Indonesia’s peatlands, the second largest in the world, often face challenges that threaten their sustainability, including forest and land fires resulting from the El Niño phenomenon and land clearing by burning.
In turn, the government has made it a priority to deal with forest and land fire disasters on peatland, as the fires have implications for various aspects of life in the ecosystem, especially the welfare of peat communities.
Various efforts have involved stakeholders, ministries/institutions, civil servants, universities and local communities in mitigating and managing fire disasters on peatlands.
In 2016, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo formed the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), which is now known as the Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency (BRGM), to accelerate peat restoration in seven priority provinces and mangrove rehabilitation in nine priority provinces until 2024, in accordance with Presidential Decree No. 120/2020.
South Kalimantan is one of the provinces included in the BRGM peat priority provinces. This year’s El Niño phenomenon, or the long dry season, is one of the major causes of rising forest and land fires in the province. Based on Sipongi data, the recorded fire area has reached 138,865 hectares to date.
Efforts to mitigate and deal with fire disasters include monitoring the water level in peatlands through the Water Level Monitoring Tool (APTMA), which is directly connected to the SIPALAGA website. BRGM also routinely involves Fire Care Communities in carrying out Drought Prone Peatland Wetting Operations (OPGRK) and Rapid Wetting Operations on Burnt Peatlands (OPCLGT) so that fires do not cause wider damage.
In addition, the BRGM collaborated with the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) and the Environment and Forestry Ministry on weather modification technology through artificial rain engineering last July.
Head of the Kalimantan and Papua Peatland Restoration Working Group, Jany Tri Raharjo, said peatland restoration activities had to be carried out in a sustainable manner, which in turn required synergy from various parties.
“In South Kalimantan as of 2017, the BRGM has carried out peat restoration covering an area of 17,451 ha through wetting activities with the construction of 629 shallow drilled wells, one deep drilled well, 151 canal blocks, revegetation activities covering an area of 42 hectares and the provision of as many as 51 economic revitalization packages,” he explained.
In implementing peat restoration, the BRGM involves the community in restoring the environment as well as improving community welfare. Communities living in peat areas are given an education and outreach approach through the Peat Farmer Field School (SLPG) on peatland management without burning.
The Pulau Besar community group (Pokmas) is one of the 2020 SLPG participants in Batumandi village where after gaining knowledge through Field School activities, the group shared their knowledge with the surrounding community to manage and maintain the peat ecosystem so that it remained sustainable.
Interestingly, the community group is also able to produce a variety of products such as honey, butterfly pea flowers and chips.
Pokmas Pulau Besar is currently developing the potential of honey as the main source of income. Even though the average monthly income in the region is Rp 3 million, there are still obstacles that need to be overcome, such as the lack of public interest in local honey as well as challenges in marketing processed peatland products.
Chair of Pokmas Pulau Besar, Indra Maja, explained that the main focus in peatland management was honey production, with a sales volume of up to 10 liters per month. However, the people of South Kalimantan are less interested in local honey largely because of the availability of forest honey around them, which demonstrates the need for a more effective approach to increase public awareness of local honey benefits.
Apart from honey, Pokmas Pulau Besar also offers other processed peatland products such as butterfly pea flower tea and chips. Though the two products provide additional income of up to Rp 1 million every month, the community group still faces obstacles related to sales. Butterfly flower tea requires a special approach to expand its market, while the chips face massive production constraints to meet demand.
“We are not only trying to conserve the peatlands but also empower the surrounding community. We hold training on sustainable peatland management, and we share knowledge on the importance of preserving this ecosystem with the community,” said Indra.
Even though it has produced products of very good quality, the community group still faces issues in achieving a wider market share, mainly in marketing its products.
To overcome this challenge, Pokmas Pulau Besar stands to gain from developing a holistic development strategy, such as strengthening online marketing campaigns by utilizing social media to increase public awareness about the benefits of local honey and processed peatland products.
In addition, efforts can be focused on product innovation, such as creating new variants of butterfly pea flower tea or packaging honey in attractive packaging to increase consumer appeal.
Management of honey and processed peat products in South Kalimantan is not only about generating income but also about preserving the peatland environment and building public awareness of its potential. Indra expressed his hope that the program implemented by the BRGM could continue, with more people starting to understand and increase awareness of managing peatland without burning, and would be able to manage peatland agricultural products into processed products.