BETWEEN 1990 AND 2010 about 50 percent of the forest cover in these types of peatlands were lost. These unique ecosystems are disappearing along with the species that are endemic to them. There are different points of view on the future of peatlands, whether to preserve them as unique natural habitats or not.
ALEXANDER COBB→ Once you drain the peat, whether or not there's fire, as we were talking about earlier, once they are dry, then they will start to oxidize, if not by fire then more slowly by decomposition, and the surface will gradually sink. So people that live in peatlands, at some point, there will be no more ground left there. In a way that ground is like an exhaustible resource, because the substrate underneath the peat in most of low-lying coastal Southeast Asia is actually below sea level. So it means that the land will be gone. It's just a matter of time.
I suffered a lot back then, I could only afford eating once a day. But with the oil palm crops we can now send our children to school, save money, build a house like this. We can buy vehicles, and we get to go to the religious pilgrimage three times. That was our motivation for planting palm trees. So whatever overseas or local people say about forbidding us from planting oil palm trees, we don't care. Our livelihood is at stake. We will keep planting oil palm trees. H. ARNEDI, contract farmer, Riau Province.
ALEXANDER COBB→ Maybe that's what we want to do for the future. Maybe on a regional planning basis we decide that it's more important to have oil palm on peat now than to have land there 100 years from now. But I think that maybe the implications aren't fully appreciated by everybody. It's a very different type of environment than a typical soil. In most environments when you grow plants in the soil, you might be exhausting some nutrients, but you're not gonna lose the ground. So this is something special about peatlands that I think it is not widely appreciated.