Mismanaged peatlands

Ex-Mega Rice project

Major land development projects have been commenced either without independent environmental impact assessment or a proper understanding of the tropical peatland ecosystem. Likely of the largest single peat development projects in SE Asia has been the Million-Hectare Mega Rice Project (MRP) ― an ambitious attempt aiming to convert massive tropical peatland area into rice fields in Central Kalimantan. The MRP-project was run 1995 – 1999, and it was stopped because continuous rice cultivation proved to be impossible in 90% of the planned work area. At present the ex-MRP affected area covering about 1.5 Mha is almost a treeless and non-productive wound in vast peat-covered landscape; a legacy of over 4600 km long network of malfunctioning drainage- and irrigation canals, peat subsiding and releasing carbon from oxidising peat as greenhouse gases and in particular and dissolved form to drainage systems, and leaving an endangered terrain susceptible to outbreaks of large-scale fires (Page et al. 2009a, 2009b; Jauhiainen et al. 2008, 2012b; Jauhiainen & Silvennoinen 2012; Hoscilo et al. 2011; Rizema et al. 2014).

Abandoned area after 2 years since the last fire in Ex-MRP Block-C in Central Kalimantan (Photo: J. Jauhainen, 2004) .

Abandoned area after 2 years since the last fire in Ex-MRP Block-C in Central Kalimantan (Photo: J. Jauhainen, 2004) .

Almost 80% of the MRP area was damaged severely by extensive fires during the very long dry season associated with the 1997/98 ENSO event. This resulted in further degradation of the remaining forest and significant loss of carbon as a result of combustion of both aboveground biomass and peat. Extensive fires during 1997/1998, promoted in large degree by land clearance practices, resulted in the burning of over one million hectares of peat swamp forest and underlying peat (Page et al. 2002). Smoke from the fires shrouded many towns and exposed 20 million people across Southeast Asia to harmful smoke-borne pollutants for months. According to the government of Indonesia, total losses because of forest fires reached USD 9.3 billion in year 1997. Again, year 2001 (and later-on) hundreds of hot spots have emerged in drainage affected peatlands, and severe haze has covered parts of Borneo and surrounding areas nearly annually. With burning vegetation, also peat allocated nutrient pool and seed-bank may be lost in fires, and thus the potential for forest vegetation re-establishment and/or area suitability for agriculture are seriously endangered (Hoscilo et al. 2011).

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The Government of Indonesia has recognized the damage caused in this area and started, assisted by international projects, to restore and rehabilitate the area. Actions have been taken but the progress, in addition to demonstration plots and scientific study plots made at field, has been slow.

Key words in finnish: tropiikki, troopiset suot, suo, eroosio, hiilidioksidi, ilmastomuutos, tulipalo, palo, päästöt, savusumu, köyhyys, Indonesia

Further information will be provided by Jyrki Jauhiainen and Harri Vasander