Toward the Regeneration of Tropical Peatland Societies: Building International Research Network on Paludiculture and Sustainable Peatland Management

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Researchers at RIHN
KAJITA RyosukeResearcher
OSAWA TakamasaResearcher
SHIODERA SatomiResearcher/Kyoto University
YAMANAKA ManabuResearcher/Kobe University/JAMSTEC
KATSURA TomomiResearch Associate
Main Members
OKAMOTO MasaakiKyoto University
ITOH MasayukiUniversity of Hyogo
SHIMAMURA TetsuyaEhime University
NAITO DaisukeKyoto University
SATO YuriInstitute of Developing Economies
PAGE, SusanUniversity of Leicester, UK
GUNAWAN, HarisPeatland Restoration Agency, Indonesia
SABIHAM, SupiandiBogor Agricultural University, Indonesia
SETIADI, BambangAgency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, Indonesia
DHENY, Trie Wahyu SampurnoIndonesian Agency of Geospatial Information, Indonesia

Necessity of the study

Peat swamp forests are found throughout Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, and contain massive stores of carbon and water. Over the last two decades, these swamps have been intensively exploited in order to create commercial acacia and oil palm plantations. As these tree species cannot grow in swamps, peatlands have been drained, creating extensive areas of dried peatlands that are extremely vulnerable to fire.

In 2015, peatland fires burned 2.1 million hectares of forest in Indonesia, affecting 45 million people. A half million people suffered from upper respiratory tract infections, and thousands of people, especially children, were afflicted with asthma. The government responded to this disaster by mobilizing the army, punishing people who set fires, and refusing to issue new peatland development permits. These measures were urgently needed, but provided only short-term relief. The public has demanded longer-term and more sustainable measures, such as the rewetting and reforestation promoted by this project since 2012.

The government of Indonesia established the Peatland Restoration Agency in January 2016, and declared that two million hectares of degraded peatlands will be restored by 2019. The objective of this research project is to generate solutions to the current crisis of peat degradation and related fire and haze in tropical regions through action research. The project seeks to identify and implement alternative practices in collaboration with local people, academics, governmental offices and officials, NGOs, and international organizations.

The project conducts multidisciplinary research in order to clarify the entire process of peatland degradation. We focus on: A) gathering social and ecological baseline data on peatlands and measuring the impacts of fire and haze; B) implementing paludiculture projects in wetland areas as a potential strategy for the mitigation of peatland degradation; and C) identifying governance structures and incentives, including strengthening the land rights of people situated on state land, which can support sustainable peatland management. These studies are conducted in collaboration with local people, migrants, NGOs, plantation companies, and local and national governments.

Achievements to date

Project researchers introduced the practice of rewetting and reforestation in peatland areas in Bengkalis District, Riau Province in 2010. This experimental site has attracted significant attention, especially since 2015 when fire and haze became very serious. Along with project-led international seminars, the site has significantly enhanced public awareness of the potential for rewetting and forestation to regenerate peatland.

On August 10, 2016, the Research Institute of Humanity and Nature, Kyoto University, and Hokkaido University signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Peatland Restoration Agency of Indonesia to conduct action research to restore degraded peatland. Our project has created action plans based on this MOU and has accordingly begun to implement a restoration program in Meranti District, Riau Province. We started to discuss the social forestry programs that are designed to strengthen the land rights of people on the degraded state land among local people, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, local governments and NGOs.

Research Targets

Peatland ecosystems are vulnerable. Damage from human disturbance can be irreversible. In order to achieve long-lasting solutions to peatland degradation, we investigate the social and ecological aspects of peatland vulnerability, and propose many programs to transform these vulnerabilities. Our research objective is to examine alternative livelihood strategies while building/changing the institutions that can encourage people to restore and make sustainable use of degraded peatlands. The project supports community-initiated paludiculture as a sustainable livelihood model in rewetted peatlands while strengthening land rights on state land though social forestry programs. This research thus demonstrates the future potential of peatland-based societies, the phasing out of monoculture production activity, the development of paludiculture, and the enlargement of protected peatland areas.


Catastrophe and Regeneration in Indonesia’s Peatlands: Ecology, Economy and Society was published by the National University of Singapore Press in 2016. This volume provides inter-disciplinary field-based and historical analyses of peatland degradation through examination of the survival motives of local people, the profit motives of companies, and the conservation motives of Government and NGOs. The book showcases the potential solution of rewetting and reforesting “the people’s forest”. The book has been reviewed across various forms of media, including leading international academic journals. Our project will continue to build on this research in order to develop new insights on tropical peatland management.

Photo 1 Rewetting by small wooden dam in Kepau Baru village, Meranti, Riau

Photo 1 Rewetting by small wooden dam in Kepau Baru village, Meranti, Riau

Photo 2 Sago paludiculture in Kepau Baru village, Meranti, Riau

Photo 2 Sago paludiculture in Kepau Baru village, Meranti, Riau

Photo 3 Seedlings for reforestation in Kepau Baru village, Meranti, Riau

Photo 3 Seedlings for reforestation in Kepau Baru village, Meranti, Riau