This study assessed critical aspects in the governance of peatland restoration in South Sumatra and its possible impacts.

Key Findings

Although a few peatland restoration projects had been initiated in South Sumatra since 2001, they were small compared to the extent of peatland that was converted to concession areas between 2003 and 2010. The restoration activities during the 2000s were conducted by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and a government research institute in a few villages in two regencies, but the implementation was fragmented among different projects, actors, and designs and thus had low impact. Between 2003 and 2010, 320,000 ha of burned peatland was converted to oil palm plantations, and 12 logging concessions were established on 485,552 ha of peatland (KLHK 2018; Koh et al. 2011). This land conversion involved drainage activities that contributed to the continuing degradation of peatlands and increased their vulnerability to fires. In 2006–08, fires occurred on 301,454 ha of peatland. In 2011, the GoI issued a moratorium for business permits on peatland.

However, the moratorium was not fully implemented, and during the 2015 El Niño, fires recurred on between 117,367 and 144,410 ha of peatland in the province. This shows a high political vulnerability that contributed to recurrent material vulnerabilities.

In 2016, the government targeted 656,884 ha of peatland in South Sumatra for restoration by 2020, mostly located in concession areas. This target is part of the national peatland restoration program by the GoI. This program is facilitated by the KLHK and the BRG. Peatland restoration activities in concession areas are governed by the KLHK and concession holders; activities in nonconcession areas are managed by the BRG and provincial governments.

The authors found that peatland restoration projects that adapted a few risk governance principles increased significantly between 2016 and 2019. This is largely thanks to the national peatland restoration program, which improved policymakers’ understanding of fire risk and the vulnerability of degraded peatlands. The GoI found that drainage activities further degraded peatlands, making them prone to fires and in need of restoration. The national restoration program brought more resources. The national and provincial government worked with NGOs, communities, and concession holders to conduct a risk assessment and evaluation to help them plan restoration activities over wider areas.

However, some critical issues were found in the governance of peatland restoration, particularly in 2017–18. These issues are considered political vulnerabilities in the practice of peatland restoration in the province, and they contributed to material vulnerability during the 2019 El Niño year. Interactions and feedback among the stakeholders involved in those issues are set out in Figure ES-1.

First, the effectiveness of restoration planning and implementation was impacted by a lack of both accurate risk assessment and effective communication among peatland restoration stakeholders. A detailed risk assessment is required to understand the priorities and location for peatland restoration, and accurate, updated peatland data is imperative. Unfortunately, South Sumatra lacked such data in 2017. This issue seriously affected the overall result of restoration activities and was exacerbated by different perceptions and poor communication between the BRG and provincial governments. This hampered the implementation of more than 5,000 restoration activities in 2017. In 2018, although the peat data accuracy was addressed, necessary restoration activities did not occur in some peat areas. Also, a lack of standard enforcement in implementation led to technological issues and mistargeted aid. By the end of 2018, peatland restoration implementation in nonconcession areas achieved about 10 percent of the provincial target.

Second, restoration progress has been slow in concession areas due to excessive bureaucracy, and peatland continues to be converted to concessions. Restoration in concession areas requires concession holders to go through a lengthy process with the KLHK. Although the BRG had provided technical assistance about restoration to concession holders, it was not enough to speed up the progress of restoration because implementation relies on approval by the KLHK. Besides, there was lack of substantial integration between the BRG’s role in providing technical assistance and the KLHK’s authority to approve concession holders’ restoration plans. As of 2018, the KLHK had yet to approve any official restoration plans for concession holders in South Sumatra; nonetheless, some concession holders were moving ahead with restoration activities. Meanwhile, between 2015 and 2018, other concession holders continued to convert peatland (78,607 ha/year) to oil palm plantations (YMB 2020) despite the moratorium policy on peatland conversion. Weak enforcement of the moratorium policy contributed to continued peatland conversion. This sustained the drivers of peatland degradation in the province.

Third, there was a lack of collective action for conducting landscape restoration that covers concession and nonconcession areas. This was caused by the absence of any substantial coordination among peatland restoration stakeholders to plan and implement an integrated restoration in the same landscape/PHU. Integration between restoration in villages and concession areas was also lacking. This might have been caused by the structure of the institutional arrangement, which divided restoration responsibility between concession and nonconcession areas, in different organizations, without a proper coordination mechanism.

Those three governance issues are considered political vulnerabilities where policymakers and stakeholders have yet to deal with the complexity of restoration governance. Overall, these issues have contributed to low target achievement and poor implementation of restoration. They reduced the effectiveness of the restoration program and led to unintended impacts during the El Niño year. During the El Niño, the dry season was three to four months longer, and it made unrestored peatlands more prone to wildfires. These situations brought material vulnerability.

These political vulnerabilities resulted in greater peatland fires during the 2019 El Niño. Between 139,084 and 174,341 ha of peatland burned, emitting 0.049–0.062 GtC (KLHK 2020; UMD n.d.). About 70 percent of fires occurred in new areas. Seventy-six percent of these newly burned peatlands were found in concession areas that included new concessions converted in 2015–18. Another 30 percent were located in areas that also burned in 2015–18. These burned areas included some areas where restoration activities were planned and/or implemented.

These findings suggest that peatland conversion to concessions must cease, restoration in concession areas must be accelerated, and governance must be improved to increase the impact of restoration efforts. Some improvements have been made. In 2018–19, with an NGO consortium consisting of World Resources Institute Indonesia, World Agroforestry, and Wetlands International Indonesia, the BRG arranged detailed annual restoration plans for 14 PHUs in South Sumatra. These plans include stakeholder analysis in the PHUs. This helped to more accurately implement restoration in the province in 2019. In addition, the BRG and its partners also established an online monitoring platform to measure the progress of restoration activities and evaluate their impacts. These actions have adapted more aspects within the risk governance framework.

Executive Summary

  • Peatland restoration is fundamental to prevent the risk of wildfires on degraded peatland. Governance plays a key role in supporting the effectiveness of peatland restoration.
  • This study assessed critical aspects of the governance of peatland restoration in South Sumatra, Indonesia, from 2001 to 2019, using vulnerabilities and risk governance frameworks.
  • Compared to the 2001–15 period, the number of peatland restoration projects increased in 2016–19, and some risk governance principles are in place.
  • Nonetheless, some governance issues still exist in those peatland restoration projects, including uncertainties over data, lack of substantial coordination across stakeholders, excessive bureaucracy, and disintegrated restoration planning and implementation. These issues, which contribute to the quality and quantity of restoration projects, affect the outcomes of such projects, including their ability to prevent fires.
  • Based on such findings, we suggest the adoption of a more detailed risk governance framework that involves understanding stakeholders’ risk perceptions, establishing collective institutional arrangements, conducting a detailed risk assessment and evaluation for planning integrated restoration activities, implementing integrated landscape restoration, and monitoring and evaluating results.