Govt to Rehabilitate Suharto’s Failed Peatland Project

JAKARTA ~ The government is planning to rehabilitate a sprawling peatland in Central Kalimantan that was converted to agriculture during the reign of former president Suharto, causing widespread environmental damage, an official said.

“We have approval, in principle, from the president to rehabilitate the One Million Hectare Peatland but we still are awaiting the necessary presidential decree to start,” Central Kalimantan governor Agustin Teras Narang said at the weekend.

He said the gradual rehabilitation of some 1.3 million hectares of peatland – cleared as part of the Mega Rice Project launched by Suharto in 1995 to turn the peat bog into a rice-producing area – will take three years and cost about Rp9 trillion (US$983.6 million).

“The One Million Hectare Peatland Project had devastating consequences for the environment, and some of the most serious fires last year were in the peatland area,” Narang said.

He was referring annual land-clearing fires for the new planting seasons started by small- and large-scale farmers and plantations.

The peat, which can reach several meters deep, as well as coal layers are difficult to extinguish and can burn for years under the surface.

The One Million Hectare Peatland Project, launched in 1995, cleared thousands of hectares of peat swamp and forests before it was brought to an early close in 1998, following a series of difficulties.

The acidic, nutrient-deficient peat soils failed to produce rice as planned.

The clearing of the peatland and the building of irrigation channels crisscrossing the area, also partially dried the peat and made the land more susceptible to fires.

Narang said the rehabilitation program aimed to return the peatland “to its initial function,” and turn it into a conservation area, while maintaining part of the area for agriculture.

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