Peatland agriculture has sparked controversy for the last decades mainly due to its high number of carbon emissions compared to non-peat soil. In Indonesia, palm oil and rubber plantation have been dominating the peatland conversion into croplands. This practice attracted criticism since research found that palm oil production generates high carbon emission which cannot be offset by sequestration in palm trees.[i] Therefore, in this context, achieving carbon neutral is simply unrealistic.
Carbon neutral is occured when the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere is offset by the carbon sequestration process. Peatland formed by organic material with immense carbon stores up to twenty folds of surface carbon storage. Technically, it is reducing and compensating the carbon lost through carbon sequestration until it reaches an equilibrium. Agriculture sector provides one-third of carbon emission, thus reducing carbon footprint from agriculture is essential since more than eighty percent of agriculture carbon emission is derived from the production phase.[ii]
Why is carbon neutral important? If modern science could identify viable ways to absorb large amounts of agriculture emission, it would drastically reduce the risk of global warming. Conversely, unsustainable agriculture imposes food production without measuring long-term environmental impact. High carbon emission in food production on peatland will worsen the climate change impact. In 2050, climate change will drive wheat productivity drop of up to 13% and irrigated rice fall by 15%. In the meantime, the world population increased by 30 percent.
The efforts in exploring viable measures to increase the carbon reserve on peatland agriculture have resulted in many findings such as through maintaining the water table,[iii] and the application of mineral fertilization.[iv] Recently, Dessureault-Rompré et al. (2020) discovered that biomass from crop production can serve as a source of organic matter in the soil, which offset the carbon emission.[v] However, this study did not discuss the evidence from water table in peat soil which can be a solid a parameter to measure carbon emission from oxidation in peatland soil.[vi]
Increasing the water table level has been found to reduce CO2 emissions. The peatland regulation requires the water table level must be less than 40 cm from the ground. Otherwise, the emission will not only cause peat soil oxidation, but also wildfire. To make carbon neutrality possible, we must invest in building methods and technology for farming, creating effective regulation, and applying climate resilient crops. As for peatland management, planting high biomass species will allow the soil to absorb more carbon and reduce emission release to the atmosphere.