Walhi focuses on advocacy amid pulp and paper tensions

Advocacy groups in West Kalimantan are focusing their energies on the oil palm sector and environmental and social conflicts, but industrial forest permits (HTI) that sustain the pulp and paper industry could also be playing an equal role in such issues.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) West Kalimantan chapter director Anton P. Widjaya said 47 HTIs spanning 2.3 million hectares had been issued in West Kalimantan. He added that 360 villages were located inside the HTI concession areas.

“Advocacy for pulp and paper is a new thing for us, so we must learn from local and international circles,” he told The Jakarta Post recently on the sidelines of a Consolidation Workshop for Civil Society Advocacy for Pulp and Paper, organized by Walhi in Pontianak.

HTIs have the potential to trigger human rights violations, horizontal conflicts and limit access to farmland for the local community.

There are also impacts on the environment due to clear cutting during forest conversion, allowing HTI concession holders to harvest timber before planting it.

“They then plant trees of fast-growing varieties, such as acasia and jabon, which can be harvested in just four or five years time,” said Anton.

In the workshop, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) Asia director Laf Cadio suggested campaigns as a form of advocacy.

Cadio said the international community was very concerned with basic human rights issues and environmental sustainability. 

“International buyers should be advised not to buy pulp material originating from social and environmental controversies, and advocacy should be given to well-known companies so the effects can be telling,” said Cadio.

He warned that market campaigns alone might not resolve the problems, but were one of several strategies. Moreover, the demand for paper is so high, while law enforcement at the local level remains very low.

He said advocacy should also be encouraged at the local level, which allows changes in government policies to be more in favor of the people and fairer law enforcement on social and environmental perspectives.

“The local community living around HTI concessions should be empowered. Advocacy groups should conduct studies, lobby policymakers and enhance communications with the media,” said Cadio.

Greenpeace Asia forest campaigner Zulfahmi said huge profits derived by the pulp industry had encouraged new Asian investors whose environment perspectives were unclear.

“The investors no longer come from Europe and the US. Recently, a bank in China disbursed its capital. We don’t know whether or not it cares about the environment,” said Zulfahmi.

In his experience of providing advocacy in Sumatra, none of the HTI concession holders could be brought to court as the cases only involved individuals from the companies, mostly employees.

Walhi West Kalimantan once dealt with a criminal case in a HTI concession area in Sejirak village, Sintang regency, in 2010, when a concession holder filed a report against members of the community who were cultivating land in the concession area. 

Walhi West Kalimantan staff member Hendrikus Adam, who was then providing advocacy to the residents, said 13 villagers were detained by the Sintang Police. 

Adam said they were cultivating land inside HTI concession areas but added the farmers could not be blamed right away.

“Access to farmland for the residents is getting smaller, forcing them to cultivate inside HTI concession areas. They have no other alternatives to seek a living, and no one cares about their future,” he said.

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