Chapter 3.1 Conversion of peatland function

There is a prevalent perception that peat is useless. This belief explains why forests and peatlands are destroyed or drained, and subsequently held responsible as a major cause of forest and peatland fires. The peatland fire hazard, in turn, causes other peat ecosystems to be destroyed and dried out.

The conversion of peatland function causes degradation of peatlands. © WRI

Peatlands are often regarded as useless land that can be drained and converted. This assumption has been one of the major causes of peatland degradation and destruction, often resulting in land use changes from peatland to agriculture and plantations.

The destruction of tropical peat in Indonesia can be dated back to the 20th century, when the first peatland was opened in the Gambut district of South Kalimantan in 1920. Along with the widespread transmigration during the New Order era, peatlands were subjected to a ‘1 million hectare land project’ for the mega rice project in Central Kalimantan.

After President Suharto's political reign ended, peatlands were transformed into oil palm and acacia plantations. Between June and September 2014, a large number of licenses were issued to oil palm plantations and subsequently, 4.000 hectares of peatland were converted.