Enthusiasm for the project was in part a shared concern about increasing water scarcity in Riau, including in Dompas where forest peatlands have been cleared to grow palm oil.
“If we just go on planting oil palm, Indonesia will turn into the Sahara Desert,” said Azmi Rozali, a provincial member of parliament.
To address the water scarcity and drying peat, community-led rewetting is being considered as a way to both tackle the environmental problem and build skills and expertise. Another exercise in capacity building that has been explored has been canal blocking, which allows rewetting of peatland. The project has provided political support through advocating for local government funding to local communities to enable them to construct these canal blockages and rewet the peatlands.
“Something unique about working on this project is the opportunity to support capacity building programmes in the area of fire prevention, we hope that the community in Dompas area benefits from clean air in the long run,” said Shiran Ali of Temasek Foundation International.
Through the multistakeholder discussions, farmers considered other crops they could sustainably grow on the peatlands from rubber, jelutung and sago rather than setting the forests ablaze to grow palm oil. Sago, a starch grown in the tropics, emerged as an important contender whose market rivals that of oil palm. Also, sago is a traditional crop that has been grown sustainably for generations.
CIFOR-ICRAF and partners’ efforts suggest that local level action in addition to stronger local laws might help restore peat landscapes and prevent future fires. For the Dompas villagers, being armed with knowledge and techniques, as well as alternatives to managing peatlands more sustainably means they are a step closer to making devastating peat fires a thing of the past.