in Australia, Indonesia

Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership faces yet more criticism

Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership faces yet more criticism. PHOTO: Greenpeace

June 2011 has seen a wave of criticism of REDD in Central Kalimantan. On 8 June, a group of indigenous people issued a statement demanding a stop to the Australian-funded Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership. On 16 June, EIA and Telapak released a report documenting a Malaysian oil palm company clearing forest in Central Kalimantan apparently in breach of the country’s forestry moratorium.

This must be painfully embarrassing for the Norwegian government. Central Kalimantan is the pilot province under Indonesia and Norway’s US$1 billion REDD deal. The moratorium is also part of the Indonesia-Norway REDD deal. Meanwhile, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund owns shares in Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK), whose subsidiary PT Menteng was busy bulldozing the forest when EIA and Telepak’s investigators arrived on the scene.

On 17 June, the Central Kalimantan chapter of AMAN, the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago, issued a statement demanding an “immediate moratorium” on REDD+ in Central Kalimantan. AMAN’s secretary general Abdon Nababan gave a strongly worded comment to AFP:

“REDD could be the cause of cultural genocide as most indigenous people live in primary forests and peatland areas… Its implementation will surely drive them away, though they have lived there for hundreds or thousands of years… There is no other choice but to appoint indigenous people as the REDD projects’ main actors. They have traditional knowledge in managing and safeguarding our forests over centuries.”

On 20 June, a group of peat scientists and practitioners from the University of Palangka Raya (UNPAR) issued a statement criticising the plans to use heavy heavy equipment in the rehabilitation of peat swamps as part of the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership. Their statement is posted in full below:

Press Release:

UNPAR’s Peat Scientists and Practitioners Reject KFCP’s Plan to Use Heavy Equipment in Implementing Hydrological Rehabilitation in the Ex Mega Rice Project

The plan of Kalimanatn Forests and Climate Project (KFCP) a project funded by AusAID Australia to implement hydrological rehabilitation (canal blocking) through deployment of heavy equipment such excavators in the Block A and E of the ex Mega Rice Project (ex-MRP) in Central Kalimantan receive opposition and rejection from peat scientists and practitioners of the University of Palangka Raya (UNPAR) and those local experts demand the plan should be abandoned as well as argue the district, provincial and central governments to cancel the KFCP as a REDD demonstration activity if the project sticks with their plan to do so.

Rejection is based upon scientific and technical considerations as well as potential negative impacts in terms of ecological, economic and social aspects that may occur if the plan is still implemented on the ground.

From scientific point of view, hydrological rehabilitation activity using excavators to close or blocking open canals through excavating or using peat or organic matters that are currently available on the existing canals embankments as well as other wood debris is considered as less scientific justification and lack of experience methods. It is acknowledged that a similar has been tested limitedly by a private sector in Sumatera, but it’s successful and effectiveness has not been scientifically proven. In addition, the peat ecosystem as well as its physical characteristics in Sumatera is different from peat in the ex-MRP of Central Kalimantan, hence, similar hydrological rehabilitation method may not yield same outcomes.

From engineering perspective, blocking and filling up of open canals by utilizing existing peat organic matters volume on the canal banks will no longer enough to refill or close entirely the existing open canals as the availability of peat matters on the canal levee is very minimum due to subsidence, decomposition and depletion result from previous repeated fires in the area. As consequences, new peat refill needs to be excavated from other sites so as to fulfill the refill shortage which means closing old canals, by digging new canals. Apart from that, existing peat organic matters on canal banks have experienced irreversible shrinking due to repeated dry seasons and hence, it has lost its water absorption capacity. In addition, a plan to use existing wood debris and dead wood is also seen as ineffective means and wasting efforts as the existing debris and dead wood volumes are very limited.

Deployment of excavators in the hydrological rehabilitation (canal blocking) activity in the block A and E of the ex-MRP, is predicted create negative impacts in terms of ecological, economic and social.

In terms of ecological, utilization of excavators in the hydrological rehabilitation will possibly create negative impacts as follows:

    Firstly, excavator’s track and pathway will accelerate the process of peat subsidence and peat compaction leading to increased of GHGs emission release and hinders natural regeneration, which at the end, will slow down the carbon sequestration rate in the area;

    Secondly, mobilization and movement of the excavators will destroy existing vegetation species and natural regeneration that already established in the areas, both along the canal levees and canal courses;

    Thirdly, mobilization and movement of the excavators will disturb aquatic biota and vegetation that are already naturally regenerated and established both within the Blok A and E of the ex-MRP;

    Fourthly, utilization of wood debris and dead wood to refill the open canals is potentially to accelerate the release of GHGs emissions or loss of standing dead biomass due to do later on use for other purposes such as charcoal, building material or loss due to fire incidence;

    Fifthly, the excavation of peat organic matters from canal embankment in order to refill the open canals is potentially led to increase sedimentation rate at both Mantangai and Kapuas Rivers as mostly both block A and B areas are routinely inundated during peak rainy season so that it is worried that peat matters will flow out to the downstream rivers. This situation will increase sedimentation rate of both rivers and in the end will exacerbate river pollution, which is potentially disturbed the aquatic ecosystem.

