Living Downstream

TOMS indonesia smog lrgIn this podcast, “Fire and Rain: Living Downstream Reports from Borneo,” you heard about the Mega Rice Project in Kalimantan, the indigenous people who lost their plantations and livelihood as a result and the environmental catastrophe that released unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

For listeners who want to know more about tropical peat soil, the Mega Rice Project disaster, the edible-nest swiftlets and more mentioned in this podcast, we have provided additional links below. 

[Image: Smog and smoke over Borneo and Indonesia, 1997. Credit: NASA]

In an effort to have food self-sufficiency and access timber resources in the area, Indonesia’s former President Suharto initiated the Mega Rice Project in Kalimantan, Borneo. These coastal forests, however, are composed of swampy peat soil. But what, exactly, is peat? National Geographic briefly describes what peat is and describes it as the “forgotten fossil fuel.” In addition, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discusses the effects of fluctuations in rainfall on carbon dioxide emissions from peatland. If you’re interested in the science behind peat carbon dioxide emissions, this resource includes a diagram of the ecosystem feedback leading to peat accumulation and more. 

A report by NPR’s Morning Edition discusses peat fires in Indonesia, particularly the peat fires that flared up again in 2015, 17 years after the catastrophic peat fires resulting from the Mega Rice Project. This continuing disaster still affects families in Borneo, but Indonesia’s current President Joko Widodo, who came to power in 2014, has since created the Peatland Restoration Agency. Reuters discusses the Peatland Restoration Agency’s mission to restore forests and peatlands in Indonesia until 2020. 

Canal blocking leads to water-logged peat lands that rarely burn, preventing peat fires from flaring up again each year. The Borneo Nature Foundation works to protect peatlands by constructing dams and rewetting peatlands by canal blocking. However, because water-logged peat lands are too soggy for the oil palm and acacia plantations that have since been planted on the peatlands, the Indonesian government chose to ban Indonesian farmers from conducting slash-and-burn farming instead of rewetting the peatlands. As a result, 90 percent of families in Mantangai gave up farming after the fire ban went into effect and many people began cultivating edible-nest swiftlets. BBC provides information on how the edible nests are enjoyed in China and how the swiftlets and their nests are cultivated. The New York Times also writes about the potential health benefits of edible-nest soup and the value of the nesting trade. 

The New York Times reported on the same region of Indonesia because of the efforts to increase production of palm oil. In order to do so, Indonesian rainforests were cut down and carbon emissions spiked. What was meant to be an eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuels instead led to environmental catastrophe once again. 

A quick guide to the resources linked on this page:

Environmental News

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