The Forest Scribe

No Peat Restoration, Fire Prevention without Economic Benefits: Lesson Learned

Fire Prevention and Peat Restoration book
Hari Gunawan Deputy IV Research and Development, Peat Restoration Agency.

A participatory action research project on community-based fire prevention and peatland restoration in Riau, a peatland-rich province which has been suffering from massive annual forest and ground fires, has found that to obtain community supporting fire prevention and peatland restoration, a business model must be found that would guarantee them a sustainable livelihood while at the same time restore degraded peatland.

“Whatever we do, it there is no economic aspect to it, it will be hard,” Hari Gunawan, Deputy IV Research and Development at the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) said during the launch on Thursday (16/1) of the “Lesson Learned: Community-based Fire Prevention and Peatland Restoration” book published by  the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) .

Gunawan in a presentation during the book launch here, said that one of the challenge in getting public participation in peatland restoration was to find what economic benefit can be created for the local community from the peatland.

“The community must be able to feel the advantage, there should be a benefit,” he said.

From the various areas where peatland is being restored, there were a number of ways this benefit could be created. Besides planting various plants suitable for growing in peatland, such as pineapples, Meranti hardwood, liberica coffee, sago and hybrid palms, the restored peatland could also become sources of fishes or cash-bringing ecotourism destinations.

Herry Purnomo, A CIFOR scientist, lecturer at the Forestry Faculty of the Bogor Institute of Agriculture and lead of the participative action research project, said that in formulating a business model that works for the local community in fire prevention and peatland restoration, members of the community should be the one to decide on what tangible or intangible good or service could provide a sustainable source of livelihood from the peatland

“But the conservation aspect must also be recognized as an important value proposition,” Purnomo added. He also said that equally important was that there should be a clear cost-benefit sharing mechanism for the local community.

Gunawan also stressed the need for communities to be able to have good water management skills in the restoration of peatland, including in building blocking canals.

Daniel Mendham, principal researcher at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) speaking at a discussion during the book launch said that among the recommendation CSIRO had for the community level in order to enlist participation in fire prevention, was to support the change of livelihood systems that required less land clearing.

“Improved livelihood options are urgently needed that allow farmers to utilize the land effectively to return a good income,” he said.

Another finding, according to Mendham, is that in the areas researched, local communities were very well aware of a ban on the use of fire to clear land, have to a large extent stopped burning and they were happy to take responsibility for preventing fire.

However, in its recommendation, CSIRO also said that maintaining the ban on burning was critical until non-burning behavior becomes more autonomous and sustainable.

The research was conducted in 2018-2019 by CIFOR in cooperation with the Universitas Riau, CSIRO, Universitas Gadjah Mada and received funding support from the Temasek Foundation.

Read more from Bhimanto Suwastoyo.
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