Yulia Savitri, Palembang, South Sumatra – Haze from forest and bush fires has long been a major problem, not only for locals, but also for people in neighboring countries. However, there is good news from South Sumatra that a burning-free agriculture pilot project launched in 2017 has started to bear fruit.
Suka Makmur village head Hartono in Lalan district, Musi Banyuasin regency, South Sumatra, looked proudly at the crops grown in his village on pilot project farms known as demonstration plots (demplots), sponsored by the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG).
Suka Makmur was named one of the province's peatland recovery priority areas following the 2015 fires that burned forest and bush land in the village and other areas across Sumatra.
"We have harvested [various crops] in the last two years," said Hartono Wednesday, adding that Suka Makmur had two demonstration plots – one for horticulture and one for fruit.
As a peatland restoration priority area, he added, farmers in Suka Makmur received a series of trainings. The topics of the trainings included how to cultivate peatland without burning and decomposition techniques using homemade organic materials.
Farmers were also informed that peatland lacks nutritional elements, acidity and microorganisms, so they no longer burn land and have stopped using chemical fertilizers.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Arifianto, head of Sari Agung village, also in Lalan district, said farmers in his village had also stopped clearing land by burning. He said the farmers were previously unaware of the potential of their land, so only planted rice once a year.
"Now for their daily needs beyond rice, they sell commodities grown on demplots or from their own fields," Arifianto said Sunday, expressing gratitude for the BRG's supervision.
Another success story is Bumi Agung village, also in Lalan district. The village has also proved that peatland can be cultivated without burning, with its success being honored with a best village for peatland care award three years ago.
The village also had the chance to exhibit its unique product, pineapple crackers, in Oslo, last June. The ingredients for the crackers are harvested from the village's demplots.
Commenting on the success of the empowerment program in Lalan district, BRG's deputy head of education, socialization, participation and partnerships Myrna A. Safitri said it would take decades to restore damaged peatland.
Not enough time has passed for Indonesia's peatland to be restored, she said. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo launched the BRG's five-year work program in 2016. The program includes irrigating peatland, revegetation and revitalizing local economies.
Until present, BRG has restored 679,901 ha of land affected by fire from 2017 to 2018. Of this land, 102,092 ha is in South Sumatra.
"Hotspots still occur despite the ongoing restoration efforts because the restoration is done in stages," said Myrna, adding that hotspots had decreased by 80 to 90 percent in seven provinces in July.
South Sumatra is considered pivotal because it is home to 650,000 ha of damaged peatland following the 2015 fires.
With regard to the progress of restoration efforts in concession lands, Myrna said BRG was presently supervising four companies, with 29,049 ha or 24 percent of the target for the four companies having been restored between October 2018 and July 2019.
However, she said restoring damaged peatland in concession areas was challenging, as the responsibility for restoration lay in the concession holder's hands. Her side, she said, only supervised companies' restoration activities.
"But many of them misunderstand the BRG's supervision program," she said. (bbn)