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IYF 2011: Peatland forests in Southeast Asia: Protecting a Key Resource to Achieve Multiple Benefits

Peatland forests in Southeast Asia:
Protecting a Key Resource to Achieve Multiple Benefits

Peatlands are wetland ecosystems where partially decomposed organic matter accumulates over many years to form carbon-rich soil, or “peat”. They play an important role in the biosphere, regulating the water and climate cycles, and helping in landscape stabilisation.

About 60% of the world’s tropical peatland resources are found in Southeast Asia. Peatlands in this region store around 45 Gt of carbon, and are of great significance for water resource management and provision of economic and community benefits. They are also habitats for rare and endangered fauna including the Bornean Orang-Utan, the Sumatran Tiger and the Sun Bear. Many rural people in South-East Asia, especially indigenous peoples, are dependent upon the ecosystem goods and services that peatland forests provide. Fishing in peatland “blackwater” rivers provides an important source of protein for local communities. The weaving of mats and baskets from sedges (grass-like plants) and the marketing of rattan are important livelihood activities.

Despite their importance, peatland forests of Southeast Asia are at risk from over-exploitation, clearance, drainage and fires. Large-scale land clearing and drainage often linked to agricultural development are the main causes of severe degradation. Peatlands are fragile ecosystems that become easily degraded from human activities - most forms of timber extraction from peat swamp forests, conversion to agriculture, development of infrastructure projects and other development activities on peatlands involve lowering the water table, that causes the peat to oxidize and further degrade, thus turning peatlands into net carbon emitters. Southeast Asian peatlands represent only 7% of the global peatland area; however, they are responsible for more than half of the total emissions from all peatlands in the world.

Fire is often used for land clearance, and under dry conditions, leads to extensive and persistent fires that are the main source of smoke haze in the region, with severe health, safety and socio-economic consequences. Transboundary smoke haze has been identified as one of the most severe environmental problems in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Region. This resulted in the adoption of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002 and the endorsement of the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy 2006-2020 (APMS).

It is precisely within the ASEAN strategy for peatlands that the innovative GEF project “Rehabilitation and Sustainable Use of Peatland Forests in South-East Asia” is acting, supporting directly the APMS and other regional environmental priorities. The project is implemented by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in partnership with ASEAN and the Global Environment Centre (GEC), a NGO based in Kuala Lumpur.

The project seeks to reverse the loss and degradation of peatland forests in Southeast Asian countries, avoiding negative impacts on society, economy, health, the environment and the global climate, through capacity building and sustainable peatland management practices. Six ASEAN countries are involved in the project (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam); two additional countries (Thailand and Myanmar) are collaborating.

Project activities started in 2009, using the trademark “ASEAN Peatland Forests Project” (APFP) to facilitate dissemination. The APFP has a strong focus on innovative initiatives (such as partnerships with private sector and new financing mechanisms), coupling them with sound institutional measures to ensure peatland forest conservation. The project is currently working in four main areas:

- Reducing the rate of peatland forest degradation in South-East Asian countries, through better control of peatland fires. This includes decreasing transboundary haze by developing and supporting effective prediction and warning tools for fire-prone peatlands at the regional level, and improving prevention and control mechanisms at the local level.

- Demonstrating integrated management and rehabilitation of peatlands at target sites, using a network of demonstration sites to showcase sustainable peatland management and rehabilitation options. Common strategies and master plans for entire peatland hydrological units are being prepared through a multi-stakeholder and integrated approach at selected demonstration sites.

- Engaging the private sector and local communities in sustainable peatland management. The project is engaging with high-impact sectors such as the oil palm community (through the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil and national palm oil associations) and the forest industry. Joint activities at selected pilot sites with the private sector and local communities are planned to involve community forest management and integrated farming practices.

- Finally, strengthening institutional capacity, inter-sectoral policy and planning frameworks for integrated peatland management, including support for the development and implementation of national action plans on peatlands. Capacity building activities include training and awareness programmes targeted at key sectoral agencies and institutions, and creating a core group of peatland experts in the region.

This regional GEF project is expected to result in multiple national and global benefits. By supporting national action plans on peatlands in the participating countries, and building their capacity in peatland management, degraded areas of peatlands will be rehabilitated, which in turn will increase carbon sequestration, decrease emissions from forest fires and destruction, help to improve local livelihoods and protect globally significant peat swamp forests and associated biodiversity.


Project details
Duration: 2009-2013
GEF grant: US$ 4,299,164 (committed)
Co-financing: US$ 10,207,457 (leveraged resources)
Contact People:Jesús Quintana, Forest Expert and RCES, LAC Div., IFAD, email:; Roshan Cooke, Environment and Climate Specialist, Asia Div., IFAD, email:
Summary and Documents: GEF PMIS # 2751 

As part of GEF's support to the International Year of Forest, every month we are publishing a story about a successful GEF project that is promoting sustainable forest management, and having positive impacts on forests, climate, biodiversity and local livelihoods.