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How do you know if you are standing on peatland? How do we avoid peatlands getting dry and burning? After the discovery of the vast extent of the peatlands in the Congo Basin, a recent digital summit addressed these and other questions.


Peatlands are lands with a naturally accumulated plant layer on their surface, stored by the high water level. Peatland ecosystems store great amounts of carbon and have therefore become a centre of attention for climate change mitigation. Although not all peat locations are known and mapped, peatlands are estimated to contain 30 per cent of the world’s soil carbon even though they only cover 3 per cent of the Earth’s land area. In addition to storing organic matter, peatlands provide a wide range of ecosystem services.

Over 180 countries have peatlands, including in diverse climatic areas like highlands, drylands, coastal areas, river and lake basins, and in the permafrost. However, the muddy Congolese peatlands are the most recent ones to generate headlines.  

peats congoIn 2017, The UK-Congolese research team, co-led by Prof Simon Lewis and Dr Greta Dargie, from the University of Leeds and University College London published a study that increased the coverage estimations of the peatlands located on the border between the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to approximately 145 500 square kilometres (roughly the size of Nepal). The discovery made the Cuvette Centrale the most extensive, continuous peatland complex in the tropics. After measuring and estimating peat depth, the research group has predicted that this carbon pool below the swamp forest would be equivalent to approximately 20 years of greenhouse gas emissions from the United States of America.

The research highlighted the immense significance of these swamp forests for the stability of our planet’s climate that consequently generated interest and questions about the Cuvette Centrale peatlands. To explore the inquiries, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) together with the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) organised a Digital Summit “Peatlands: A landscape to discover" on 4 October 2018. The Summit’s experts presented and responded to participants’ questions such as “What are peatlands?”,  “What kind of peatlands can be found in the Congo Basin?”, “What threats are peatlands facing and how can they be reduced?” and others. The summit was held in French and gathered more than 65 participants from around the world, half of them from French-speaking African countries. The session also gave an opportunity to promote the importance of this often-overlooked ecosystems.

As only about 11 percent of Cuvette Centrale falls under official national protected areas, the participants discussed current and potential threats Cuvette Centrale peatlands are facing, including drainage-based farming and logging, mining, oil extraction and infrastructure building. Combined other impacts from human activity such as road construction as well as changing weather conditions (in particular hotter, drier climate) resulting from global warming, peatland are facing threats of deforestation, contamination of soil and water, and overall landscape degradation, as so many other wetlands, globally.

Benjamin Toirambe from the Ministry for Environment and Sustainable Development of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), highlighted the need for making a land use plan for peatland landscapes. The plan, Mr Toirambe is convinced, should also address the poverty and livelihoods of the people living close to the peatland area. “We need to find a peaceful way for co-habitation and avoid damages caused by drainage-based activities” underlined Mr Toirambe, who was born in the region himself.

medium 1 42480936462 d0b94d74a5 k - CopyFrancis Müller, from Pôle-relais tourbières à la Fédération des Conservatoires d’espaces naturels, summarised the session by saying that all peatland-related decisions need to take into account social aspects. “We should remember that people can live in the area only if the peatlands are kept wet. This is exactly what they have already been doing: living in these areas for a long time, fishing. Indonesia’s experience has taught us that these soils are not adapted for cultivating rice. Similarly, the damages and fire risks caused would largely outweigh the benefits, should the forest, oil or mining concession owners or road builders proceed with the discussed activities.”

What are countries and the international community doing to protect peatlands?

The Republic of the Congo is currently considering the expansion of the Lac Télé Community Reserve to protect further areas of the swamp forest. Efforts to promote the conservation of the Congo peatlands go hand in hand with the National REDD+ Strategy developed by the country with support from its many partners, the UN-REDD Programme among them.

To protect the resource, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, work to complement the national forest inventory on additional peatland areas is currently taking place. Supported by FAO, several field teams are collecting soil and tree data of several important peatland locations in the North of the country. Sponsored by the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), the work supports the estimation of above and belowground biomass in peatlands that will eventually lead to data-driven actions and policies to protect the country’s natural resources. This work complements the field studies that Greta Dargie, Simon Lewis and Ifo Suspense and Yannick E. Bucko and other members of the UK-Congolese research team are continuing to verify peatland location.

Knowledge sharing between various stakeholder such as governments, conservation and scientific communities as well as local communities of the Cuvette Centrale will play a crucial role in efforts to improve local livelihoods without compromising the integrity of this globally significant region.


All interested in the topic are invited to join the online community of practice focusing on peatlands and climate change at:



Further resources:

Guarding the planet’s carbon treasure - three countries sign the Brazzaville Declaration

More on Brazzaville declaration


Continue the exchange on peatlands and climate change through an online community of practice:

Watch the whole session in French

On YouTube:



Article “Que menace les tourbières du bassin du Congo?

Infographie «Les tourbières et le changement climatique»



Article “What’s threatening the Congo Basin’s peatlands?

Infographics “Peatlands and Climate Change


For more information, please contact:


Maria Nuutinen

REDD+/National Forest Monitoring Cluster

FAO Forestry Department

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