Peatland : Turn it into Oil Palm Plantations or Just Let it be Shrubs?

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After forest and land fires in Indonesia, peatlands have become a concern of the government. Although forest fires occurred broader than peatland fires, the government sees the need to revamp the management of peatland utilization in the future.

peatland
Source: Ekonomi Bisnis

In Indonesia, the peatland area is about 14.9 million hectares. According to Wet International, almost 90 percent of Indonesia’s peatland is classified as degraded peatland which have higher emissions than the untouched forest peat. So far, many of the peatlands are left to be shrubs, so they do not provide optimal benefits both in terms of ecological and economic aspects.

According to the Agricultural Research and Development Agency in 2008, the area of shallow peat (depth of less than 3 meters) suitable for agricultural cultivation is ​​about 6 million hectares. The area of ​​peat that has been used for agriculture including new plantations is estimated about 4 million hectares or about 26 percent of Indonesia’s peatlands. This is still far below the world average where nearly 80 percent of the 370 million hectares of peat are already being used for agriculture and other uses.

The utilization of peatlands for oil palm plantations is nothing new. The first generation palm plantations in Indonesia built about 100 years ago on the eastern coast of North Sumatra and Aceh, are partly oil palm plantations cultivated on peatlands. In Malaysia, the Serawak region also has about 1.3 million hectares of oil palm plantations on the peatlands. Although both experienced the El Nino season, a well-maintained palm plantation on peatland on the east coast of North Sumatra and Aceh and those in Sarawak did not suffer from land fires. In fact, peatlands in Riau, South Sumatera, Jambi and Kalimantan, are not all burnt.

Peatlands utilization, especially secondary peat forest, for oil palm plantations with a sustainable management, is better than leaving them unutilized. In terms of preserving the environment, the use of secondary peatlands for oil palm plantations is better than letting it to become shrubs. If they are abandoned into shrubs, their biomass drops dramatically, but if they are turned into oil palm plantations, its biomass content will only drop relatively low. In addition, oil palm plantations also reduce peatland emissions.

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ccording to the study of Melling, et.al, peatland emissions are damaged if it is being allowed to reach about 127 tons of CO2 per hectare. But, if it is used for oil palm plantations, the emission will be reduced to 31-57 tons CO2 per hectare.

Not only being ecologically profitable, the economic benefit is clearly way more profitable. Although not as good as the palm oil plantation on mineral land, oil palms on the peatlands with sustainable management are still capable of producing at least 3 tons of oil per hectare, opening up employment opportunities, business opportunities and income generation. Such apparent economic benefit will not be obtained if the peatlands are abandoned into shrubs.

Therefore, the government should not take the wrong policies of peatland management. Restoring the peat by letting it become bushes is not a good solution. Considering that the peatlands are so widely damaged in Indonesia, peat restoration should be done in two ways. For deep peatlands, they should be reforested which certainly costs a lot, and as for shallow peatlands, they should be used as cultivation of agriculture, including oil palm plantations as what has been done nowadays.

The government does not need phobias of fires in formulating policies on peat governance. The largest land fire didn’t happen in peatlands, nor did it in the oil palm plantations. Most of the oil palm plantations in Indonesia are not burnt. Of course, we need to improve the governance of peat utilization including forests as a whole so that forest fires can be mitigated in the future.

Pasca kebakaran hutan dan lahan di Indonesia, lahan gambut kini menjadi perhatian pemerintah. Meskipun kebakaran hutan lebih luas dari kebakaran lahan gambut, pemerintah melihat perlunya pembenahan tata kelola pemanfaatan lahan gambut kedepan.

peatland
Source: Ekonomi Bisnis

Di Indonesia, luas lahan gambut sekitar 14.9 juta hektar. Menurut Wet Internasional hampir 90 persen lahan gambut di Indonesia tergolong gambut rusak (degraded peatland) yang emisinya lebih tinggi dari gambut hutan yang masih utuh. Selama ini banyak dari lahan gambut tersebut dibiarkan menjadi semak belukar sehingga tidak memberikan manfaat optimal baik dari segi ekologis maupun segi ekonomi.

