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QANS and national lowland strategy, Indonesia

The aim of this Quick Assessment and Nationwide Screening (QANS) project was to support Indonesia's government in its efforts to achieve sustainable development in its lowlands and peatlands. Key issues in the lowlands are large-scale deforestation, peat loss, land subsidence and under-performing food crop agriculture and aquaculture.

Indonesia’s coastal lowlands cover over 36 million hectares
Some 2.5 million hectares of peat swamp forests have already been converted into plantations
Existing plantation concessions cover over 7 million hectare of peat land
The underlying mineral soil in at least 65% of peatlands is below mean sea level
70% of the 7 million hectares of peat land occupied by plantations has deep (>2m) peat soils

Our recommendations are widely accepted and are being incorporated in Indonesia’s new lowland and peatland regulations.

We assessed the accuracy of existing peat maps, assessed the sustainability of coastal mangroves and agroforestry on peat land, identified suitable crops for buffer zones around peat domes and prepared lowland profiles and atlases for West Kalimantan province. Besides these technical issues, we also analysed institutional and legal issues to help the current drafting of new lowland and peatland legislation.

Key facts

As the lead consultant we provided:

  • A lowland profile and atlas for West Kalimantan province (similar to those we prepared under the WACLIMAD project for five other provinces).
  • A number of key studies and reports with clear recommendations on soil and water management, food crop agriculture, sustainable aquaculture, agroforestry and mangroves, paludiculture and peat mapping.
  • Policy guidance on sustainable lowland development, spatial planning and lowland, forestry and peat management legislation.
  • Spin-off in terms of identifying suitable follow-up activities and programmes.


Indonesia’s coastal lowlands cover over 36 million hectares and hold a major potential for the production of food and industrial crops. However, the lowland areas are also important for biodiversity, especially the vast areas of peat swamp (once 22 million ha), freshwater swamp (once 10 million ha) and mangroves (once 4 million ha). Furthermore, the coastal lowlands will bear the brunt of predicted effects of climate change and sea-level rise.

Some 2.5 million hectares of peat swamp forests have already been converted into oil palm, rubber and timber plantations, of which many are on deep peat soils. While Indonesia in 2011 issued a moratorium on the award of new concessions for the exploitation of primary natural forests and peat lands, existing plantation concessions cover more than 7 million hectare of peat land. About 70% of this area has deep (>2m) peat soils. A further 2.5 million hectares of peat swamp forest, mostly on shallow peat, has been deforested and is cultivated by smallholder farmers.

These agricultural farms and plantations all require drainage, causing irreversible loss of peat, increased carbon emissions, and ultimately also flooding due to peat subsidence, as the underlying mineral soil in at least 65% of peatlands is below mean sea level. The deforestation often involves land clearing using the slash-and-burn method, which causes peat fires in the annual dry seasons that destroy the eco-system, cause large carbon emissions and form a health hazard, forcing the closure of schools and airports in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and sometimes even in the neighbouring countries Malaysia and Singapore.


To improve the management of vulnerable lowland and peat land ecosystems, we prepared land-zoning maps and prepared guidelines for the sustainable management of the different land-zones. This needs to be mainstreamed in the regular spatial planning process to guide the land use planning, including the issuance of concessions for timber and oil palm plantations. Plantation concessions on deep peat soils should not be renewed after expiry.

To protect peat domes, buffer zones need to be created around them, with zero drainage close to the dome and minimum drainage further away from the peat dome. In these buffer zones alternative tree crops should be planted that tolerate continuous wet conditions and have a sufficient economic value to provide livelihoods to the local communities, so that these do not have to revert to agriculture involving slash-and-burn land clearing.

In lowland areas with predominantly mineral soils and rain-fed agriculture, the construction of irrigation systems has good potential for boosting food crop production. This should be part of a regional development program that also involves the whole food chain, including farm mechanization, agro-processing and market facilities and road infrastructure,

In coastal zones, the protection or restoration of mangrove greenbelts will provide protection against coastal erosion and a buffer between aquaculture fish ponds, which will effectively prevent the spreading of fish/shrimp diseases if these occur. The ratio of fish pond to mangrove plantation should not exceed 1:3.

Value and benefits

Our recommendations are widely accepted and are being incorporated in Indonesia’s new lowland and peatland regulations. Our contribution to the policy dialogue on lowlands has given the Government better knowledge and insight for regulating the development and conservation of the lowlands and peatlands. If implemented, the improved land use planning and lowland management policies should lead to a more sustainable lowland development and a substantial reduction of carbon emissions.

The results of the QANS project provide a good basis for:

  • Improving the spatial planning at national, provincial and district level.
  • Formulating policies and strategies for sustainable development of the lowlands and peat lands.
  • Improving the existing peat maps.
  • Better protecting the vulnerable peat land ecosystems.
  • Rehabilitating degraded peat forest lands.
  • Improving food crop production in lowlands having predominantly mineral soils.
  • Improving aquaculture production in coastal lowlands.
  • Preventing coastal erosions/abrasion by rehabilitating mangrove greenbelts.
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