Field trip to Perigi Talang Nangka village, South Sumatera, Indonesia – Photo by Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
Targeting the ‘food-energy-environment trilemma’
Bioenergy research in Indonesia is aiming for a triple win
Indonesia – an archipelago of over 14,000 islands, many of which source their
electricity from diesel brought in by boat – the idea of growing energy locally
is appealing. Bioenergy is seen as a potential route to energy security, better
rural livelihoods and restoration of degraded lands.
But there is the risk that biofuel crops – plants with oil-producing seeds or wood that can be converted to biomass energy – can displace food crops, increasing food prices and food insecurity. And the growing demand for biofuel and bioenergy from the aviation, shipping, energy and transport sectors could promote land clearing for more oil palm, leading to forest degradation, loss of biodiversity and peatland fires.
Since 2016, CIFOR and partner institutions have been looking at a wide range of policy relevant issues associated with bioenergy, especially social, economic and environmental aspects – including how bioenergy can be integrated as a part of landscape restoration goals. Rather than using arable land to study bioenergy, researchers are identifying and assessing degraded land, building a database of key species that grow well on Indonesia’s degraded lands, thereby transforming them back into profitable landscapes.
In 2018, CIFOR partnered with Sriwijaya University, one of the leading institutions in South Sumatra, to explore peatland restoration in Sumatra through paludiculture – cultivating peatlands in a way that preserves moisture. Using this technique on rewetted degraded peatlands could help prevent fires, protect local biodiversity, increase agricultural production, and provide new employment opportunities and raw materials for bioenergy use.
Sriwijaya University, Clean Power Indonesia (CPI), Biotechnology Research Center – Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (FOERDIA), University of Muhammadiyah Palangkaraya, University of Mulawarman
CIFOR is applying the same technique in Kalimantan, identifying species that can be planted along with food crops such as pineapple and dragon fruit. Since some biomass-producing species can take years to mature, finding species that can grow along with food crops could provide farmers with year-round income. The produce can be grown and sold while the bioenergy crops are being established, or between harvests of biomass crops. Scientists are also investigating ways to create value chains that link farmers with the biofuel market.
Early findings have identified some species as potential candidates for this approach. The ‘nyamplung’ or ‘tamanu’ tree was successful in different types of soil including peatlands and mineral soils, and did well in both dry and flooded situations. In contrast to biomass crops such as woody species that are harvested entirely, trees that yield oil-producing fruit or seeds can help offset greenhouse gas emissions. Since only the nyamplung seeds are collected to produce biodiesel, the tree remains in the landscape, providing shade for other plants and habitat for insects and wildlife. Tamanu flowers attracts honey bees, and the oil can also be used for medicines, skin care and other products.
sector interest in renewable energy is strong. Clean Power Indonesia (CPI) is
focused on expanding bamboo-based biomass power generation projects for and by
community users in some of the most remote places in Indonesia. In 2018, CIFOR
and CPI launched a partnership to explore ‘restoration through rejuvenation’
with bamboo, and to expand areas already using bamboo biomass for energy.
With the right crops in right place and the right business models, bioenergy may be the solution to three problems.
Partnering for impact
CIFOR has collaborated with the University of Muhamadiyah Palangkaraya (UMP) since 2016 to restore the fertility and productivity of degraded lands using biofuel-friendly tree species while improving local livelihoods.
Ibu Siti Maimunah, Dean of the Forestry Faculty at UMP, explained the value of this partnership.
“CIFOR’s support for UMP’s scientists, in research design, scientific data analysis, and the writing of academic papers and funding proposals, has been invaluable. I am very pleased to say that I was able to publish my first scientific paper in an international journal and won a grant proposal to scale up our research. And through our collaboration with CIFOR, I was invited to present my work at several national and international forums, drawing interest and support from key partners. I truly believe that research into bioenergy on degraded lands will not only support rural livelihoods and restore degraded lands, it will also mitigate climate change.”