Indonesia's peatswamp forests represent important livelihood values. As sources for food, construction materials and drinking water they provide livelihoods to a large number of people. Due to their importance for global climate change mitigation they are of tremendous value for the entire world. Peatswamp forests as a landscape represent an aesthetic value as well: their sheer beauty amazes many of those who get the chance to observe this magical ecosystem.
Already ages ago traditional tribes such as the Kubu from Sumatra and Dayak communities from Borneo thrived in this rich ecosystem. They made a living by means of subsistence hunting, fishing and collection of forest materials. Although most tribes largely abandoned their traditional way of life, many original values still apply. Today, fishing still is one of the most important peatswamp forest values. A large variety of fishes, ranging from small Gouramis to giant catfishes, as well as impressive freshwater shrimps are harvested from the black water rivers. Many Dayak communities still handle the traditional Beje fish-pond system: they dig rectangular ponds in the forest which act as refugees for fishes when waters retrieve after a flooding period. Fishes are left to grow during the dry season, only to be harvested just before new floods appear.
Hunting of mammals, birds and reptiles is another source of income. They are hunted for the pet trade, as a source of food or for the production of souvenirs and clothes. Unfortunately this form of use is generally highly unsustainable. Huge amounts of freshwater turtles are harvested for the Chinese market. Trade in skins of snakes and crocodilians severely effects populations of these species.
Peatswamp forests generally have low values for agriculture. Only shallow peat soils (for example near riverbeds) have potential for this form of use. Deep peat soils are generally too wet and nutrient pour for successful cultivation. Extension of agriculture on peatlands should be avoided, because most crops require drainage which would lead to increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and higher fire risks and eventually, after relatively short production periods, turn into wastelands.
There are however several tree species for which no drainage is necessary. Jelutung, a native specie that grows in peatswamps, for instance supplies latex that can be used for several purposes uses, such as for the production of latex. Other important non-timber forest products include rattan (for construction of houses, furniture etc), palm leaves (roof construction) and medicinal plants.
Peatswamp forest plants provide a large variety of valuable products. Timber is very important for the construction of houses, boats and fishing materials, but as a marketable product it might also provide cash inflow from outside. Specific peatswamp tree species are among the most valuable timber species. The wood is often from high quality, very hard and will resist decomposition processes. The brown red peatswamp water has coloured the wood in beautiful shades. For obvious reasons, Ironwood, Ramin and Meranti are expensive timber species. With sustainable management of the peatswamp forests, an ongoing production can be garanteed. This is unfortunately rarely the case in these sensitive areas. If the world loses its peatswamp forests, it is loosing precious timber stocks of very productive forests.
Tropical peatlands also provide a range of important geological and hydrological services. Due to the water-retention capacities of peatswamps, they mitigate floods, desynchronise flood peaks and ensure a continuous supply of clean water throughout the year. The continuous outflow of freshwater buffers saltwater intrusion in coastal areas. Globally, peatlands perform a role in climate change mitigation, as they store significant quantities of carbon dioxide.