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Scenarios for withdrawal of oil palm plantations from peatlands in Jambi Province, Sumatra, Indonesia

Afriyanti, Dian, Hein, Lars, Kroeze, Carolien, Zuhdi, Mohammad, Saad, Asmadi
Regional environmental change 2019 v.19 no.4 pp. 1201-1215
Elaeis guineensis, business enterprises, carbon, drainage, fires, forests, greenhouse gas emissions, growers, land use change, national parks, oxidation, peat, peatlands, plantations, production technology, smoke, swamps, Indonesia
In Indonesia, peatlands are still being converted into oil palm plantations. The associated fires and peat oxidation result in smoke and large carbon emissions. In the medium term, peatlands should be used for production systems that do not require (or require much less) drainage. In this context, this study aims to explore scenarios for the withdrawal of oil palm plantations from peatlands in Jambi province and the associated carbon emissions in the coming decades. We first analyzed past land-use change trends in Jambi peatlands. Then, we analyzed three scenarios for the future: (1) a baseline scenario, assuming further expansions by smallholders, but not by companies, (2) a scenario assuming withdrawal from peat by companies only, and (3) a scenario assuming withdrawal from peat by companies and smallholders. In both scenarios 1 and 2, it is assumed smallholders keep on expanding oil palm plantations in peatlands up to 2020 but not thereafter. To accommodate economic interests of growers, withdrawal of oil palm plantations is assumed to only take place when the palm trees are 25 years old and their productivity starts declining. Our study shows that there has been a rapid expansion of oil palm plantations in peatlands of Jambi from 30,000 ha in 1987 to 483,000 ha in 2014. In our baseline scenario, involving commitments from companies but not from smallholders, the area of oil palm further increases by 20% between 2014 and 2040; this implies that by 2040, almost all peatlands, including those in the buffer zone of Berbak National Park, will have been converted to plantations. The corresponding greenhouse gas emissions are 53 Mt CO₂-equivalent per year (from both peat decomposition and fires). In the scenario assuming withdrawal of company plantations from peatlands, the plantation area will be reduced to half that in the baseline scenario in 2040. This would decrease CO₂-equivalent emissions in 2040 to below 2010 levels (27.9 Mt per year). Our study shows that a substantial decrease in emissions is only possible in scenario 3 with an almost full withdrawal of plantations from peatlands by 2040. This reduces CO₂-equivalent emissions to the level of 2000 (4.3 Mt per year) and leads to safeguarding the remaining pristine peat swamp forest in Berbak National Park.