The government plans to reclaim, for a second time, up to 500,000 hectares of peatland in Central Kalimantan for agricultural and plantation use as part of a nationwide effort to revitalize the agricultural sector.
The land in question was part of a failed New Order-era project to turn one million hectares of peatland in the province into agricultural land, before being largely abandoned.
Central Kalimantan Governor Teras Narang said the vast tracts of peatland -- which traverse the province's Barito Selatan, Kapuas and Pulang Pisau regencies, within easy reach of the province's capital, Palangkaraya -- will be planted with rice and other field crops. Some of the land will also be used for cattle raising and aquaculture.
Another 600,000 hectares of peatland will be conserved to reduce damage to the ecosystem, the governor added.
"This marks the resurrection of the `one million hectares of peatland' program," he told reporters Wednesday after attending a Cabinet meeting at the State Palace.
The governor was referring to the failed Soeharto-era peatland reclamation program.
"We hope that what is now a land of a million woes will be converted into a land of a million hopes again."
Teras said that the central government had agreed to support a collaboration between local administrations and the private sector in the implementation and management of the program.
"We will be ready to go as soon as the official presidential instruction for the program to start has been issued," he said. "How much development financing will be needed and the program's timeframe are still being assessed and discussed."
Indonesia's boasts the fourth-largest area of peatland in the world at 17 million hectares, with 13 million hectares having the potential to be developed for agriculture.
Previous efforts to convert the peatlands into productive agricultural areas have, however, met with disastrous results.
The 1.1 million hectares of peatland included in the new program are, in fact, part of the 1.4 million hectares that the Soeharto administration had planned to reclaim in 1995.
Lack of proper planning resulted in the failure of the program after some Rp 1.2 trillion (US$133 million) had been wasted. The collapse of the project also stranded 64,000 transmigrants from Java on land they could not cultivate. The project resulted in an environmental disaster, with only 6,000 hectares being successfully reclaimed. The rest of the area turned into a barren wasteland.
Last year, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched a nationwide program to revitalize Indonesia's agricultural sector, aimed at increasing domestic rice production and utilizing idle land for biofuel plantations.
As part of this revitalization program, 13,000 hectares of peatland in Central Kalimantan have been reclaimed for agriculture, with the first harvest being brought in last September. The government wants to increase local rice production this year by two million tons to 32.9 million tons in order to secure supplies, which frequently have to be augmented through imports.
The government also plans to develop biofuel plantations covering 6.5 million hectares, and has allocated some Rp 13 trillion for the purpose. This forms part of the effort to replace 10 percent of the country's fuel needs -- which amounted to 70 million kiloliters last year -- with biofuels by 2010.