Tuesday | May 6th     13:00 - 14:30

Toward the regeneration of tropical peatland societies: Establishment of an international research network and proposal for its future

Hosted by Research Institute for Humanity and Nature & Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan

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This project focuses on global environmental issues relating to tropical peatland that are now causing serious fires and haze problems across Indonesia, especially in Sumatra. Tropical peat swamp forest is a fragile ecological system and a reservoir of huge amounts of carbon and water in global terms. Tropical peat swamp forest is a type of tropical forest that is at risk of disappearing and being destructed by large-scale development. The purpose of this research project is to offer perspectives for the ‘futurability’ of tropical peatland society by discussing and implementing appropriate methods to conserve and use the peat swamp in designated areas. We examine the ecological and social characteristics of particular areas and local peoples, and reflect such information in the proposal.

Natural tropical forest in Southeast Asia has been destroyed because forest resources have been excessively exploited for commercial logging to earn foreign currency and converted to agricultural land. However, tropical peat swamp forest had been largely free from exploitation and destruction because of its unique characteristics such as its submerged forest floor. Tropical peat swamp has high biodiversity and has played an important role in preserving rare species. However, the recent development of timber plantations and oil palm estates has dramatically changed the environment for tropical peat swamp forests. In particular, drainage to make way for  timber plantation has lowered the water table and resulted in the drying out of peat soils. This has caused the discharge of huge amounts of carbon dioxide by activating microbial decomposition and burning. The frequent peatland fires have lead to international friction as they pose a health hazard to people in neighboring countries and to local people.

The aims of this study are

  • to clarify the ecological characteristics and material cycles in tropical peat swamp areas. We focus on the material cycles in soil and water, biomass and reforestation, and biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
  • to clarify the social and cultural characteristics and to suggest social frameworks for peatland conservation that consider the conflicts of interests between local people and companies, and between conservation and development.

For the vast areas of degraded dried peatland that are now sources of frequent fires, we proposed a reforestation program by local people of rewetting dried peatland and planting indigenous fast-growing tree species. We design peatland rehabilitation and conservation processes that reflect local conditions based on scientific research and explore the organizations that will help local people to implement rehabilitation programs, in collaboration with other stakeholders.

We will explore and practice feasible solutions that satisfy the motivations of all stakeholders – survival strategy (villagers), profit making (companies) and conservation (government and NGOs) – in a balanced fashion by collaborating with local people.

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