Utilizing peatland for agricultural purpose or plantation is more sustainable than letting peat soils be actively exploited and burned to produce energy.
In April 2017, EU called for a palm oil boycott. One of the reasons is because oil palm plantations are developed on peatland area. The call for boycott has gained criticism from palm oil producer countries, especially Indonesia and Malaysia.
The EU’s attention on the conservation of peatlands seems noble, as if Europeans are protecting and conserving their own peatlands. Even more with some European countries offering financial help to restore peatlands in Indonesia. Those things create public assumption that the way Indonesia manages the peatlands is worse than how the European countries do. But is that true?
The data acquired shows the contrary. Based on the report from Fuel Peat Industry in EU (VTT, 2005) Europeans are not conserving, but instead, destroying their peatlands by peat mining (such as coals) and burning it to produce energy or fuels. Currently there are at least 117 power plants that are using peats as the fuels. There are 651 peat producer companies all over Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and many more.
In Europe, peat mining for fuels has started since long time ago. Therefore, it is not surprising to know that 13.34 million hectares of peatland is disappearing each year in Europe (Wet International, 2010, International Peat Society, 2002). In periods between 1990 and 2008, peatlands in Europe has subsided for about 2.6 million hectares, whereas in Asia the area of subsided peatlands is only 1.1 million hectares.
On the contrary, some parts of peatlands in Indonesia have been used for agriculture while the rest are protected. It is estimated that from approximately 18 million hectares of peatland in Indonesia, only 6 million hectares of the land is used for agriculture and plantations.
Is it wrong to use peatlands for agriculture? This topic is still debatable and has many pros and contras. However, using peatland for agricultural purpose is surely better than letting it be mined or burnt to produce energy.
Peatland is formed from the accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. Logically, growing plants on peatland is the same as adding another organic matter which therefore is considered a way of conserving the peatland. It is true that some agricultural practices are destroying our peatlands; for instance land clearing, watering system, etc. However, those are purely problems related to technology and management which can always be fixed.
Let us use an analogy. During an election, a practice of providing contribution money to influence the result of an election is wrong. Thus do we have to simply eradicate election just because there are a lot of people involved in money transactions for political purpose? That is clearly not the right thing to do. Election must still go on but instead the system should be fixed and controlled so that this wrong practice can be prevented and even stopped.
The same goes for agriculture and plantation on peatlands. Growing plants on peatland is natural and even part of the conservation of the peatland itself. Technology and management surely need continuous improvement to eventually satisfy the principles of ecological farming.
To conclude, using peatlands for agricultural purpose and plantation is proven to be more sustainable than letting the peat soils to be mined and burnt as it causes the increase emission of CO2 to the atmosphere just like what happened in Europe.
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