Toward the Regeneration of Tropical Peatland Societies: Transformability of Environmentally Vulnerable Societies and Establishment of an International Research Network

Toward the Regeneration of Tropical Peatland Societies: Transformability of Environmentally Vulnerable Societies and Establishment of an International Research Network

The Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), Kyoto University
MIZUNO, Kosuke Peat Swamp Group

A simple dam built together with residents

In tropical peatlands extending throughout Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, swamp forests under submerged conditions are maintained, and it is estimated that accumulation plant residue make up about 20 percent of the entire Earth’s soil carbon. Tropical peat wetlands have long hindered intensive use of the land by human beings. However, since the 1990s, the development of plantations has progressed rapidly with the large-scale drainage of wetlands and the planting of acacia and oil palms. Furthermore, along with this expansion, immigrants have moved into peatland areas and developed the land for human habitation. Carbon dioxide is discharged from peatlands as a result of draining and then settles. Because dried peatland is extremely flammable, peat fires occur frequently during the dry season every year. As a result, large-scale fires and smoke damage are becoming more extensive and severe at an accelerating rate. From July to November 2015, peat fires broke out frequently over an especially wide region, causing damage to 2.1 million hectares of land (about one-fourth the size of Hokkaido). More than 500,000 people were diagnosed with upper respiratory tract infection from this episode, and it was a major issue even in neighboring countries. Massive emission of carbon dioxide due to fires is becoming an urgent global environmental issue.

 In response to these challenges, we are working together with various peatland management-related stakeholders, such as local residents, municipalities, Riau University, and the Indonesia Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG) to prevent peat fires and smoke damage in the country. For programs carried out at the national, provincial, and local levels, we contributed with the development of paludiculture models for actual problem-solving, presented measures for tackling problems by leveraging the roles of markets and communities, and showed ways of adaptability and transformability in response to environmental vulnerabilities. We also presented a sustainable development method to preserve environmental harmony in Indonesia, including actively participating in the peatland oil palms cultivation debate and showing a direction for industrialization. The BRG is conducting field research on the Meranti Islands in Riau Province, which it selected as a field research model area. It is expected that research findings from this effort will be applied to all of Indonesia. We are also studying the application of these efforts to Malaysia and other countries and regions. In order to achieve this goal, we have formed the following teams.

Deserted tropical peat. Although it is a national forest, forests have already been lost. A sign is displayed in vain, fruitlessly warning that setting fire near the national forest is prohibited and that those who start fires will be severely punished.

(1) Communal Society, Business, Governance, and Economic Development Team:

 This team conducts research related to: actions and strategies concerning peatland management and peatland fire prevention by local residents and companies; communities with differences due to native villages and immigrant villages and diversity in land rights for constructing paludiculture models; environmental finance and certification systems to contribute to the phasing out of businesses’ monoculture activities; and preliminary surveys for research comparing the history of peat development and governance in different countries.

(2) Material Cycle and Trans-Border Atmospheric Pollution Team:

This team conducts field research on the impact of changes from forests to fire-damaged areas and grasslands on flora and fauna and material cycles such as the carbon cycle in Southeast Asian regions undergoing rapid changes from tropic peatland forests to dried peatland areas (plantations, wastelands) due to the population growth and immigrant inflow. This team has also begun surveys on the emission of greenhouse gases and air pollution particles caused by smoke from frequently occurring peat fires. We are also conducting epidemiological surveys on respiratory health, with a focus on elementary school students living in areas where fires frequently originate.

(3) Ecological Resilience/International Hub Team:

 This team conducts a survey comparing ecological resilience in villages in Kalimantan, where livelihoods differ; creates a land use map and seeking to understand damages due to peat fires; signs memorandums of understanding to conduct international comparative research on peatland management and examines methods for this research; develops indices for evaluating adaptive peatland management; and carries out an international comparison of the transformability of environmentally vulnerable societies and sustainable development for environmental harmony in resource-rich countries.