Photo source: brg.go.id
The destruction of the peat ecosystem in Indonesia has reached an alarming rate. Based on 2019 Environmental Statistics, Indonesia is recorded as having 24,136,669 hectares of peatland. However, the report also says that only around 181,142 hectares are safe. This damage is certainly worrying because in addition to causing loss of hydrological and ecological functions for nature, damage to the peat ecosystem negatively impacts health and the economy. Peat stores carbon up to ten times higher than soil and mineral crops. When burned, the carbon released into the air is high and, therefore, often exacerbates climate change. Meanwhile, with respect to economy, the World Bank’s calculations regarding forest fires throughout 2019 finds that Indonesia suffered a loss of US $5.2 billion, the equivalent of Rp. 72.95 trillion or to 0.5% of Indonesia's gross domestic product.
Restoration of damaged peat ecosystems is now a global concern. The government, through Badan Restorasi Gambut (BRG/Peatland Restoration Agency), is collaborating with institutions across sectors to restore the damaged peatland. One of the strategies is increasing awareness of preservation and enhancing human values through religion. For this reason, the Peatland Restoration Agency in collaboration with the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) and the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) UGM organized a workshop on peatland for religious instructors (penyuluh), especially in crisis areas (Kalimantan and Sumatra). This workshop is expected to enhance the capacity of these religious instructors to increase the ecological awareness of the local community in restoring the peatland ecosystem.
Continuing the previous collaboration with the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) and its experience of mentoring religious instructors within the Ministry of Religion, ICRS is mandated to hold a three week online training program on "Religion, Environmental Conservation and Peatland Ecosystem Restoration" from November 10-26, 2020, involving dozens of religious instructors from various regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
In his opening remarks for the Kalimantan zone training on November 17, 2020, Muhammad Adlin Sila as the Head of the Center for Research and Development of Religious Guidance and Services—the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) expressed his appreciation to ICRS for convening the workshop. For him, this kind of program is essential for MoRA to change current stereotypes attached to the institution typically believed to only address invisible, metaphysical problems. This involvement is a real challenge for the ministry to take part in the development of material life. As he said, this program is in line with President Joko Widodo's vision, which requires all ministries to have achievements in the environmental sector.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs warmly welcomed this event and requested to be simultaneously involved in such an agenda. The ministry needs to move forward to endorse ritual piety as sourceful capital for social care. It also expects more applicable operational methods for peatland restoration, in addition to discussions of ethics to be formulated throughout the training
”We also hope that this workshop, at least, could give some feedback to the ministry. Thus, in an attempt to enhance religious instructors’ capacity, we insert some materials (for them) to invite the grassroots community to be an important part of environmental conservation.”
In response to that, Zainal Abidin Bagir, the director of ICRS, said that the training program is part of ICRS’s commitment to partake in development generally and in interreligious life particularly. Apart from teaching through formal classes, ICRS is also active in conducting research and training with other institutions, including previous collaboration with MoRA in increasing the capacity of religious educators on religious literacy.
"We are neither experts on all religions, nor on peatlands. But we have experience in trying to reconcile these religions and how to bring religion to respond to the relevant issues around us".
Continuing the statement from Zainal Abidin Bagir regarding the role of religion in responding to contemporary issues, Myrna Safitri from the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) explained the various programs and hopes that BRG has currently and will be pursuing to promote awareness of environmental care. For her, each religion carries a special message for the care of nature. Unfortunately, these religious values have not been fully embodied in daily practice. Realizing the role of religion in the lives of its followers, BRG tries to use religio-cultural strategies to build public awareness. By involving religious leaders, BRG therefore tries to build communication with grassroots communities and involve them in the restoration movement. Currently, there are at least 381 preachers and 104 pastors who have become partners with BRG. And, 1000 farmers are members of the Peat Care Field School. A school that brought together farmers and professors from various universities to discuss and learn from each other about the best handlers for peatland restoration. In this program, religious values such as 'Natural agriculture is a form of love for God' are indirectly inserted to raise an ecological awareness of the need to farm without burning (peat).
Even so, Myrna Safitri said that religious leaders at the grassroots level often have difficulty delivering material. Therefore, BRG collaborated with religious organizations to develop sermon modules that directly address environmental conservation issues. Through this training, Myrna hopes that the workshop participants can carry ecological messages through religious messages. She emphasized the need to involve indigenous groups and women, not only because of their ability to “care for” nature, but also because they are the ones who are directly affected by its destruction.
At the end of her presentation, she said, "To restore peat is to restore humanity. Why do you have to say so? Because the problem of caring for the environment is actually a matter of enhancing the dignity of our humanity. ”
Continuing the explanation from BRG, Robert Siburian from the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) stressed that what we enjoy now is a loan from future generations. So, what we are using now must also be used by them. Through the 3R program — Rewetting, Revegetation and Revitalization, efforts must continue to be pursued in peatland restoration. He also emphasized the need to combine traditional ecological knowledge with modern one. According to him, local people have a strong relationship with the natural environment. They know better about the ecological character of where they live. Based on the experience of management from generation to generation, conservation and sustainability programs should pay attention to local needs and problems. Characteristics and needs of peatland restoration vary depending on the context. Therefore, restoration methods and models must consider local significances.
The need for peat restoration is now increasingly urgent. As the moderator Robby Abror said, humans should not only take what they need from nature, but they also should be able to restore them. Understanding of nature must go beyond the paradigm of Cartesian dualism which gives birth to exploratory and exploitative actions. It should take a multi-disciplinary approach and collaboration with many circles including religious instructors to increase the social awareness of the community pertaining to environmental conservation.