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Building a new ‘boardwalk’ for peatland restoration monitoring in Indonesia

A wooden bridge to the PT Rimba peatland research area. CIFOR/Aulia Erlangga

“Peatlands are dynamic and diverse and the underlying causes of their degradation are as complex as the ecosystems themselves,” said Nazir Foead, head of Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG). He made these remarks at the fourth and final webinar in a series convened by BRG and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), which sought to explore and develop criteria and indicators for peatland restoration in Indonesia.

The country has pledged to restore over 2 million hectares of degraded peatlands in response to the U.N. Paris Agreement adopted as an effort to hold global warming in check. However, as Foead said in his keynote address, it is not a simple task. One possible solution to this complex endeavor is to measure progress through an appropriate, easy-to-use set of criteria and indicators that are locally relevant and internationally recognized.

Previous webinars in the series explored criteria and indicator approaches for biophysical, governance and socio-economic aspects of successful peatland restoration. In this last webinar, speakers and participants engaged in interactive and in-depth discussions on each of these elements to produce a synthesis of new insights and information exchanged throughout this exercise.

Following Foead’s keynote, three speakers offered perspectives on monitoring and assessment and development of locally-relevant criteria and indicators for Indonesia’s peatland restoration journey.

Budi Wardhana, BRG’s deputy head, emphasized the importance of adapting approaches to the local context. “Peatland restoration is not conducted in an empty landscape – there are people and activities are already there, and so we have to take into account the stakeholders and strategize accordingly,” he said.

Mark Reed, a professor at Scotland’s Rural College and key member of the U.N. Global Peatland Initiative, offered some words of caution, identifying “four things that could go wrong” while monitoring peatland restoration. These included over-reliance on single indicators, or one type of indicator; reporting indicators without contextual data; using indicators that are difficult to measure; and monitoring without local benefits.

“Local communities may be more interested in indicators that provide insights for changing management practices to protect livelihoods,” he said. “So we need to get them involved right at the start when we’re developing them. Some might only be relevant to one region, but they can make the difference as to whether you involve communities or not.”

CIFOR scientist Herry Purnomo gave a succinct top-level analysis of the purpose and structure of peatland monitoring efforts. He pointed out the importance of criteria and indicators for defining, understanding and sharing what good peatland restoration is; developing the concept further; assessing, measuring and monitoring progress; and communicating and reporting purposes. He also offered a list of key elements to consider during development.

Afterwards, participants took part in one of four concurrent sessions on the biophysical, economic, social and governance elements of peatland restoration.

Biophysical aspects

In the breakout session on biophysical aspects, the group identified a proposed principle – that peatlands must be wet and vegetated – as well as four criteria; indicators for each criterion; and verifiers for each indicator. Reed said: “Hydrological indicators are the most foundational, because of the way that they then drive climatic and biodiversity indicators.” Fire susceptibility was also identified by Muh Taufik of Indonesia’s national agriculture university, Institute Pertanian Bogor (IPB), as an immediate risk when peat hydrology is altered,

There was particularly deep discussion about how to make water table measurements meaningful. “It’s difficult to define the ‘normal’ water level and a relative indicator doesn’t say anything without something to compare it to,” said Hans Joosten, a leading peatlands expert and a professor at Germany’s Greifswald University. The group also explored the potential adaptability of criteria  such as water level, peat thickness, primary vegetation and sustainable commodities grown in the peatland area when working with communities – and the trade-offs in accuracy and reliability that this might invoke.

Economic aspects

In the session on economics, Wardhana presented an extensive review of environmental goods and services provided by peatlands. He suggested several potential criteria and indicators related to elements such as avoidance of environmental disaster and increased emissions; ecosystem service provision; and sustaining long-term growth.

Siti Hamidah, head of the study program on tropical forest products at Indonesia’s Lambung Mangkurat University, proposed various indices to determine status and progress on topics such as economic security, infrastructure, wellbeing, industry and dependency, which can be adapted to the existing Indonesian village development index.

Dharsono Hartono, chief executive of Indonesia-based carbon project development company PT Rimba Makmur Utama, highlighted the need for sensitivity about livelihood issues and reconciling restoration efforts with value addition of sustainable business development for local communities.

“[We] agreed that there should be heavier attention to community, and that we should also combine incentivizing the community with economic development,” summarized moderator and CIFOR research consultant Dyah Puspitaloka.

Social aspects

In the social aspects session, complexity was a key feature.

“We didn’t have a lot of answers, but very thought-provoking discussions,” said session moderator and CIFOR scientist Rupesh Bhomia. “This entangled nature when we talk about social issues in connection to peatland restoration, whether at local or national level, brings about numerous challenges, and it will require a lot of coming together and participatory approaches to address those complexities,” he said.

Josi Khatarina, who serves on the secretariat for the Terpercaya Initiative, which is spearheading jurisdictional approaches to protecting Indonesia’s peatlands, said: “At the very high level, community will be key, and equity will need to be rightly demonstrated.”

CIFOR senior associate Moira Moeliono noted that when it comes to criteria, it’s particularly important to look at social capital, and to develop indicators around elements such as gender equality, power sharing, social networking, connectivity and sustainability.

Yuti Ariani, a postdoctoral researcher at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, observed that it can also be challenging to get good data on social elements. “Many times these complex issues cannot be resolved because of a lack of data or access to collect that data,” she said. “So to have that data access and availability will be very important.”

Governance aspects

In the session on governance aspects, Diah Suradiredja, a senior policy advisor at Indonesia Biodiversity Trust Fund, emphasized the importance of participation, profitability and productivity in supply chains, as well as reducing social conflicts and protecting human rights, including Indigenous land rights.

Hasbi Berliani, a program manager in Sustainable Development Governance at the Partnership for Governance Reform, also highlighted participation, transparency, stakeholder access to information, and accountability of government and other agencies as critical, and proposed a number of indicators to that end.

Dwi Rahmad Muhtaman, chief executive of sustainability consultancy Re-mark Asia Group, suggested indicators for the principle of participation, including recognizing local rights, customs and culture; acknowledging special relationships between stakeholders and site; and facilitating stakeholder agreement on all steps of the restoration process.

Marcel Silvius, Indonesia’s Country Representative for the Global Green Growth Institute, reinforced the point that: “Land tenure is key to maintaining the governance aspect of restoration,” as is “understanding that restoration means different things for different people,” and that cost-effectiveness for stakeholders is particularly important.

A final keynote speech from Haris Gunawan, deputy of Research and Development at BRG. Gunawan offered congratulations on the progress made during last few months.

Given the progressive and dynamic nature of effective restoration monitoring processes: “we will need to continue our collaboration and discussion, to keep developing more robust criteria and indicators for tropical peatland restoration into the future,” he said.

Going forward, a set of criteria and indicators will be formulated based on the discussions and information exchange. These will be tested and verified on the ground in 2021 before their wider adoption and implementation.

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