From economic and social perspectives, utilization of excavators in hydrological rehabilitation will counter productive and will potentially raise negative impacts, such as:

    Firstly, activity of hydrological rehabilitation that uses heavy equipment (capital incentive) will reduce involvement opportunity of the local labors in the KFCP program. This situation is not suitable and contradictory with the 3Es (effective, efficient & equity) principle as core objective of REDD activity; and

    Secondly, mobilization and movement of excavator will potentially create social tensions between project and local landowners. Many villagers have planted crops and other commercial trees in their respective lands as well as in the adjacent canals, thus, the excavator pathway and movement within such areas will potentially destroy existing crops and trees.

Lack of Respect Upon Traditional Wisdom Technology

Implementation of hydrological rehabilitation through operating of heavy equipment such as excavator is seen as less effective and inefficient ways compared to the traditional dam system ones called traditionally as TABAT. CIMTROP’s UNPAR as well as other NGOs have practiced the traditional dam system in restoring peat hydrology for years in Central Kalimantan and this traditional dam technology is proven very effective and efficient ways as well as gains successful in restoring peat hydrology.

Therefore, current proposed KFCP’s hydrological rehabilitation method could be seen as lack of respect and acknowledgement upon the traditional knowledge and technology that have been traditionally practiced in the region. KFCP’s reliance on the capital-intensive method is not only considered as ineffective and inefficient as well as a way of wasting money, but also could possibly create negative impacts to the existing peatland ecosystem.

Considering those aforementioned factors as well as its potential negative impacts that is likely to emerge, hence, UNPAR’s scientists and practitioners recommend the following points:

  1. KFCP’s plan to do hydrological rehabilitation by using excavator in the Block A and E of the ex-Mega Rice Project much be cancelled;
  2. Urge the governments of Kapuas District and Central Kalimantan Province as well as Central Government to re-examine whether or not the Project has conducted appropriate and deep Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study upon its hydrological rehabilitation plan. If EIA study has been completed, it is highly recommend to do re-examination and re-evaluation upon the study result; and
  3. If the project is stick with its own plan to implement the hydrological rehabilitation through the deployment of heavy equipment (excavator), hence, it is recommended that both provincial and central governments need to carry out overall evaluation upon the implementation of KFCP as REDD demonstration activity in the ex Mega Rice Project, as it is seen against the efforts of protecting peatland and curbing emissions released from this fragile ecosystem.

Palangka Raya, 20 June 2011.

Representatives of UNPAR’s Peat Scientist and Practitioners:

Dr. Ir. Suwido Limin, MS
Mr. Alue Dohong
Dr.Ir. Uras Tantulo, M.Sc
Dr. Darmae Nasir, M.Si, MA
Dr. Yanetri Asi, SP, MP
Dr. Ir. Adi Jaya, M.Si

Leave a Reply

  1. I wonder whether any of these inconvenient truths will be discussed at this week’s REDD circus in Oslo?

  2. As chief technical advisor/project manager of the UNDPs Agenda-21 project in 1994-6, I managed 25 consultants who wrote a ‘state of environment’ report for Indonesia. One of the topics to which we probably paid less attention than we should was the Mega Rice project.
    Given that several of the consultants had worked on draining the wetlands and peat swamps in the first place, they did not see the potential release of methane from drying peat and CO2 from fires as cause for alarm.
    Having fought for the restoration of wetlands in South Australia for very different reasons (ie salinisation and habitat), I had a different view.
    The problems raised by the UNPAR team are predicatable and they smack to a large extent of self-interest on the part of the farmers, landholders and communities in the project area. This is not surprising given that a generation and a half of farmers have been born since the swamps were drained. Clearly people have come to know the area as it now is rather than as it used to be, and should no doubt be again; but if the world wants to submerge the peat and contain the effects of fires and methane, surely the farmers, landholders and local authorities need to be given alternative cashflow options and retraining to offset the cahnge of landuse. Hopefully this has been written into the EIS and funded by AusAid, in which case the project should proceed as quickly as possible for the benefit of all and for the carbon credits it will generate.
    Please let us not be distracted by the call for further delays. No doubt the traditional method of damming canals has much to recommend it, but for heavens sake, let’s just compensate the community and do something positive about stabilising one of the worlds great carbon sinks before another couple of million tonnes of carbon makes its way into the atmosphere.

  3. Alue Dohong, one of the signatories to this statement, took part in a seminar at Monash University in Australia on 12 May 2011. Here’s how he is described in a leaflet advertising the seminar:

    Mr Alue Dohong is a senior lecturer at the University of Palangka Raya. Mr Dohong has close links with the Indonesia Forest Carbon Partnership and the Kalimantan Forest Climate Partnership, which are tasked with addressing deforestation and forest degradation in Indonesia. Mr Dohong has been nominated as an AusAID Australian Development Scholar for PhD study at Monash University. His research interest is in financial mechanisms underpinning REDD.