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APP pledges ambitious forest conservation target, NGOs cautious

The world’s largest pulp and paper manufacturer commits to conserve and restore one million hectares of rainforest across Indonesia, amidst some implementation concerns from environmental groups such as WWF and Greenpeace.

The Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP) has taken another step closer to strengthening its forest conservation commitment, promising to conserve and restore one million hectares of forest landscapes across Indonesia in partnership with various environmental groups.

The paper manufacturer announced this new commitment on Monday as a part of its sustainability drive to go beyond legal compliance and aspire for greater conservation efforts. The goal is to protect and restore forests amounting to an approximate equivalent of the total plantation area it sourced pulp fibre from in 2013.

APP will focus on several forest landscapes in provinces including Sumatra, West and East Kalimantan and Riau, a controversial area known for frequently having forest fire hotspots in the region. The firm will start with preservation programmes in the 30 Hills landscape called Bukit Tigapuluh in Jambi, Sumatra, a known habitat for tiger, elephant and orang-utan populations.

Aida Greenbury, APP sustainability director, noted that APP will collaborate with Indonesian and international organisations such as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), The Forest Trust and Ekologika in order to implement their CSR programmes.

Other conservation NGOs, however, such as WWF and Greenpeace, welcomed the news with caution. These groups have been critical of APP’s forest commitments before, and while they lauded the latest initiative, WWF said a comprehensive consultation with various stakeholders is needed to effectively implement the firm’s target.

Greenbury explained that their initiatives will encompass an extensive ‘landscape approach’. “Land cannot be conserved or restored in isolation, the sustainability of the entire landscape must be taken into account and many stakeholders must be involved,” she said.

In particular, the company aims to build an animal corridor close to one of its concessions and initiate activities that would protect threatened elephant herds living in the Tebo Multi Agro concession.

Landscape approach entails ensuring that land is used for only a number of purposes like protected areas, agriculture and restoration, said WWF.

We also strongly believe that areas counting towards the one million hectare target should be additional to those that pulp concession holders are legally obliged to protect under Indonesian regulations

Aditya Bayunanda, forest commodities market transformation program leader, WWF-Indonesia

Restoration, they added, includes restoring the ecosystem to its natural functions, so it is able to provide benefits for people, as well as addressing the vulnerability of forests and biodiversity. It addresses the root causes of forest loss and degradation.

APP did not provide any timeframe for the implementation of the new initiative, but it said a more detailed time-bound plan will be developed in the next months, which will be linked to its integrated sustainable forest management plan.

Currently, the specific areas and corresponding commitments in APP’s plans include the following:

  • Provide wildlife corridors and additional buffer areas and restrict access to enhance the function of Bukit Tigapuluh National Park together with the local community.
  • Support conservation of the Sumatran tiger and peat swamp forest in Senepis, Riau.
  • Secure, protect and restore the core natural forest within the Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve to provide a habitat for many endangered species including Sumatran tiger and Sumatran elephants. Also, ensure sustainable conservation of peat swamp forest, while supporting the livelihood of the local communities.
  • And, support large landscape protection of peat swamp forest using a multi-stakeholder approach that involves other concession holders in Kampar Peninsula, Riau.

A wary reception

WWF stressed on the importance of how the list of programmes will be implemented. It will need to involve many different parties including local authorities, other land managers, communities, government agencies and NGOs based in the landscape areas, the campaign group said.

Thorough consultation will be required to translate the company’s promises into effective restoration and conservation measures, they added.

Rod Taylor, director of WWF’s global forest programme, pointed out that WWF and other organisations have identified APP’s lack of attention to their deforestation violations as a major shortcoming in the original Forest Conservation Policy implemented in February last year.

APP and its wood suppliers have cleared more than two million hectares of tropical forest since it began its operations 30 years ago, according to WWF, citing estimated data from Sumatran NGO coalition Eyes on the Forest. WWF-Indonesia is a member of this coalition.

Aditya Bayunanda, WWF-Indonesia forest commodities market transformation program leader, said: “We also strongly believe that areas counting towards the one million hectare target should be additional to those that pulp concession holders are legally obliged to protect under Indonesian regulations.”

Meanwhile, Greenpeace similarly commended the development, stating that these actions will help address APP’s deforestation legacy. The green group also emphasised that the move is largely different to other companies that allegedly persist to operate by means of massive deforestation in Indonesia.

“APP’s approach contrasts strongly with Indonesia’s other major pulp and paper producer APRIL/RGE. In a sustainability announcement earlier this year, APRIL admitted it will continue to rely on rainforest clearance for at least another six years,” noted Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner Zulfahmi. “It’s time APRIL and other pulp companies in the RGE group follow APP’s lead and commit to a “No Deforestation” policy with an immediate moratorium on all forest clearance,” the advocate added.

APP, which is under the Sinar Mas Group, also plans to form an independent trust fund that will manage and finance the conservation measures. Other commitments in the current plan also consist of: 

  • Support expansion and connectivity of protected forest areas in Kerumutan, Riau.
  • Protect the existing natural forest and assess the possibility of expanding the current protected forest by restoring key areas to natural ecosystems and focusing on the protection of Sumatran tiger and other key species in Muba Berbak Sembilang, Jambi and South Sumatra. Additional support will be provided to the national parks.
  • Create a wildlife corridor to expand the habitat of Sumatran elephants in Oki, South Sumatra.
  • Maintain the integrity of orang-utan habitat and also assess the possibility of expanding the existing mangrove forest to support the conservation of swamp crocodiles in Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan.
  • And, support the existing national park, providing buffer and corridor for orang-utan habitat in Kutai, East Kalimantan.

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