Canal blocking Sebangau @WWF Indonesia


44 million ha of peatland exist globally, Indonesia has half of that. The condition of peatland in Indonesia is alarming. Only around 25% remain in good condition in Sumatra, 45% in Kalimantan and 75% in Papua.

The protection and restoration of peatlands is vital in the transition towards a low-carbon, climate resilient and circular economy. Good peatland management helps to preserve the largest natural terrestrial carbon store, maintains biodiversity and the water cycle and preserves key habitats.

This project covers an area of 2 million hectares and works on peatland restoration and halting forest fires in 4 model regions, covering land with different land ownership. 

The project developed a model for rewetting of peatland, reforestation and maintaining biodiversity. Concretely, this included canal blocking to increase the water table (see images); planting trees on severely degraded land; strengthening community fire prevention capacity and providing technical support and equipment to fight fires. 

In all model regions it was key that government, companies and the community work together as partners.

There is now increased awareness that community, companies and government cannot tackle this challenge alone, but need to work collaboratively for effective measures on peatland management, restoration and fire prevention.

Lessons and success factors

Involve local people

  • Understand the context and tenure of an area first - understand the interests of people in the area and the legal framework and policies that govern the land
  • In this project working with the communities from the start was a key success factor - Free Prior Informed Consent
  • It is important that there is enhanced public understanding - not only by local people but also by people in the wider area
  • The way of protecting an area is via a mix of measures between maintaining the ecosystem, protecting biodiversity and also allowing access to the community for livelihood. 
  • There is often not enough government staff and budget to protect an area like a national park. In our context it requires cooperation of the communities to protect the areas.
  • An organisation like WWF can help to facilitate between the different actors (companies, government, communities and external entities) in order to help improvement of peatland protection in a certain region.
  • Upskill people on what they can do to prevent forest fires and how to manage/restore peatland. In our context it is important to understand the hydrological system

Plan for the long term

  • Getting buy in of the stakeholders who own the land
  • Mapping the area that needs rewetting to calculate the need for dams to be installed
  • Good planning for the revegetation process 
  • Planning the finances long term -  maintenance and monitoring cost for at least 3-5 years
  • In the case of community’s land it is important to calculate a livelihood effect of the activities. 
  • Detailed design of peat restoration needs to be done prior to the implementation along with assessment to mitigate obstacles and to increase the acceptance of stakeholders, mainly local indigenous people
  • A solid and implementable design and organization of the project needs to be promoted to the potential sources of funding: government, privates and charity based sources. 
  • Institutionalization of the project with key stakeholders is important for long term sustainability
  • Go step by step,  be transparent about the governance of the project and monitor/adapt

Shift the mindset

From "I only manage my own area" towards collaborating for a common interest (and averting a common threat)

Overcoming challenges

It is important that local stakeholders are aware of the local and global impacts - particularly in the face of climate change: 

Dry seasons get more severe with climate change. When peat is exposed to heat it can easily trigger a fire. When the fire occurs its haze affects the health of people & children cannot go to school. Even on road transportation is not possible, affecting the economy.The peat fires from August to October 2015 cost Indonesia USD16 billion (World Bank). It led to a breakdown in transport, created major health issues, led to biodiversity loss and major GHG emissions.The population had less access to water for cooking/washing/ for extinguishing fires. 

We created awareness in the local population on the impacts described  and empowered them to take action. We also promoted the advantages of collaboration regardless of tenure.