Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Indonesian civil society writes to Banks: APRIL failing to implement its own policy

The environmental coalition Jikalahari and the network of local communities of Riau province, JMGR, have sent two letters to banks, one each to Credit Suisse and ABN Amro, to share some concerns over what is happening on the ground in APRIL’s concessions in the Riau Province (in Sumatra, Indonesia).

Credit Suisse has committed to help its customer APRIL to deliver a visible change in its activities. ABN Amro also has business with APRIL, and last May was involved in a new deal with this company for US$800 million, through a syndicated loan.

According to the local communities, the APRIL group and its subsidiary PT RAPP has been so far unable to implement its own policy, to comply with regulations in Indonesia regarding peat protection and peat management or to implement regulations regarding setting aside areas for local communities’ livelihood trees.

APRIL subsidiaries illegally keep building canals, planting in burned peatlands that should be restored, and even forbidding official inspection teams to visit their concessions. Social conflicts with local communities are not being addressed, as the company promised they would be, and its agreements are violated by the plantation companies.

Furthermore, business-as-usual peat management is draining large areas of peatlands in the Kampar peninsula, releasing huge amounts of CO2 every year and creating risks of new waves of fires. Last year’s peat fires caused the death of 5 Riau residents; 3 of which were children, and more than 87,000 people suffered from respiratory diseases, while the county suffered $935m of damage. Six APRIL subsidiaries have been investigated by the Police Department in relation with the fires, but still the company has failed to stop draining peat. This practice will also cause soil subsidence, leading to extensive flooding in the rainy season, while the dry season is affected by fires.

The civil society groups have asked the banks to make sure that their clients will be able to prove full compliance with laws and regulations, to promptly address social conflicts and to stop draining peat.

The letter_to Credit Suisse
The letter to ABN Amro

Friday, October 21, 2016

APRIL's workplan annulled due to plantation expansion in Kampar Peninsula landscape

After conducting an evaluation of the 10-year work plan of PT RAPP, a subsidiary of APRIL, Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and Forestry took the decision to annul this work plan (Oct 4), owing in part to the new expansion of acacia plantation blocks in the company’s concessions, most notably in their estates located in the Kampar Peninsula landscape and on Pulau Padang, in Sumatra's Riau province.
It turns out that this new expansion of acacia plantation blocks in the Kampar Peninsula landscape, encompassing an area greater than a thousand football fields, involves peat domes included in the peat restoration indicative map recently released by Indonesia's Peat Restoration Agency.
When this information came to light, the ministry immediately annulled the company’s 10-year work plan as the new expansion of acacia plantation blocks, which would compromise vast swathes of peatlands, was included in this year’s annual work plan. This means that peat clearance, peat drainage and canal development would take place this year in the Kampar Peninsula landscape.
Ironically, at COP21 Paris last December, APRIL announced that it would invest USD 100 million to boost peat restoration efforts in the Kampar Peninsula landscape. However, flying in the face of this commitment, serious violations were found in the APRIL subsidiary’s 10-year work plan, dated 22 February 2016, which outlined the company’s intention to expand its new acacia plantation blocks in the Kampar Peninsula landscape, leading the ministry to annull the work plan.
As previously reported by foresthints.news (Sep 27), the Director General of Sustainable Production Forest Management at the Environment and Forestry Ministry, Putera Parthama, said that if legal inconsistencies in the PT RAPP work plan were found, his ministry would have no hesitation in cancelling it.
As it turns out, the ministry has indeed annulled the work plan due to deviations in its legal substance, regardless of APRIL’s claim that the company work plan was in accordance with procedures, as reported by foresthints.news (Sep 27).
With the annulment of the work plan, the ministry has instructed the APRIL subsidiary to revert to its old work plan and, in doing so, comply with the complete prohibition on peat clearance as prescribed in a circular letter issued by the Environment and Forestry Minister, Siti Nurbaya, in early November last year.
In fact, the new expansion of acacia plantation blocks involving peatlands is not only in contravention of the policy of President Joko Widodo and the ministerial circular letter, but also in contradiction to the APRIL group's own sustainability policy.
“This serves as a big lesson for APRIL's Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC). It’s actually them that should have uncovered these violations perpetrated by the APRIL subsidiary. But how can they be expected to discover these violations if the APRIL company’s work plan is not subject to consultation or shared with the WWF and Greenpeace as members of APRIL's SAC,” lamented Vanda Mutia Dewi, Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia, when speaking to foresthints.news on Monday (Oct 10).
The annulment of the work plan, in Vanda’s opinion, gives APRIL's SAC the opportunity to request that APRIL no longer allocate forested peatland blocks, especially those found in the Pulau Padang Estate, for acacia development blocks.
Furthermore, she continued, APRIL's SAC must also ask that APRIL restore peatland areas in the Kampar Peninsula lanscape earmarked for the new expansion of acacia plantation blocks in the now cancelled work plan, so that these areas can once again act as buffer zones of the Zamrud National Park.
Vanda added that, bearing in mind that the peatland areas concerned form part of the peat restoration indicative map, APRIL's SAC must go even further by demanding that APRIL play an active role in restoring the peatlands, most of which are peat domes.
President Joko Widodo has repeatedly declared his political commitment to protecting the country’s peatlands, stating that these areas may no longer be exploited, whether for forestry or plantation business expansion.
The President has reiterated his determination in this regard on many occasions. As such, it is somewhat strange that a business work plan in the forestry and plantation sector would still involve the very exploitation of peatlands for the purposes of business expansion that the President has sought to eliminate.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Advisory Board members ask APRIL to put Indonesian government decisions into action

