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.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

APRIL's supplier permit revoked for illegal operations - Cooperation agreement with the Ministry cancelled for irregularities

The Ministry of the Environment and Forestry started a procedure to definitively revoke the permits of a major APRIL supplier, PT SRL, because the company operated illegal while the permit was frozen due the concession involvement with forest fires
- The Forestry Minister also cancelled a cooperation agreement  with APRIL due to irregularities see
For the same reasons, the Ministry has previous refused a similar cooperation proposal submitted by APP.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ministry begins law enforcement phase against major APRIL supplier

 As June entered its fourth week, Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and Forestry began the law enforcement phase with respect to the harvesting carried out by one of APRIL’s major suppliers, PT SRL, in acacia-planted blocks while the company’s permit suspension was still in effect. PT SRL’s permit was suspended by the Environment and Forestry Minister in mid-November 2015 after serious peat fires had occurred in its concession, for which the company, as the concession holder, was deemed legally responsible. However, from January to March 2016, during which time the permit suspension was still in force, the APRIL supplier continued to conduct on-the-ground operations, as proved by a spatial analysis performed by the ministry which showed that the concession’s acacia-planted blocks were still being harvested. Even though at the end of March 2016 the PT SRL permit suspension was lifted, one of the conditions of its lifting was that the APRIL supplier had not violated the terms of its permit suspension while it was in effect.
The harvesting of acacia plantation blocks while the permit suspension was in effect did in fact constitute a flagrant administrative violation which brought with it the potential for the concession permit to be revoked.
“This forms part of the law enforcement supervision being undertaken by our ministry,” said the Director General of Law Enforcement at the ministry in a statement received by at the end of June. This was after the management of PT SRL had been issued with a summons asking them to clarify the nature of the harvesting operations taking place in their concession while their permit was still under suspension.
In the past, APRIL has declared that the harvesting operations carried out in the acacia-planted blocks belonging to its supplier constituted'unauthorized activity'. However, several NGOs poured scorn on this explanation, claiming it made no sense at all
The legal action is based on the fact that the Environment and Forestry Ministry decree suspending PT SRL’s permit explicitly stated that if any on-the-ground operations were discovered during the permit suspension period, the permit of the APRIL supplier could be completely revoked.
This whole case, in fact, goes back to last year's massive forest and land fires, a significant portion of which took place in peatland areas, which caused huge economic losses to Indonesia, to the tune of USD 16.1 billion according to World Bank calculations.