Working together to conserve the irreplaceable peat forests of Borneo
Borneo’s lush peat forests are home to many unique and imperiled species, from the flat-headed cat to the proboscis monkey.
Protecting these delicately balanced ecosystems amid growing demand for timber and other commodities is the focus of new Global Environment Facility support in West Kalimantan, a biodiversity-rich province on the Indonesian part of the island.
The Strengthened Systems for Community-based Conservation of Forests and Peatland Landscapes in Indonesia project, implemented by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, will support peatland conservation efforts nationally and in key landscapes, including two national parks: Gunung Palung and Danau Sentarum.
It will build on a series of past GEF-supported peatland initiatives in Indonesia, one of the most ecologically diverse countries on the planet.
This includes the Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems in Indonesia project, which led to the creation of new regulations, technical guides, an early warning system for peatland fires, and hundreds of canal blocks designed to boost groundwater levels, reduce fire risks, and increase agricultural productivity.
“With its unique financing, we value GEF support as a catalyst able to accelerate other environmental projects financed by national and local sources,” said Laksmi Dhewanthi, Indonesia’s Director General for Climate Change and the country’s Global Environment Facility Focal Point. “The benefits received, both by various stakeholders and for environment itself, will be multiplied.”
As holder of the 2022 G20 presidency, Indonesia is eager to work with the GEF and other partners to promote the sustainable management of peatlands and other fragile ecosystems, Dhewanthi told a webinar about a new Good Practice Brief on preservation work to date.
As well as havens for a vast array of plant and animal species, the world’s peatlands are critical sinks for greenhouse gases, storing more carbon than would be present in the atmosphere in the absence of industrialized humankind. When they are damaged, however, these wetlands stop storing carbon and become significant sources of emissions.
Approximately 46 million gigatons of carbon are locked away in Indonesia’s nearly 25 million hectares of peatlands, according to government figures. It is the largest ecosystem of its kind in the world.
Borneo’s peat forests offer a host of benefits beyond carbon sequestration. They help prevent fires and floods and are vital sources of food, water, and cultural and spiritual wellbeing to the communities around them. Many locals earn income from the sale of sago, agarwood, gambier, paperbark (gelam), and other peatland plants. Adjacent forests, meanwhile, harbor the last dwindling populations of iconic and endangered animal species: orangutans, tigers, sun bears, false gharials, and Storm’s storks among them.
And yet these habitats and all they offer are under threat from logging, agricultural conversion by small farmers and big private-sector plantations, fires, and drainage. Land use conversion has been spurred by rising demand for palm oil, timber, and paper, while catastrophic fires are increasingly common. In Sumatra and Kalimantan, some 13 million hectares of peatland forests have been lost or degraded in the past few decades alone.
Gunung Palung National Park, a 108,000-hectare protected area around the Gunung Palung and Gunung Panti mountains, is home to 2,500 Central Bornean orangutans, or roughly 14 percent of the population left in the wild. Other species roaming the area include sun bears, white-handed gibbons, proboscis monkeys, Sunda pangolins, and Horsfield’s tarsiers.
Danau Sentarum, or Sentarum Lake National Park, is a Ramsar site that encompasses 132,000 hectares of seasonal freshwater lakes, rivers, peat and freshwater swamp forests.
The park boasts 185 species of fish and more than 200 bird species, along with what is believed to be the biggest inland population of proboscis monkeys.
The latest GEF-supported, IFAD-managed project will work to improve park stewardship and to bring at least 800,000 hectares of forests and landscapes under more sustainable management.
The initial phase will focus on shoring up the institutional, legal, and regulatory framework for peatland and biodiversity conservation at both the national and local level. To bridge funding gaps for both ecosystem protection and community development, teams will seek to develop new financial instruments and national and provincial-level investment action plans. Work will also go into improved mapping, planning, and other assessment tools, to ensure conservation efforts target priority areas.
The initiative will involve multiple stakeholders throughout, particularly Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, women, youth, the private sector, and local government.
Since most of Indonesia’s peatlands are communally held, it is crucial to the project’s success that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are involved in both its design and its implementation. The project team will develop a plan to ensure informed consent is obtained from Indigenous populations and to guide proactive engagement efforts.
To increase community resilience and to encourage sustainable farming and livelihoods around peatlands, project teams will work with villagers to develop and pilot alternative, habitat-friendly models for earning an income.
Ivan Cossio Cortez, Head of IFAD’s South East Asia and the Pacific Sub-regional Office and Country Representative to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia, said such close cooperation with local communities had the potential to yield enormous benefits for both local communities and the ecosystems they inhabit.
“It is possible to sustainably manage peatlands while at the same time developing livelihoods in benefit of small farmers,” he told the GEF-organized webinar.
The initiative will also involve the private sector throughout. This is important given that large oil palm and timber producers are in a strong position to improve the management and protection of forests and peatlands within and adjacent to their plantations. The project team also anticipates partnership and co-finance from local governments, which are involved in the forest harvesting, production, and land management in the targeted areas.
The project will focus on raising awareness of the importance and benefits of peatland preservation among local communities and in supporting the sharing of knowledge and information about forest and peatland conservation and management approaches at the local and national levels. To ensure the benefits of this knowledge spread beyond the target zones, best practices will be shared regionally, through the ASEAN Programme on Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems.