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

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PL Photo Project Leader


RIHN / Kyoto University

Kosuke Mizuno has been studying the economic changes unfolding in rural West Java, Indonesia, since 1978, putting special attention to land, capital, and labor relationships. Following the Indonesian democratization process and particularly the restoration of the right to organize in 1998, when former President Soeharto stepped down, he analyzed institutional change, economic development, and resource management by people’s organizations across Indonesia. He became the leader of an integrated natural and social science study on peatland society in Riau province in 2008, and continues to conduct action research on peatland rehabilitation while also deepening understanding of the historical and social dimensions of peatland society.

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Sub Leader
KOZAN OsamuKyoto University
Project Researchers at RIHN
SUZUKI HarukaProject Researcher / Kyoto University
KAJITA RyosukeProject Researcher
OSAWA TakamasaProject Researcher
YAMANAKA ManabuProject Researcher
SHIODERA SatomiProject Researcher
KATSURA TomomiProject Research Associate
Main Project Members
OKAMOTO MasaakiKyoto University
ITOH MasayukiKyoto University
SHIMAMURA TestuyaEhime University
SATO YuriInstitute of Developing Economies
PAGE, SusanUniversity of Leicester, UK
GUNAWAN, HarisPeatland Restoration Agency, Indonesia
SABIHAM, SupiandiBogor Agricultural University, Indonesia
DHENY TRIE WAHYU SAMPURNO, S.SiIndonesian 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 for commercial acacia and oil palm plantations. As these trees cannot grow in swamps, they have been drained, creating extensive areas of dried peatlands, which 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 sustainable measures, such as rewetting and reforestation.

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 fi re and haze in tropical regions, especially Southeast Asia. It seeks to identify and implement alternative practices in collaboration with local people, as well as academia, government, 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 fi re and haze; B) implementing paludiculture projects in wetland areas as a potential mitigation strategy to peatland degradation; and C) identifying governance structures and incentives, including environmental finance mechanisms, that can support sustainable peatland management. These projects engage local people, migrants, logging and 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.

Research Targets

Peatland ecosystems are vulnerable: damage from human disturbance can be irreversible. In order to achieve long-lasting solutions to peatland degradation, we must also understand the vulnerability of tropical peatland societies. Communities within peatlands oft en have little social capital, and land is owned by the state and not well managed. In this context our research objective is to examining alternative livelihood strategies addressing the environmental and social vulnerability of tropical frontier societies. The project supports community-initiated paludiculture as a sustainable livelihood model in rewetted peatlands, and thus explores the potential transformation of tropical peatland societies.

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.


The edited book 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, profit motives of companies, and conservation motives of Government and NGOs. The book showcases the potential solution of rewetting and reforestation of “the people’s forest”. The book has been reviewed in multiple 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 Burned sago and peatland forest in Kepau Baru village, Meranti, Riau

Photo 1 Burned sago and peatland forest in Kepau Baru village, Meranti, Riau

Photo 2 Rewetting with local people at Tanjung Leban Village, Bukit Batu Sub-district, Bengkalis District, Riau Province

Photo 2 Rewetting with local people at Tanjung Leban Village, Bukit Batu Sub-district, Bengkalis District, Riau Province