WWF and Greenpeace, both of which are members of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) - a committee established by the APRIL Group to oversee the implementation of its Sustainability Policy - have declared that APRIL must abide by the decisions made by the Indonesian government in the wake of the peatland violationsperpetrated by the APRIL subsidiary, PT RAPP, in its concession on Pulau Padang, in Sumatra's Riau province.

As a logical consequence of the peatland violations which were confirmed in a first-hand inspection by Peat Restoration Agency Chief Nazir Foead to the location of the incidents (Sep 5), the Environment and Forestry Ministry asked the APRIL subsidiary to revise its 10-year work plan to bring it in line with the government’s current commitment to protect peatlands. The ministry also provisionally suspended PT RAPP’s operations until it has completed tahe revision of its work plan. "The APRIL company of course needs to revise its 10-year work plan so that it reflects APRIL's existing sustainability policy," Aditya Bayunanda, Forest Commodity Leader at WWF-Indonesia, told foresthints.news on Wednesday (Sep 14).

He added that APRIL could have actually prevented the peatland violations from taking place if they had acted on the SAC’s recommendation of not conducting any operations whatsoever until all community-related conflicts were resolved.  “I was surprised when I heard the finding that there had been peatland violations by the APRIL company on Pulau Padang. These violations could really have been avoided if only APRIL had followed the SAC recommendation,” Dito, as he is more commonly known, lamented. He went on to explain that in the revision process of the 10-year work plan, the APRIL company would have to include the most up-to-date and valid information and data available to it. “It seems really odd for APRIL still to be referring to the 2013 work plan today. They really have to revise this as soon as possible in order to adjust it to their current sustainability policy.”

 On the same day, Greenpeace Indonesia Forest Campaigner Rusmadya Maharuddin said that as corporation whose affairs are administratively linked to relevant government institutions, APRIL naturally needs to adhere to the government’s decisions, including the suspension of the operations of its concession on Pulau Padang and the demand for a revision of its 10-year work plan. “These decisions taken by the Environment and Forestry Ministry definitely took a lot of factors into consideration. We continue to back these government measures as part of our efforts to support improved forestry governance in Indonesia,” he said. Greenpeace has also asked PT RAPP to resolve various issues that have arisen on the ground, especially those related to the recent findings, whether they are social issues or issues pertaining to the opening up of peatlands to build new canals. “A corporation like this should really be following the government policy for protecting peatlands, as we know that the creation of new canals is one of the main causes of peatlands drying out,” cautioned Rusmadya. “If APRIL continues to carry out practices that are inconsistent with their sustainability policy, under the pretext that they are still referring to their 2013 10-year work plan”, Rusmadya continued, “sooner or later the public will demand to know exactly how their sustainability policy fits in to their operations.” “We really hope that their sustainability commitments will make the APRIL company accelerate the resolution of the problems they are facing, such as the social and peatland restoration issues, particularly through the revision of the 2013 work plan."

Meanwhile, Secretary General of the Environment and Forestry Ministry, Dr Bambang Hendroyono, said that his ministry is in the process of formulating some quick measures in response to the imposition of the three-month suspension on the operations of the APRIL concession on Pulau Padang. "All relevant concerns will be incorporated into the revision process of the 10-year work plan of PT RAPP, particularly with respect to Pulau Padang. I have been appointed by our minister to take the lead in this process," the Secretary General told foresthints.news on Friday (Sep 16). According to Bambang, the APRIL company may not use the 2013 work plan as a justification for clearing and draining peatlands in its concessions, including the development of new canals. In fact, in early November last year the Environment and Forestry Minister published a circular letter expressly prohibiting such operations. “This circular letter made it clear that any such activities which damage peatlands are not allowed. In light of this, the APRIL company should give priority to revising their 2013 10-year work plan, and in doing so obey the demands contained within the circular letter,” warned the Secretary General.

