Who is More Exploit Peatland, Indonesia or Europe?
Peatland is land that is formed from the accumulation of organic material from plants. The characteristics of peatland make its a special natural resource. This is because peatland have a unique biodiversity, a hydrological function so they are able to store very large amounts of ground water and high carbon stock due to the large content of organic components in the land.
Based on data of Wetland International in 2008, Indonesia was the third largest peatland in the world after Russia and Canada. Research by Ritung et al., (2011) revealed that the area of Indonesia’s peatlands reached 14.9 million hectares. Just like other countries that convert peatlands for the development sector and the economy, the Government of Indonesia also issued regulations related to peatland ecosystem management in PP No. 57 of 2016. In the PP, the management of peat ecosystem is divided into two functions, namely the protection function and the cultivation function. One of their implementation of the cultivation function on peatlands is the development of oil palm plantations.
The development of oil palm plantations on peatlands has received criticism from anti-palm NGOs. They has argument about oil palm cultivitation has cause of degraded environment and increasing greenhouse gas emissions, considering that peatlands are high carbon stock (HCS) land. Another accusation widely broadcast in the media is that oil palm plantations cause forest fires due to drained peatlands.
The Roundtable Sustainability of Palm Oil (RSPO) as a palm oil sustainability certification body has also begun to ban the use of peatlands for oil palm cultivation. RSPO also has approved the application of the latest principles and criteria for oil palm sustainability, one of which is a ban on opening peatland for cultivation of new oil palm plantation since November 2018. With the approval of the new RSPO standard, it is as if the RSPO is considering how to manage land for oil palm cultivation is a mistake.
During this time, oil palm cultivation on peatlands has always been a polemic. In fact, the development of oil palm plantations is an implementation of the cultivation function on peatlands. This is also supported by Permentan No. 14/2009 and guidelines from PPKS in the context of developing sustainable palm oil plantations on peatlands.
Long before the development of the negative campaign, the development of oil palm plantations on peatland is not really new in Indonesia. Even some of the oldest oil palm plantations (75-100 years old) on the east coast of North Sumatra and Aceh are oil palm plantations on peatland. The facts revealed that oil palm plantations in Negeri Lama as one of the initiators of oil palm plantations on peatlands, have been operating for 4 generations of economic life and have proven to be environmentally damaging.
The success of the use of peatland in Negeri Lama is certainly inseparable from the management of land that is in accordance with standards and is sustainable by keeping the rate of subsidence and irreversible drying of peatland. By implementing sustainable cultivation, oil palm on peatland in Negeri Lama that are able to fulfill the needs of previous generations without threaten the ability (profit decreasing) of current and future generations.
Abdul Hamed Sepawi, Chairperson of the Sarawak Palm Oil Plantation Owners Association also emphasized that oil palm plantations on peatlands can be managed sustainably so that they can provide enormous benefits, one of which is economic benefits. This is proven by one of the oil palm plantations in Malaysia that successfully changed the condition of peatlands that are not conducive to becoming an area for oil palm development with scientific innovation.
On the other hand, peatland utilization in Europe tends to be more expansive and can cause environmental damage compared to Indonesia with its oil palm plantations. European communitiries burn peat to be used as a source of energy, so that area of peatland lost in Europe is very large reached about 10.73 million hectares. Based on the report on Fuel Peat Industry in EU (VTT, 2005) At present there are at least 117 power plants that use peat as fuel and 651 peat producing companies spread in Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithunia, and others.
Even according to Supiandi Sabiham who is a Professor of Soil Science of IPB said that countries in Europe are extracting their peatlands for raw materials for various industrial products. The peatland destruction activities carried out by the European countries were not highlighted or even protested by NGOs in the international world. They in Europe close their eyes to the destruction of European peat but attack Indonesia’s environmental problems.
When compared with Indonesia, oil palm plantations on peatland in Indonesia is lower than the loss of European peatlands. The presence of oil palm as a crop on peatlands is a natural feature of peatlands and part of preserving the peat itself. The development of oil palm plantations on peatlands has also proven to be more sustainable and environmentally beneficial compared to peat burning activities in Europe which actually damage the environment.
This showed that the allegations of anti-palm oil NGOs and the RSPO for banning the cultivation of oil palm plantations on peatlands because of concern that it could damage the environment, are false accusations. Peat burning activities in Europe should have received more attention from international NGOs, if the aim was purely to preserve the environment.
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