Attempts to conserve Borneo’s rich forests and peatlands have taken a step forward, with the signing of a Letter of Intent by various local and international institutions to work together towards this shared goal. The signing ceremony was held at the Hotel Neo in Palangka Raya, the capital of Central Kalimantan, on 26 January 2018.
This followed a workshop at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus (UK) hosted jointly with the Borneo Nature Foundation, which brought together over 30 scientists and Indonesian government representatives to discuss challenges and opportunities relating to fire and other conservation issues in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province.
Wild fire is a serious conservation concern in Kalimantan, especially during dry years, such as 2015. In that year, it is estimated that over 50,000 fire hotspots occurred in the province, burning over 22,000 km2 of land. Some scientific reports suggest that short-term exposure to the toxic haze produced from these fires may have led to 11,880 premature mortalities in Equatorial Asia.
Borneo Nature Foundation Field Director, Bernat Ripoll Capilla, explains “Kalimantan’s forests and peatlands provide huge benefits in terms of biodiversity conservation, carbon emission reductions, flood prevention, maintaining air and water quality, and supporting local livelihoods. This includes being home to many threatened species, such as the Critically Endangered Borneo orangutan, for which Central Kalimantan’s forests are a crucial stronghold.”
“Sadly, these benefits are currently at risk owing to a combination of peat-swamp drainage and fires, agricultural conversion, logging, mining and wildlife harvesting. The drivers and impacts of these threats are poorly understood, making development and implementation of effective conservation solutions hugely challenging. It is therefore vital that scientists and government work together to address these knowledge gaps and develop the necessary technical capacity within the province.”
In stipulating their intention to work together in these areas, the signing of the Letter of Intent by leading local and international academic and government institutions represents a major step in achieving this goal. Signatories include the Borneo Nature Foundation, University of Exeter, Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Agency, Sebangau National Park, University of Palangka Raya, Centre for the International Cooperation in Sustainable Management of Tropical Peatlands (UPT LLG CIMTROP), University Muhammadiyah Palangka Raya, University of Leicester and Liverpool John Moores University.
Speaking before the signing ceremony, Dr Frank van Veen of the University of Exeter said “If we are to effectively conserve Kalimantan’s forests and peatlands, it is vital that we both make use of the best available scientific expertise and work towards developing this expertise within Indonesian institutions. The intention expressed in this letter for our institutions to work together is important in realising this”.