Peat Matters !!!


ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations. Ten Nations, One Community.  Home to about 600 million people!  And we possess a hidden treasure few know about - a store-house of immense global value, a store-house of carbon, biodiversity and natural resources - known as the ASEAN Peatlands.Peatlands covers 3% of the world’s land surface. More than half of the world’s tropical peatlands, 60% or about 25 million hectares, is located in the ASEAN region.

The Important functions of peatlands.

Peatlands support the livelihoods of millions of people, directly or indirectly - for fishing, for timber and non-timber forest products and as a mode of transportation. Peatlands also provide environmental services such as water supply and flood control. They play an important role in climate regulation by acting as carbon sinks and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.

Peatlands are rich in biodiversity - they provide habitats for many rare and endangered plants and animals. Some of the animals found here include the Borneon Orang Utan, the Sumatran Tiger, the Asian Elephant, the Sun Bear and the Proboscis Monkey.

Threats faced by peatlands in the ASEAN Region

For the past two decades, the ASEAN region has experienced a major challenge with pollution from haze. Haze pollution affects the regional economy especially in the tourism, aviation and agriculture industries; it can also have an effect on our breathing and general health.

About 95% of the haze pollution is caused by fires from burning peatlands. These peatland fires are the result of irresponsible human acts; such as the excessive and indiscriminate draining of peatlands for agricultural and forestry activities, and for other development. Draining causes peatlands to become dry, and they then catch fire easily especially during the dry season. It can take weeks, sometimes months, to put out peatland fires!

In 1997 and 1998, flames engulfed about 2.2 million hectares of peatlands in Indonesia and contributed 10 to 20% of the world's emission of carbon dioxide. Smoke from the peat fires spread throughout Southeast Asia and is estimated to have caused an economic damage worth US$10 billion. It also affected the health of millions of people in the ASEAN region.

Since then the region has been affected by smoke haze every 1 to 2 years. In Southeast Asia, about 11 million hectares of peatland have been cleared or drained for agricultural and forestry activities in recent years. The oxidation of the peat-soil after clearing and draining results in the emission of carbon dioxide or (CO2). On average, about 50 tons per hectare per year of CO2 is released as a result of drainage, or approximately 650 million tons per year. A similar total released through fire. The emission of carbon dioxide from peatlands has an impact on the rate of global warming and climate change.

What are peatlands?

Peatland degradation also affects water supplies and induces flooding. Peatlands are wetland ecosystems that are characterised by the accumulation of organic matter called peat.  Peat is a type of soil that contains at least 65% organic matter that is with high carbon content. In the tropics, peat is formed primarily by peat swamp forests from the accumulation of dead parts of trees - particularly, stems and roots - in a water-logged environment. Peat accumulates in layers over thousands of years – peat depths can vary from 2 to 25 meters!

Most of the 25 million hectares of peatlands in the ASEAN region are found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand. Smaller peatland areas are found in Viet Nam, the Philippines and Myanmar. In some ASEAN countries, peatland areas have yet to be properly identified.

ASEAN acting together

In recent years, ASEAN Member States have begun to fight against peatland fires and haze pollution in the true spirit of ASEAN cooperation and collaboration. In 2002, the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was formulated to collectively address the challenges of peat fires; the ASEAN Peatland Management Initiative (APMI) was adopted as the guiding framework. In 2006, the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (or the APMS) was finalized to show Member States how to wisely and sustainably manage peatland areas. National Action Plans on Peatlands are now being developed and implemented to meet respective country priorities in reducing the rate of peatland degradation.

The ASEAN Peatland Forests Project (APFP)

The ASEAN Peatland Forests Project (or the APFP) became operational in 2010, with support from the governments as well as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). It will support the implementation of the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy and help address some of the root causes of peatland fires and haze pollution. The aim of the APFP is to build capacity and increase the awareness and understanding of peatlands – among ASEAN government officials, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and the local community. It is hoped that this will result in better cooperation and planning in matters concerning land-use and natural resource management.

Sustainable Management of Peatland Forests in Southeast Asia (SEApeat)

The Sustainable Management of Peatland Forests in Southeast Asia project ( or SEApeat) started soon after APFP in 2011. Supported by the European Union, it helps address issues not covered by APFP and supports peatland conservation efforts in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand as well as the other 4. It’s objective is to  The aim of the APFP is to encourage and enable sustainable management of peatland forests in Southeast Asia.


One of the efforts made to keep track of fires and haze in the region is the use of the Fire Danger Rating System or FDRS. FDRS is a software system that rates the risk of fire based on meteorological data and ground conditions. Overlaid with land use and other relevant maps, the resulting FDRS maps would help agencies responsible for peatland management to plan patrols and stop fires before they spread.


The APFP has documented and showcased best- on-the-ground practices in peatland management for the region. For example,

In Indonesia, the APFP focuses on integrated planning with the involvement of the local community and the plantation sector. The project will focus on Peatlands in Riau, and west Kalimantan province as well as share experience from earlier action in the mega rise project area in Central Kalimantan.

In Malaysia, the APFP focuses on policy and capacity building, the sharing of experiences and lessons learned. The main pilot area is the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest, where partnerships have been formed with adjacent landowners and local communities to safeguard and rehabilitate the forest.

In the Philippines, priorities include capacity building of various stakeholders for the conservation of the peatlands at Agusan Marsh in Mindanao, which is still relatively intact. Building on the experiences of other ASEAN countries, the activities in the Philippines will also involve the rehabilitation of the degraded peatlands in Leyte-Sab-a in the Visayas which will be led by the community.

In Viet Nam, the APFP will help raise awareness and build capacity for the integrated management of peatlands and community involvement, especially in the U Minh Thuong National Park.

In Viet Nam, work has been done in U Minh Ha National Park thanks to funding from APFP and SEApeat

In Myanmar, large areas of floating peat have been identified in the Inle Lake region. Utilised as planting plots, it is an important food resource for local communities.


The ASEAN Peatland Forests Project is a joint effort of the ASEAN Member States. It signifies regional cooperation and support to realize the goals of the APMS. The APFP is an initiative in the right direction towards improved management of peatlands in Southeast Asia; let’s work together to ensure its success.

By improving peatland management, we can stop peatland fires, reduce haze pollution and protect our valuable carbon store-house. It saves us billions of dollars.

It helps us breathe better.

Peatlands - let's treasure them together! . . . . .Peat matters!


For more information, please contact:

The ASEAN Peatland Forests Project (APFP)

Working towards the "Rehabilitation and Sustainable Use of Peatland Forests in Southeast Asia".


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