How do you know if peatland restoration is going well? Do we measure the water table? ask locals about their livelihoods; assess decision-making processes and gender dynamics; or add statistics on the frequency of fires? Most likely: all this and more.
The preservation and restoration of peatlands is essential for mitigating climate change, maintaining healthy ecosystems and supporting community development in many parts of the world. However, due to existing pressures, peatlands have been drained and converted to other land uses (such as plantations, farmland or cattle ranches). These disturbed and degraded peatlands can be targeted for restoration to reduce the loss of carbon and other important ecological services provided by natural/undrained peatlands. But effective long-term restoration must be carefully monitored to adapt designs, strategies, site selection, and management approaches that can meet specified objectives, while changing tactics if necessary.
In Indonesia, home to almost a quarter of the world’s tropical peatlands, researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) have developed a scientifically sound, reliable and practical set of criteria and indicators (C&I) to help assess progress and results of peatland restoration. These efforts are carried out in collaboration with the National Peat and Mangrove Restoration Agency (BRGM), the Center for Disaster Risk Studies at the University of Riau and the conservation and development organization PT Rimba Makmur Utama as well as consultations with several national and international peatland experts during the year elapsed.
On July 7, 2022, CIFOR-ICRAF – in partnership with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI) and the International Tropical Peatlands Center (ITPC) co-organized a virtual national workshop to share draft standardized C&I which have been developed as a practical tool to assist policy makers, practitioners and civil society. “Restoration has many dimensions, because it is not done on a blank sheet: the place to be restored is a dynamic social and ecological landscape, rich in diverse interests and past practices that need to be corrected. Myrna Safitri, highlighting the complexity of the task at hand. “Therefore, to assess the success of restoration, it is necessary to understand the existing conditions of the landscape and the history of its formation. The development of C&I to determine the success of wetland restoration is therefore not a black-and-white instrument: it must be placed in the right context.
To facilitate this process of contextualization, a panel discussion critically analyzed the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for using C&I approaches for peatland monitoring in four key aspects: biophysical, social, economic and governance. Speaking on the economic aspect, Gusti Anshari, professor and soil scientist at Universitas Tanjung Pura, observed that “restoring peatlands is not just about keeping ecosystems alive, but also providing economic products and environmental products and services to humans”. He stressed that “it is impossible for marginalized people on degraded lands to develop sustainable peatlands: they need more support. Peatland projects depend on all stakeholders.
CIFOR-ICRAF Senior Scientist Michael Brady agreed on the importance of these types of economic considerations and stressed the need to verify prioritization criteria through field trials as well as ensure proper management. , ongoing monitoring and evaluation – and to take these costs into account when planning and budgeting. CIFOR-ICRAF Senior Researcher Herry Purnomo spoke about the need for governance at all levels of peatland landscapes to be characterized by accountability, as well as clear and easy-to-implement regulations.
Exploring the biophysical elements of peatland restoration, workshop participants provided feedback, through a Slido survey, on progress towards hydrological, revegetation and fire occurrence reduction goals. . They also selected key social, economic and governance priorities for impact assessment.
Participants then turned their attention to the practical sphere: having decided what to measure, the process of doing it can invoke its own challenges. As such, the panel explored the “inner workings” of developing and field-testing the C&I consultative process. The three CIFOR-ICRAF members of the panel – Anna Sinaga, Meli Sasmito and Siti Chaakimah – noted that while it was relatively easy to access and analyze information regarding the biophysical elements of peatland restoration, the social aspects and economic were often more “tangled” and difficult to disentangle. This meant that the C&I might require further revisions, including site-specific adaptations to take into account the particularities of local contexts. Governance aspects also require more complex contextual reformulation and verification by people with specific expertise in these areas.
At the other end of the implementation scale, institutionalizing C&I approaches can also pose a challenge. A panel, consisting of BGRM scientists Budi Wardhana and Agus Yasin alongside Josi Khatarina of Sustainable Environmental Governance activity in all regions of the United States Agency for International Development, discussed opportunities , challenges and obstacles, capacity building and existing institutional support to conduct this exercise broadly and effectively.
Despite these challenges, however, momentum around peatland restoration is building around the world, as recognized by Maria Nuutinen – the focal point for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). ) for the Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI). “I am very happy to see that there seems to be a very widely shared understanding of the state of restoration and what is really needed,” she said.
Part of “what is needed” globally is better information, and work on C&I will help achieve that, said Mark Reed, a professor at Rural College in Scotland. He shared and summarized some of the GPI’s work “to standardize how we collect and can synthesize people and data around the world so that we can provide better evidence for policy and practice to protect these incredible habitats.”
The International Tropical Peatlands Center (ITPC) also plays an essential role, particularly in terms of “coordination[ing] interdisciplinary scientists – national, regional and local – to respond to strengthened criteria and indicators to support global achievements in peatland ecosystem restoration with particular reference to tropical peatlands,” said Center Coordinator Haruni Krisnawati .
As the wide range of event attendees, presenters, and topics came together, collaboration across levels, locations, and disciplines was and will be a key feature of developing effective C&I and implementing successful implementation of the restoration. “To achieve real impact, all of these different streams of information, data and evidence need to come together,” said CIFOR-ICRAF scientist Rupesh Bhomia. “This event is another step towards coming together, identifying the tools, resources and capabilities we have, identifying the gaps and trying to fill them. This will only happen with concerted effort, with the progress we are making together as a team We may represent different organizations, streams of government or practitioners, but since we are all committed to the same goal, we can move forward.
“While highlighting scientific evidence, it is timely to have an assessment tool that is both robust and practical,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, CIFOR senior researcher, who conceived the idea for a series of four webinars in 2021, culminating in the virtual National Workshop. Recalling the support of several donor agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) and the Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), and the International Climate Initiative (IKI), he added at the end of the event, “this is a demand-driven initiative, and we recognize that.”
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