It should be noted that the circular letter clearly stated that pulpwood and palm oil companies need to revise their 10-year and annual work plans to adjust to the ban on the clearing of peatlands. This means that it is completely irrelevant for pulpwood companies, such as the APRIL subsidiary, to say that they are referring to their 10-year and annual work plans in terms of peatland clearances, as this company has recently done.

The head of the agency, Nazir Foead, immediately organized a field inspection, together with forest rangers and officials form the Environment and Forests Ministry, but PT RAPP sent the security to prevent the inspection.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

APRIL concession permit suspended

After being found guilty to illegal plantation development on peatland (and land-grabbing) - and trying to prevent a high level official inspection, APRIL' RAPP concession has been suspended.

Chief of Indonesia's Peat Restoration Agency, Nazir Foead, has said that the pulpwood concession belonging to PT RAPP, a subsidiary of APRIL, which operates on Pulau Padang, a small island in Sumatra’s Riau province, must revise its 10-year work plan with immediate effect, and meanwhile suspend its operations. “PT RAPP has to designate the peat domes found in its concession as protection zones, and this needs to be incorporated into the 10-year work plan of the company,” Nazir told foresthints.news

According to the peat agency data, about 65% of the roughly 34,000 hectares that make up the Pulau Padang pulpwood concession can be classified as indicative peat domes. Out of the area occupied by these indicative peat domes, 57% has been allocated for acacia plantation blocks, most of which has already been planted with acacia. “This doesn’t take into account the indicative peat domes situated in community livelihood blocks which have also been cleared by the company to plant acacia. If we were to include that, the proportion of indicative peat domes already planted with acacia would be even greater,” explained Nazir. After this acacia is harvested, he continued, PT RAPP is not allowed to replant acacia again in the locations of peat domes. “They must re-vegetate these areas with peatland plants. This forms part of the restoration process of the peat domes. This also forms part of the process of phasing out peat domes from the pulp and paper business.”

Meanwhile, Secretary General of the Environment and Forestry, Dr Bambang Hendroyono, has confirmed that the operations of the pulpwood concession on Pulau Padang have been provisionally suspended.
“The decision to provisionally suspend the operations of the PT RAPP pulpwood concession on Pulau Padang has been made. It will be in effect while we wait for the map on the distribution of protected peat areas in this concession,” he declared in a written statement received by foresthints.news on Friday.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

In violation of government policy APRIL drains peatlands in dispute with communities

 Voices are mounting against one of Indonesia’s paper giants’ repeated disregard of Government policy to protect peatlands. APRIL denied access to the Head of Indonesia’s Peat Restoration Agency who was undertaking an unannounced investigation of the company’s continuing peat development activities on Pulau Padang in Riau province, Sumatra, accompanied by Forest Rangers, Ministry of Environment Forestry officials and local villagers.

“Denying government inspection is yet another example of APRIL’s disregard for Government policy and disrespect for the President’s mandate for the Peat Restoration Agency,” says Woro Supartinah, coordinator of Jikalahari. “APRIL must immediately halt all further development of peatland on the island and restore the peat to support the Agency and the local communities for their sustainable livelihood.”

Eyes on the Forest coalition calls on APRIL’s PT. Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (RAPP) to immediately stop alleged land grabbing in Bagan Melibur village, in an enclave area inside its concession, and follow Forestry’s Ministerial Decree Number 180/2013. “The decree is proof of the severe, long-standing conflict between PT RAPP and Pulau Padang communities that needs immediate resolution,” said Riko Kurniawan/WWF, Executive Director of Walhi Riau.

The coalition rejects APRIL’s interpretation of government regulations and its own commitments as a misleading attempt to justify the company’s continued peat clearance and drainage. “Historical Landsat images show that the company continues to drain the island’s peatlands against the Ministry of Forestry’s instruction to no longer conduct land clearing on peatlands for forestry and plantation business, even in already licensed areas,” Woro adds. “We ask the Indonesian Government to take firm measures to ensure compliance with its policies,” said Riko.

“it is odd that APRIL with its huge existing land bank is insisting on developing this small parcel of land, especially with all the protests from the local communities,” said Nursamsu, Deforestation Advocacy Leader, WWF-Indonesia. “The local community of Bagan Melibur village protested many times against the company’s operation in their administrative area in fear of future environmental catastrophes on this small peat island.”

Already in November 2014, Eyes on the Forest had reported to APRIL’s much touted Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) that the company had been clearing natural forest on peat in the area against its own Sustainable Forest Management Policy.

“I am very disappointed that the company does not cooperate with government and continues to drain peatland against clear policies and a moratorium of such developments,” said Aditya Bayunanda, Forest Commodity Leader, WWF-Indonesia. “APRIL must improve its performance and follow government policies. APRIL has to stop talking about conservation and sustainability and actually start practicing it. The company has to reduce its carbon footprint and phase out its unsustainable drainage of peatlands. The company’s SAC has to avoid just becoming another corporate green-washing tool.”

