Peat regulation (update 5): 40cm minimum water level rule to be adjusted for 1.7 million peatlands with palm and eucalyptus

10 January 2015: 40cm minimum water level rule to be adjusted for 1.7 million peatlands with palm and eucalyptus

Govt to mend peatland ruling amid protests Tama Salim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Business | Wed, December 31 2014, 1:36 PM; The government will revise the government’s newly issued regulation on the protection and management of peatland amid growing protests from the business community, which said that the new ruling hurt plantation activities. Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has confirmed that the state will revise Government Regulation No. 71/2014 on the protection and management of peatland, which would be implemented in May 2015 to replace the outdated Law No. 31/2009 on environmental protection and conservation. Siti said that the government would consider the demands of the business community, which heavily criticized the rule for being unaccommodating to most commercial interests. The regulation stipulates that the minimum water level in peatland must be maintained at 40 centimeters. Water levels in the country’s 1.7 million peatlands are mostly below the required level to grow oil palm and eucalyptus trees.

11 December 2014: Commentary on Jokowi's call for ecosystem approach and concern about monoculture

RSIS Commentary No. 243/2014 dated 9 December 2014 - Haze Pollution and Peatlands: Can ASEAN Finally Breathe Easy? By Raman Letchumanan; Synopsis: President Jokowi’s visit to Riau Province recently and his comments on fires and smoke haze have raised hopes across the region. But the mere act of blocking canals on peatlands is, but one, of many interrelated and multifaceted issues he has to tackle.... "THE PEOPLE of ASEAN have been enduring choking haze - primarily smoke from wild fires - for the past two decades. Despite numerous efforts, promises, and actions, the haze pollution has only gotten worse. However, the publicity surrounding newly-elected Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s recent visit to Riau Province, where most of the transboundary haze originates, hopefully points to a change for the better.... The President said: “For the past 17 years, forest fires are due to the practice of negligence and complacency. This is simply just an issue of whether we want to or not, whether we intend to or not … to solve the problem.” But if it was that simple, why were his predecessors not able to pull it off?..........Peatlands are the least understood, unrecognised, and the first to be exploited among all of the natural ecosystems. But it is the most damaging as far as fires and haze are concerned. Peatlands contribute about 90% of the haze, therefore reducing peatland fires will substantially reduce or even eliminate transboundary haze pollution. The ASEAN region has about 25 million hectares of tropical peatlands, about 60% of the world total...........President Jokowi’s visit to Riau included a personal demonstration of canal blocking to a crowd of local people. Canal blocking is done to rewet the peatlands to make them less prone to fires. But what comes to mind is who built the canals in the first place. The abandoned maze of well-planned deep canals suggest that they must have been the work of deep-pocket investors carried out with heavy machinery. But no one was made responsible to block the canals after they had left............It is refreshing to hear President Jokowi frequently mention the ecosystem approach and his concern for widespread monoculture – dependence on a single species of commercial value - during the visit. Being trained in forestry, he knows what he is talking about, and that his symbolic act of canal blocking is not going to solve the problem....While the people of ASEAN may have to hold their breath a while longer, things are moving in the right direction in Indonesia as far as addressing forest fires and smoke haze is concerned....

10 December 2014: Jokowi orders review of licenses of all plantations on peatland; Read here:

11 November 2014

There was a fascinating presentation by Faisal Parish (a key consultant at Asean on peat and also active at the RSPO) at OFIC 2014 conference organised by MOSTA. He reminds us of key statistics and issues: a) just over 20 percent of all oil palm is estimated to be planted on peat; b) peat is a wetland zone; c) 50-70 cm water level can better be maintained with numerous weirs; d) he attributes many peat fires to oil palm (contrary to much recent research analysis of remote sensing imagery by even the technical NGOs?) as drainage and/or subsidence will impact 1-2km from the edge of an estate, thus nearby fires are associated with adjacent estates and e) the latest RSPO rules only allow replanting on peat if a 40-year geomorphology forecast shows that water table maintenance is not compromised (there is concern of significant peat compression resulting in loss of drainage control). 

It will be useful to get other perspectives on this key enviro policy issue. Clearly, the new RSPO rule will eventually be impactful on peat regions. The views about peat dome collapses and images of man-height subsidence sent a stark warning to the audience. There are clearly some strong worries about the viability of replanting out there. Together with Compensation Liability this sets stiff new policies for oil palm.

