission and threats to biomass

Carbon release can cause biomass to decline in the long term. The world’s ecosystems are also changing due to an increase in Earth’s temperature.

Let's explore the impacts of peatland degradation on carbon emissions and the biomass!

CO2 in the air from forest fires

© CIFOR - Fire and Haze, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Peat damage disrupts the daily lives of local people

People who are living around the peatlands are directly affected by forest and land fires during the dry season. 

They are especially vulnerable to flood and haze. Air quality is also getting worse. Haze contains particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and PM 10, which increases the risk of acute respiratory infection. Perhaps the worst case of fires was the one that occurred in Jambi back in 2019. Fires turned the Jambi sky red for two whole hours, from 11.00 to 13.00 Western Indonesia Time.

Haze from the fires worsened the air quality

© CIFOR - Fire and Haze, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Peat damage disrupts the daily lives of local people

Peat damage has a bigger impact on the local community and less on those responsible for causing the degradation. A flood caused by peat damage also attracted public attention in South Kalimantan in 2021.


A scene from a flood in South Kalimantan

pantaugambut.com (2021) © Agus R.

Peat biodiversity at risk

Various types of endemic flora or paludiculture plants grow on peatlands, including gelam (Melaleuca cajuputiI), ramin (Gonystylus sp.), meranti (Shorea sp.), and damar (Agathis dhammara). Unfortunately, the population of these endemic plants are in decline due to habitat loss.

If peatlands are damaged, these faunas face the threat of extinction. Habitat destruction can trigger the hunt for the remaining endemic fauna as they become increasingly exotic.

Explore peatland flora and fauna on the map.

Some plants grow well on peatlands

© CIFOR - Indonesian Peatlands

Concession and non-concession areas on peatlands

Concession areas are areas that have been allocated by the government to individuals or corporations within a certain period.

Non-concession areas are those that are not licensed. These areas are designated to be managed by the local community or government.

Total peatland area by concession status

Concession and non-concession areas on peatlands

An analysis by Pantau Gambut shows that 39 percent or around 5.2 million hectares of the total 13.43 million hectares of peatland areas are designated for corporations in the forestry or plantation sector. Meanwhile, the total area of non-licensed peatlands is 8.23 million hectares.

Total area of peatlands

Total area 13,403,583.29 Ha
Non-concession peatlands 8,204,514.44 Ha
Concession peatlands 5,199,068.85 Ha

Commitments and regulations for the protection of peatlands

Non-concession areas on peatlands and who is responsible?

Non-concession areas on peatlands are areas outside the concessions held by the government, namely the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK). The Peat and Mangrove Restoration Agency (BRGM) is involved and is also responsible for implementing restoration.

Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK)

The Peat and Mangrove Restoration Agency (BRGM)

Non-concession areas on peatlands and who is responsible?

The Joko Widodo administration issued several regulations for peatland restoration, initially through Presidential Regulation No. 1 of 2016 which outlined the government’s commitment to restoring 2.67 million hectares of peatlands.

The commitment was then extended through Presidential Regulation No. 120 of 2020. The restoration target for non-concession areas is 1.2 million hectares.

Peatland restoration sectors

  1. 1.78 million hectares of plantation areas
  2. 400 thousand hectares of non-concession cultivation areas
  3. 491 thousand hectares of protected areas
  4. 892 thousand hectares of non-concession areas
Mongabay, 2020

What are the methods used for monitoring?

Monitoring of concession areas aims to verify the actual condition of concession lands. This is to review the implementation of restoration in the concession area. Assessments are carried out in the area by referring to indicators to determine if violations have occurred in the concession area.

These indicators include:

  1. Hot spots detected using the high-confidence Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (VIIRS NOAA)
  2. Construction of infrastructure restoration in the form of canal blocking drilled wells based on planning data obtained from the Contingency Plan or Annual Action Plan of the Peatland Restoration Agency in 2017 to 2018.

What are the methods used for monitoring?

Observations conducted by the Pantau Gambut team are based on samples obtained using spatial analysis and remote sensing technology

Selected samples are then verified on the ground for non-concession monitoring based on each point of the restoration implementation plan. This is issued by the Peatland Restoration Agency as well as visual interpretation in areas with significant hot spot clusters.

Pantau Gambut conducting a survey in Bararawa, Banjarmasin

© Photos Bararawa Purun

Impacts from the threats on peatlands

Threats to peatlands include land drainage that causes peat to become significantly more vulnerable to fire. Land conversion also has a significant impact on peat conditions.

Eventually, this will lead to peatland degradation, such as subsidence (the sinking of peat surface). The community and local government have an important role to play in restoring the peat in non-concession areas. This is to reduce the damage caused by all these threats.

Peatlands restoration in progress

© CIFOR - Indonesian Peatlands

What are the methods used for monitoring?

The Pantau Gambut network in Riau and Aceh has carried out monitoring in non-concession areas where these threats have been detected.

Explore the Map to discover all non-concession peatland areas where threats have been identified

Peatland survey in Kalimantan

© CIFOR - GCS Kalimantan Field Trip, 2014

Concession areas on peatlands

Peat management and utilization activities are carried out by individuals, corporations, or business concession holders within the Timber Forest Product Utilization Permit areas (IUPHHK-Natural Forest, IUPHHK-Industrial Plantation Forest, IUPHHK-Ecosystem Restoration of oil palm plantations). These permits are issued by a central or local government authority.

An analysis by Pantau Gambut shows that 39 percent or about 5.2 million hectares of the total 13.43 million hectares of peatland areas in Indonesia are designated for corporations in the forestry or plantation sector.

Percentage of concession area on peatlands

Who is in charge?

The authority to supervise peatland restoration activities in concession areas lies in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) and the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG). 

KLHK focuses on overseeing the restoration of concessions located in forest areas. Meanwhile, BRG cooperates with the Ministry of Agriculture to supervise peat restoration in plantation areas, especially oil palm plantations.

Protected forest in Kalimantan © CIFOR - Fire and Haze, Kalimantan, Indonesia
Oil palm plantations on peatlands in Papua © Raras Cahyafitri

Monitoring methods

The monitoring of concession areas aims to verify the condition of the concession area in the implementation of restoration or recovery. Research in these licensed areas are conducted by examining indicators to determine the existence of violations.

Monitoring is conducted through spatial analysis, remote sensing, and field verification. 

Random sampling is used to determine samples in concession areas. All sample points are made based on grouping, which are then verified using high-resolution imagery and validated during field investigations.

These indicators include:

  1. The presence of burned areas
  2. Tree cover loss as an indication of deforestation in protected Peat Ecosystem Functions (FEG)
  3. Implementation of restoration (canal blocking infrastructure and drilled wells), based on data from the Contingency Plan or Annual Action Plan of the Peatland Restoration Agency for 2017 to 2018.

The role of the private sector

The draining of peatlands makes them vulnerable to fire. Likewise, land conversion also has a significant impact on the peatlands. All these threats lead to the degradation of ground water table or subsidence.

The private sector plays a very important role for peat restoration in concession areas. Private corporations are also prohibited from clearing the land in the protected Peat Ecosystem Functions (FEG) for extractive activities

The Pantau Gambut network team across seven provinces monitors all concession areas where violations have been indicated.

Explore the Map to discover which concession areas have been identified as having violations.

Monitoring of peatland restoration area

© CIFOR - Indonesian Peatlands

The Food Estate Program in Indonesia

The Joko Widodo administration plans to establish food estate areas in several provinces. The plan is part of the National Strategic Project (PSN) in response to a warning by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) regarding the threat of a food crisis in Indonesia. 

The first province where the food estate project was designated was Central Kalimantan, in the former Peatland Development (PLG) area. Under the food estate project, these areas will be converted into rice fields. The government is also planning food estates in West Kalimantan, South Sumatra, East Nusa Tenggara, and Merauke.

Central Kalimantan


The Food Estate Program in Indonesia

The food estate is intended for large-scale production of commodities that are considered capable of supporting the national economy and maintaining food security. These food commodities include rice, cassava, and various horticultural crops. However, if you look at the data and consider actual related to the current condition of Indonesia’s food security, food estate does not answer the problem.

To find out more about the food estate program and its progress, visit the microsite Food Estate: What’s the Rush?.

Food Estate is not the right solution to food crisis


Food Estate on Peatlands

The exact detailed locations of the food estate are not yet known. However, in Central Kalimantan, it is revealed that the location for the new rice field conversion is on the former Peatland Project (PLG) area, where 64 percent of its total area, or about 883,000 hectares, is a Protected Peat Ecosystem Function (FEG).

Protected peat ecosystem functions should not be used for agricultural or plantation purposes since it risks making peat less ideal and prone to degradation due to peat domes. The use of land for agricultural activities should only be carried out in cultivated peat ecosystem functions. Even so, commodity management must be done in an eco-friendly manner, such as paludiculture and other practices that do not cause the peat to become further degraded.

Peatlands di Kalimantan


What are the threats of opening a food estate on peatlands?

Running the food estate program continuously threatens to damage peat ecosystem areas, including areas that have been restored. 

These threats include:

  • Land clearing in protected and conservation forest areas
  • Changes in land cover in protected peat ecosystem function areas
  • Peat fires due to drought caused by agriculture drainage
Land clearing for food estate (in the former 1997 PLG Program area)
Land conversion into monoculture plantations (MIFEE, 2010-2020)
Land conversion into monoculture plantations (MIFEE, 2010-2020) Documentation: 1997 Central Kalimantan PLG fire (Kompas)

No-Go Zone in the former PLG Area

The no-go zone is an indicative map of conservation peat areas that must be protected and should not be used for food estate projects

Indicators of peat areas to avoid for food estate projects:

  • Peat depth of above 1 meter
  • Peatlands with forest vegetation (primary and secondary)
  • Peatlands with protected function

Food Estate project monitoring in the No-Go Zone

Food estate monitoring uses a systematic and structured method. Monitoring is carried out using data on tree cover loss and indications of deforestation from the Global Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) alerts and Radar for Detecting Deforestation (RADD) alerts.

In addition, data on burned areas within the same period as indications of deforestation or tree cover loss is also used. This is to determine priority areas to monitor.

Monitoring methods used:

  1. Selection of monitoring location (Area of Interest/AOI)
  2. Identification of food estate monitoring parameters in the no-go zone
  3. Priority of identified monitoring areas
  4. Verification of literature (desk) analysis using high resolution image

No-Go Zone area monitoring potential

Based on the results of periodic monitoring by WRI Indonesia on activities in the no-go zone area, it was found that the following activities or incidents most occurred or carried out in the area. The three activities were classified based on the magnitude of risk that could arise if continued

Activities most often observed

  1. Clearing activities for agricultural or plantation areas
  2. Clearing activities for non-agricultural or non-plantation areas
  3. Fires

No-Go Zone area monitoring potential

Very high risk, if land clearing occurs in a no-go zone classified as peat forest

High risk, if land clearing occurs in a no-go zone classified as peat (non-forested) or forest area (on mineral soil)

Moderate risk, if land clearing occurs in a no-go zone classified as mineral soil located in the protected peat ecosystem function.

Low risk, if the land clearing data verified by high-resolution satellite imagery is classified as a false positive or delayed response

Explore the Map to monitor the progress of the food estate program in the no-go zone area of the former Peatland Project (PLG), Central Kalimantan.