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Caught in illegal activities, APRIL send the security to prevent official inspection

APRIL controlled PT RAPP has been found converting peatlands and digging canals in the Padang Island (Sumatra) in violation with the law. The local community informed the Peat Agency about the facts.

The Peat Restoration Agency has been created by the President with a strong mandate to protect and restore the peat after last year huge fires and the haze crisis. The fires were mostly linked to palm oil or pulp plantation companies, such as APRIL suppliers.

The head of the agency, Nazir Foead, immediately organized a field inspection in the concession, together with forest rangers and officials form the Environment and Forests Ministry, but PT RAPP sent the security to prevent the inspection.

The Jakarta Post  - RAPP accused of peatland conversion

A government team from the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) that recently made an impromptu visit to check on alleged peatland conversion by PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) was denied entry to the site by security guards.

BRG head Nazir Foead, accompanied by BRG official Haris Gunawan, forest rangers, Forestry and Environment Ministry officials and villagers, said RAPP guards at the plantation in Meranti Islands regency asked to see a permit letter.

“It was an impromptu visit. Of course we did not carry any letter,” he said on Tuesday. “I just wanted to check and talk,” he said.

One of the forest rangers asked a security guard to call his superior, but he later told them the boss could not be reached by phone.

“They did not throw us out, there was no physical altercation, but they hampered us all the same. The company was not cooperating, and I suspect something fishy. We could not take pictures, could not check the coordinates,” Nazir said.

Locals said the company had converted about 50 hectares of peatland to plant acacia in the past two months.

Nazir said his office had summoned RAPP and they had met in Jakarta on Aug. 2, with RAPP saying all its activities were legal.

In a written statement, RAPP said it regretted the “lack of coordination among our security guards” that hampered the BRG visit on Sept. 5.

“We will discuss the results of field verification with the BRG this week,” the company stated on Tuesday

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Peat: a new paper rejects APRIL claims that drainage of peatlands for plantations can be sustainable

A new policy brief by Wetlands International and Tropenbos International calls for a thorough science-based approach, instead of some of the currently widely applied policies and management models, which have insufficiently considered the issue of peatland subsidence. In 2015 Indonesia was hit by a disastrous haze event caused by extensive peatland fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. In response, the Indonesian government launched a national Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) with an ambitious target of restoring over 2 million hectares of peatlands by 2020. Success will depend on a proper understanding of the functioning of peatlands.
While the Indonesian government is currently taking bold steps towards large scale peatland restoration to prevent major fires, including rewetting of priority peatland areas, some key players in the pulp for paper and other plantation industry claim that peatlands can be drained sustainably and thus contribute to the government’s goals. It is the case of the so-called “eko-hidro” approach, a peatland management model developed by Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), a large pulp-for-paper company with major assets on Indonesian peatlands. The model is claimed to provide a sustainable form of drainage-based peatland management. It is applied in the Kampar Peninsula, where APRIL holds major plantations.
The paper published by Wetlands International and Tropenbos International argues that the “eko-hidro” approach is not successful in mitigating the adverse effects of drainage. This is based on a review of studies in peatlands in Indonesia and other parts of the world. It concurs with the findings, a decade ago, of the Kampar Peninsula Science Based Management Support Project, led by the science institute Deltares, which already pointed to the inevitable negative long-term impacts of peatland drainage. At that time it already showed no significant difference in subsidence rates between “business as usual” and “eko-hidro” approaches.
Peat consists of 90% water and 10% organic material that is mostly carbon. Continuously high water tables have prevented the breakdown of organic material and allowed thick layers of peat to build up over centuries, in many areas in Indonesia. Millions of hectares of peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan have been drained in order to allow for the development of oil palm and industrial tree plantations. Drainage of peatlands has at least three important consequences with major social and economic effects. First, when drained, the peat oxidizes and carbon is continuously released into the atmosphere as CO2, contributing to climate change. Second, drained peatlands are extremely fire prone, and fires have repeatedly destroyed millions of hectares. Last year, peatland fires destroyed several million hectares, and the haze associated with these fires had devastating impact on the economy of SE Asia and on public health. Lastly, the loss of peat due to oxidation results in subsidence of the peatland which brings the land surface down to sea or river level and eventually leads to frequent or even permanent flooding. Most of the lowland peatlands of Sumatra and Kalimantan have been affected by drainage, and continuation of such drainage-based land-uses – including pulp-for-paper and oil palm plantations in these areas will thus in the long term lead to frequent and prolonged floods during the wet season in many millions of hectares, resulting in the loss of vast areas of productive land. Such land will become high risk areas again for fires in each major dry season.