In Sumatra, a former coal mine sees a green future

“We are transforming critical unproductive land into a value-added ecotourism area and biodiversity research hub,” explain to Tempo Hean Tomas, head of the environment division of the municipality of Sawahlunto, in West Sumatra (Indonesia).

The lands in question extend over the 393.95 hectares of a former open pit coal mine discovered in 1867 by a Dutch geologist. A deposit valued at the time at 205 million tonnes by the Dutch colonial government, which exploited it until it was exhausted in 1923.

Fertilize the land

Tempo specifies that “converting land degraded by surface coal mining into fertile land is not a simple task”.

The first step was to restore the top layer of the soil by adding humus and fertilizer with as little chemical input as possible. “Then acacias and albizias were planted as a priority for their great resistance to soils poor in nutrients and very acidic. In addition, their rapid growth produces an abundance of dead leaves, which act as natural compost to slowly fertilize the soil”. says Hean Tomas.

Since 2019, the Kehati Foundation, named after the future park “biodiversity”, makes an inventory of local plants called “pioneers” that grow naturally in neighboring regions to replant them on the old mine site.

“These pioneer plants are hardy species that are the first to grow in heavily degraded, even barren soils,” points out Rio Rovihandono Bunet, head of the foundation’s forest ecosystem program.

At the heart of Kehati Park stretches a blue lake of 14 hectares. “In 2021, before the development of its banks, five people died drowned in this giant hole abandoned by the extraction company at the end of its activities”, note Tempo.

The magazine hopes that other parks will be created in these “gaping open wounds” which riddle the lands of the archipelago, especially in Kalimantan, where this type of drowning occurs frequently. Indonesia is the world’s fifth largest producer and exporter of coal.

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