Thanks to a reader, the following details: 
...with regards to peat in the Malaysia National Interpretation of RSO P&C 2014, note that companies need to do drainability assessment prior to replanting on peat.
4.3.4 Subsidence of peat soils shall be minimised and monitored. A documented water and ground cover management programme shall be in place.
Major Compliance
4.3.5 Drainability assessments where necessary will be conducted prior to replanting on peat to determine the long-term viability of the necessary drainage for oil palm growing.
Minor Compliance
For 4.3.4: For existing plantings on peat, the water table should be maintained at an annual average of 50cm (between 40 - 60cm) below ground surface measured with groundwater piezometer readings, or an annual average of 60cm (between 50 -70cm) below ground surface as measured in water collection drains, through a network of appropriate water control structures e.g. weirs, sandbags, etc. in fields, and water gates at the discharge points of main drains (Criteria 4.4 and 7.4).
For 4.3.5: Where drainability assessments have identified areas unsuitable for oil palm replanting, plans should be in place for appropriate rehabilitation or alternative use of such areas. If the assessment indicates high risk of serious flooding and/or salt water intrusion within two crop cycles, growers and planters should consider ceasing replanting and implementing rehabilitation.

2 November 2014

Last week, on the sidelines of MPOC POTS KL conference, we caught up with the Dr Lulie Melling of the Tropical Peat Research Laboratory, Sarawak. Some citations here: She has shared with us the following graphic for peat land management:
source: Dr Lulie Melling

It is notable that she has found that the compaction of peat land will significantly improve production and environmental impacts. As for the water level, 60cm is suggested. 40cm would wet the roots of the oil palm and be unsuitable.

7 October 2014

The provenance of the new peat regulation is thought to be peatland and other ngos to the Ministry of Environment.

6 October 2014

Khor Reports: Just a few weeks ago, we were discussing with a Singapore think tank, why there should be more attention on peatland rehabilitation (and not just on fire blame making). Interestingly, new regultations for 40cm minimum water level was just put in place. Industry was apparently not consulted. They point out that this level is incompatible with planting oil palm and eucalyptus - 40 cm would submerge their roots.IPB / Bogor Institute of Agri expert says that developed peatland areas should be managed by ecohydro technology. Will keep an eye on this topic.

Peatland rule sparks protests by Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Business | Mon, October 06 2014, 10:35 AM; "Palm oil and forestry-based industries strongly protested the newly issued government regulation on peatland protection and management, saying that it would hurt investment in oil palm plantations totaling Rp 136 trillion (US$11.17 billion) and 340,000 workers in the plantation sector.... Indonesian Palm Oil Producer Association (Gapki) and Pulp and Paper Producers Association said during a roundtable discussion organized by Indonesian Journalists Association (PJI) in Jakarta on Friday that the government regulation should be annulled or revised.
The association claimed that the regulation was formulated and signed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently without any discussion with relevant stakeholders. The regulation stipulates that the minimum water level in peatland must be maintained at 40 centimeters. Peatland where the water level is below 40 cm will be categorized as damaged and will have to undergo rehabilitation.... Water levels in the country’s 1.7 million peatlands are mostly below the required level to grow oil palm and eucalyptus trees. Therefore, most peatland areas accommodating oil palm plantations will have to be rehabilitated. According to the association, if water levels surpass 40 cm, oil palm and eucalyptus trees will be unable to grow due as their roots will be submerged in water.... The regulation would affect not only oil palm plantations but also the hundreds of thousands of workers, he said, adding that the new regulation would certainly affect planned investment in new oil palm plantations, mostly located in peatland areas in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua.... Pulp and Paper Producers Association deputy chairman Rusli concurred and said the new regulation would hit five pulp sawmills and cause the layoff of hundreds of thousands of workers and farmers in the industrial forestry subsector. “We fear that the new government regulation has been issued at the order of Indonesian pulp and paper producers’ competitors overseas and it is part of their global campaign to fight against Indonesian pulp and paper producers and the country’s booming palm oil production.... Basuki Sumawinata, land expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), said the downgraded peatland areas should not be rehabilitated but should be managed by applying ecohydro technology for peatland..."

Other postings on Indonesia peat fires and related matters