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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 underperforming food crop agriculture and aquaculture.

square miles covered by Indonesia’s coastal lowlands
square miles of peat swamp forests have already been converted into plantations
square miles of peat land covered by existing plantation concessions
of peat land has underlying mineral soil below mean sea level

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


Indonesia’s coastal lowlands cover over 139,000 square miles (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 85,000 square miles or 22 million hectares), freshwater swamp (once 38,600 square miles or 10 million hectares) and mangroves (once 15,400 square miles or 4 million hectares). Furthermore, the coastal lowlands will bear the brunt of predicted effects of climate change and sea-level rise.

Some 9,650 square miles (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 27,000 square miles (7 million hectares) of peat land. About 70% of this area has deep peat soils.

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 peat lands 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 ecosystem, cause large carbon emissions, and form a health hazard. Peat fires have forced the closure of schools and airports in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and sometimes even in the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Singapore.


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 analyzed institutional and legal issues to help the current drafting of new lowland and peatland legislation.

As the lead consultant we provided the following:

  • Lowland profile and atlas for West Kalimantan province (similar to those we prepared under the WACLIMAD project for five other provinces)
  • Studies and reports with clear recommendations on soil and water management, food crop agriculture, sustainable aquaculture, agroforestry and mangroves, paludiculture (marshland cultivation), and peat mapping.
  • Policy guidance on sustainable lowland development, spatial planning and lowland, forestry, and peat management legislation
  • Identification of suitable follow-up activities and programs

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.

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, agroprocessing 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.


Our recommendations are widely accepted and are being incorporated in Indonesia’s new lowland and peat land 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 peat lands.

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 the following:

  • Better spatial planning at national, provincial, and district level.
  • Policies and strategies for sustainable development of the lowlands and peat lands.
  • Improved peat maps
  • Better protection for vulnerable peat land ecosystems
  • Rehabilitation of degraded peat forest lands
  • Improved food crop production in lowlands with predominantly mineral soils
  • Improved aquaculture production in coastal lowlands
  • Prevention of coastal erosions/abrasion by rehabilitating mangrove greenbelts
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