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The Importance of Paludiculture-based Agroforestry in Peatlands

Dec 9, 2021 by Mashahatul Umami and Eli Nur Nirmala SariBanner Image By : Aries Munandar for Pantau Gambut

This article was published at wri-indonesia.org on 9 December 2021.

Peatlands, known as marginal land, are ideally not intended for farming activities. However, due to the limited availability of productive land and the high living needs of the surrounding community of peat areas, some of the peat areas have been used as land for cultivation. However, problems arise when cultivation activities are not implemented in accordance with the sustainable peat management principles, which then contributes to the destruction of peatlands.

In principle, peatlands, which are naturally wetlands, must be maintained to ensure wetness. Therefore, the non-drainage method is a mandatory requirement when using peatland for cultivation, in order to implement sustainable peatland management. In addition, the cultivation activities must be carried out in areas designated for cultivation and not on deep peatlands.

Paludiculture is a method of cultivating plants by selecting plant species that can grow well in wetlands, which can be recommended for peatlands. Paludiculture practices can be combined with agroforestry or multi-crop systems, consisting of forest trees and seasonal crops for optimizing production during cultivation, whilst at the same time supporting efforts to protect peatlands.

The cultivation of multiple species can minimize the potential for failure compared to planting one species (monoculture). Moreover, the combination of seasonal crops and trees is considered to be able to provide a source of income in the short term and serve as an investment to create income in the long term.

In practice, the application of paludiculture requires the rewetting of dry peatlands. This is in line with efforts to support the restoration of degraded peatlands. Afterward, with the implementation of the agroforestry system, the forest trees planted will not only provide economic benefits but also functions to regulate water on peatlands. Trees collect rainwater and store it in the soil, thereby reducing runoff on the peat surface which can cause erosion.

‘Business as Usual’ Agroforestry Practices

Agroforestry systems have actually been widely adopted for cultivation activities on peatland. However, many of these practices do not meet the principles of sustainable peatland management.

For example, the development of an agroforestry system uses dryland crops that are not resistant to inundation, hence the cultivation process still requires peatland drainage. This type of crop is widely cultivated due to its higher economic value compared to wetland-resistant species. In reality, drainage on peatlands is ‘irreversible’, if the peatland is already dry it will be difficult for it to absorb water again. If the peat is dry, it will actually release carbon (despite its role in storing carbon) and the hydrological balance in the peat ecosystem will be disturbed. Furthermore, peat drainage makes peat flammable.

Paludiculture Principles

To minimize the negative impact of cultivation activities on peatlands, land drainage should be avoided. If the peatlands area is already dry, rewetting must be carried out to improve the hydrological conditions of the peat.

Peatland rewetting supported by planting native peat species or species that are resistant to wet conditions or inundation will support peatland restoration efforts. Therefore, paludiculture-based agroforestry practices can be an alternative method for peat farming.

To implement this, the species selected are crops that can grow in either wet or inundated peatland conditions, i.e. native peat species that are able to adapt to wet peat conditions. The species must also have a high economic value so it can provide ecological benefits for the peat ecosystem and economic benefits for the community.

Potential of Paludiculture Species for Improving the Community’s Economy

Several types of commodity-producing trees recommended to be cultivated on peatlands are non-timber forest product (NTFP) species that do not require logging when harvesting, such as jelutong, which can be used for its sap, Borneo tallow nut, or fruit-producing trees.

As for seasonal crops, some native peat species such as water mimosa, waterlilies, poison bulbs, and other species that are resistant to inundation, such as water spinach and bitter gourd are alternative commodities that can be developed on peatlands.

The species above are suitable for cultivation on peatlands with paludiculture-based agroforestry practices. These species can adapt well to the fluctuations of the peat water level which can range from 40 cm below the peat surface to more than 100 cm above the peat surface, hence minimizing draining activities. Moreover, these tree species can maintain peatland cover in the long term because its utilization does not involve logging practices that can potentially damage peatlands.

Paludiculture-Based Agroforestry Opportunities and Challenges

There are several challenges related to the application of paludiculture-based agroforestry, such as limited information and studies on paludiculture species, limited market access, and lack of concrete policies that can support economic activities from paludiculture. Therefore, several efforts are needed to optimize the application of paludiculture-based agroforestry.

First, further studies on species that have high economic value and can potentially be cultivated in wet peatlands need to be carried out. The selection of alternative crops that are peat-friendly and economically profitable is important to implement paludiculture-based agroforestry practices. In addition, the right combination of species will optimize the yield of paludiculture-based agroforestry.

Second, studies concerning the market availability and potential for paludiculture are also needed to optimize the economic benefits of cultivating these species. Without a clear market, the cultivation of paludiculture species will be difficult because economic benefits are an important consideration in cultivating a commodity.

Ketiga, it is important to disseminate the research outcomes, especially to relevant stakeholders, so paludiculture-based agroforestry practices can be implemented according to the rules.

Fourth, support from the government is needed for paludiculture-based agroforestry practices. For example, the government could implement a policy that promotes paludiculture as an approach for restoration, including full-saturation rewetting. The government can initiate the establishment of special zones special zones equipped with a system and program that can support paludiculture-based agroforestry on peatlands. The government can recommend paludiculture species that produce commodities according to market demand so it will be easier for the community to market their products. The government can provide financial assistance to support the community, by providing capital as well motivating the community to use peatlands that have economic value and are sustainable. In addition, the government can also provide assistance so paludiculture-based agroforestry can optimally produce commodities. Therefore, the sustainable use of peatlands that provide economic value for the community can be achieved.

Authors are research analysts from WRI Indonesia.

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