Tropical forests and their inhabitants are threatened worldwide. However, due to their extreme vulnerability to fires, their global role as carbon stores and their importance for biodiversity conservation, peat swamp forests deserve particular attention. Already most of the peatswamp forests in South-east Asia have been affected by large scale developments, drainage, deforestation and illegal logging. There are very few intact peatswamp forests remaining, and even these are often affected by illegal logging and related drainage, including in all protected peatswamp areas. The project is located in Central Kalimantan in an area which is one of the poorest regions in Indonesia.
The area of Central Kalimantan has suffered severely from forest and peat fires and over-drainage and has through these disasters been refrained from the usual development possibilities and opportunities.The development objective of this project is to maintain and restore the Sebangau, Mawas and Ex-Mega Rice peatlands in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia (see maps), in total about 2 million hectares.
Picture: CKPP Project Area
Ex-Mega Rice Project (MRP)
Many of the agricultural development schemes in Indonesian peatland areas have failed. The largest and most disastrous example is the Ex-Mega Rice area in Central Kalimantan. This project that took place in the nineties, aimed to make rice production possible (planned by President Suharto) in the peatswamp forests in this area, despite warnings of scientists that this would not be possible. The project covered more than 1 million hectares and got intensively logged and drained and involved about 4400 kilometres of drainage channels, some of which are up to 10 meters deep. Thousands of people moved to the area, many as part of transmigration schemes. The rice production appeared to be impossible. The area is also quite unsuitable for other crops. Therefore many of the local people survived by illegal logging of the forested areas around the MRP area (Mavas, Sebangau).
Now the drained, logged areas are the scene of annual peat fires, with a significant effect on global levels of carbon emissions. In El Niño year 1997 it contributed to roughly 2 million hectares of peat swamp forest going up in smoke. Besides this visible form of destruction, more invisible subsiding and decomposing of the peat takes place at a rapid rate. The peatland destruction in the Ex-Mega Rice area had a major negative impact on the livelihoods of people in the area. It caused major smog related health problems amongst half a million people, who suffered from respiratory problems. The smog even spread to neighbourging countries Singapore and Malaysia.
Sebangau and Mawas
Two large stretches within the project area, Sebangau and Mawas, are especially recognised for their value to biodiversity and life supporting functions. They are also called Block E of the ex-mega rice project, which are still in a relative pristine condition. The Sebangau forests are already protected by law as National Park. However, despite some recent restoration activities and improved law-enforcement, both remain under severe threat of fires, drainage and illegal logging. The status of the Mawas forest area is still not settled. This area has been identified as harbouring one of the largest remaining populations of Orang Utan in the world, as well as many other biodiversity resources.
The Central Kalimantan Province has nearly 2 million inhabitants and the livelihood of the local people in Central Kalimantan depends to a large extent on the natural peat swamp forests and surrounding peatlands.