In 2016, five teams entered the two-year Indonesia Peat Prize competition that aims to find new ways to restore peatland across Indonesia.
With a cash prize of US$ 1 million hanging in the balance, they have been working to create the best and most effective peatland mapping methodology
Amid rampant destruction of peatland across the country, the establishment of the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) in January 2016 raised hopes that many areas can still be restored to prevent the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change.
The new national agency is tasked with restoring 2.4 million hectares of destroyed peatland, which had for decades been the victim of mismanagement among oil palm plantations.
Two years into its operation, the BRG and several related institutions have restored only 280,000 ha of peatland, or 11.6 percent of its target.
A lack of accurate information on peatland areas across in Indonesia is one of major obstacles that have bogged down progress, according to the Geospatial Information Agency (BIG).
“We have very limited access to Indonesian peatland maps. They are not routinely updated, while we all know that peatland can easily change,” said BIG promotion and cooperation center coordinator Wiwin Ambarwulan.
She further said that the agency mostly had access to 1:250,000 scale peatland maps, the details of which were so small, the agency had been struggling to gather information on the real conditions of the areas.
“We have had several 1:50,000 scale maps of certain peatland areas. However, such maps are made sporadically by only a few scientists,” she said.
“The limited data […] has hampered the planning, implementation and supervision of peatland restoration in Indonesia.”
Held by the BIG with support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Indonesia Peat Prize kicked of in February 2016 with the aim of creating the best mapping method to guide the government’s herculean task of restoring 2.4 million ha of peatland across Indonesia by 2020.
Forty-four teams from more than 10 countries registered for competition, but only 11 teams were considered eligible to participate. From July toDecember 2017, five selected finalists visited peatland areas in Kubu Raya district, West Kalimantan, to test their methods.
Bogor Agricultural University graduate Dipo Bariguna and his team are one of five finalists selected. His team, which comprises survey and mapping companies PT EXSA, Intermap Technologies Corporation and Forest Inform Pty Ltd., believed its could increase the accuracy of peatlandmapping by reducing the error level to only 0.87-meter Root Mean Square Error (RMSe).
The team also claimed its method could cut mapping costs and time allocation by up to 80 percent.
The winner of the competition will be announced on Feb. 2, coinciding with World Wetlands Day.
According to BRG deputy chairman Budi S. Wardhana, the result of the contest is crucial for the country’s peatland restoration program, because the method of whoever wins the challenge will be used to improve the National Indonesian Standards (SNI) on peatland mapping with the scale of 1:50,000.
“We are looking forward for the results of the [contest] because data accuracy is crucial for the restoration program. We are seeking the most accurate, affordable and timely method to map out the extent and depth of peatland in our country,” he said.
Data on peatland in Indonesia from several sources varies from 8.5 million ha to closer to 25 million ha. The peatland’s carbon content also varies from 22.5 million to 43.5 million tons of carbon.
“There is a huge gap in our data because we still don’t have a good peatland mapping [system],” Budi said.
He added that the BRG spent around $12 million from 2016 to 2017 for the peatland mapping program alone. It uses light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology to map peatland areas, which costs $7 per ha. This means the agency needs at least $14 million to cover 2 ha of peatland.
“We use LiDAR, but it can only cover the peatland surface profile. With information on the depth of a peatland are, we can decide precisely on whether it should be categorized a cultivation or protection area.”