Menurut data Badan Litbang Pertanian tahun 2008, lahan gambut dangkal (kedalaman kurang dari 3 meter) yang sesuai  untuk budidaya pertanian luasnya sekitar 6 juta hektar. Menurut perkiraan, luas gambut yang telah digunakan untuk pertanian termasuk perkebunan baru sekitar 4 juta hektar atau sekitar 26 persen dari luas gambut di Indonesia. Ini masih jauh di bawah rata-rata dunia dimana hampir 80 persen dari 370 juta hektar gambut sudah dimanfaatkan untuk pertanian dan penggunaan lain.

Pemanfaatan lahan gambut untuk perkebunan kelapa sawit bukan hal yang baru. Kebun-kebun sawit generasi pertama di Indonesia yang dibangun sekitar 100 tahun lalu di pesisir timur Sumatera Utara dan Aceh, sebagian merupakan kebun sawit gambut. Di negara jiran Malaysia yakni daerah Serawak juga terdapat sekitar 1.3 juta hektar kebun sawit gambut. Meskipun sama-sama mengalami musim El Nino, kebun sawit gambut baik yang di pesisir timur Sumut dan Aceh maupun yang ada di Serawak tidak mengalami kebakaran. Sesungguhnya kebun sawit gambut di Riau, Sumatera Selatan, Jambi maupun di Kalimantan, juga tidak semua terbakar.

Pemanfaatan gambut khususnya hutan gambut sekunder untuk perkebunan sawit dengan tata kelola yang berkelanjutan lebih baik dari pada ditelantarkan seperti selama ini. Dari segi pelestarian lingkungan pemanfatan lahan gambut sekunder untuk kebun sawit lebih baik dari pada membiarkannya menjadi semak belukar. Jika ditelantarkan menjadi semak belukar biomasnya akan turun drastis, sementara jika dijadikan kebun sawit kandungan biomasnya hanya turun relatif sedikit. Selain itu, kebun sawit gambut juga menurunkan emisi lahan gambut.

Menurut studi Melling, et.al, emisi lahan gambut rusak jika dibiarkan mencapai sekitar 127 ton CO2 per hektar. Sedangkan jika digunakan untuk kebun sawit emisi tersebut berkurang menjadi 31-57 ton CO2 per hektar.

Selain menguntungkan secara ekologis, secara ekonomi jelas lebih menguntungkan. Meskipun tidak sebaik kebun sawit lahan mineral, kebun sawit gambut dengan tata kelola yang berkelanjutan, masih mampu menghasilkan setidaknya 3 ton minyak per hektar, membuka kesempatan kerja, kesempatan berusaha dan penciptaan pendapatan. Manfaat ekonomi yang demikian jelas tidak akan diperoleh jika lahan gambut ditelantarkan menjadi semak belukar.

Oleh karena itu, pemerintah jangan salah mengambil kebijakan tata kelola lahan gambut. Merestorasi gambut dengan membiarkan menjadi semak belukar bukanlah solusi yang baik. Mengingat lahan gambut rusak begitu luas di Indonesia, restorasi gambut sebaiknya dilakukan dua cara. Untuk lahan gambut dalam dilakukan reboisasi yang tentunya memerlukan biaya besar, sementara untuk lahan gambut dangkal dijadikan budi daya pertanian termasuk kebun sawit sebagaimana telah dilakukan selama ini.

Pemerintah tidak perlu fobia karhutla dalam merumuskan kebijakan tata kelola gambut. Karhutla terluas bukan di lahan gambut dan bukan pula di kebun sawit gambut. Sebagian besar kebun sawit gambut di Indonesia juga tidak terbakar. Tentu saja kita perlu memperbaiki tata kelola pemanfaatan gambut termasuk hutan secara keseluruhan sehingga kejadian karhutla dapat diminumkan pada masa yang akan datang.

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