Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo is home to Asia’s most extensive tropical peatlands. In their intact, naturally waterlogged, forested state, peatlands rarely burn.

Our research activities focus on an intensively fire-affected region in south Central Kalimantan known as the Ex-Mega Rice Project (Ex-MRP).

The Mega Rice Project was implemented by the Indonesian government in 1996. It involved clearing and draining one million hectares of peatland for agricultural development. However, cultivation failed and the project was abandoned in 1998. Since then the degraded, highly combustible peat of the area, now known as the Ex-Mega Rice Project, has become the epicentre of fires in the province.

The Ex-MRP is populated by approximately 75,000 Javanese migrants, most of whom were resettled there under Indonesia’s Transmigration policy. The indigenous Dayak people mostly live in villages along the major rivers. All these communities are strongly affected by the hazards associated with drought and fire.

Bordering the Ex-MRP to the west lies the 600,000 hectare Sebangau National Park (TNS) and to the north the 300,000 hectare Mawas Conservation Area.   Such relatively intact peat swamp forests in the province are home to wildlife including the Bornean orangutan, white-bearded gibbon and iconic clouded leopard.  These forests are vulnerable to fire for various reasons, including drainage canals left by previous logging operations and fire use by people while fishing.

Our project aims to identify the groups and communities most at risk from wildfires and define actions to reduce these risks. In so doing, we are strengthening protection of the region’s peatlands and the many benefits these provide for climate, wildlife and local people.