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Investigation clears APP of deforestation allegations in Borneo

Two logging companies that supply Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) with timber have not violated the Indonesian forestry giant’s new zero deforestation commitment, according to a field investigation by The Forest Trust [PDF], a conservation group.

The investigation was a direct response to allegations raised in a report published last week by Relawan Pemantau Hutan Kalimantan (RPHK), a consortium of local NGOs in West Kalimantan, the western-most province in Indonesian Borneo. The RPHK report found evidence of active clearing within two concession areas linked to Asia Tani Persada (ATP) and Daya Tani Kalbar (DTK), companies that supply APP with timber for its pulp mills.

At the time of the report’s release, RPHK spokesman Baruni Hendri said the findings showed the companies were operating in “in clear violation of their commitment to APP’s forest conservation policy.”

APP responded by saying it would dispatch a team to investigators to the sites of the peatland and forest clearing documented in the report. It invited RPHK to join the investigation, which was headed up by The Forest Trust (TFT), the NGO that is implementing the paper producer’s forest conservation policy.

The investigation is now complete and shows that while forest and peatland is indeed being cleared at the identified sites, the deforestation is not linked to APP nor its suppliers. Instead it is two unaffiliated companies that are clearing trees in areas where there are overlapping concession licenses. One is a palm oil company that is developing a plantation. The other is a bauxite mining firm that is digging a canal through forested peatland.

Land-clearing at S 0°45’28.9” E 109°48’56.8” by Puri Aneka Rejeki, a contractor that is preparing land for Gerbang Benua Raya, a palm oil company unaffiliated with APP or APP’s supplier Daya Tani Kalbar.

The findings, which are based on visits to the GPS coordinates specified in the RPHK report as well as examination of legal documents filed the central and local governments, highlight one of the biggest challenges in combatting deforestation in Indonesia: lack of consistent data on land ownership and concessions.

Overlapping licenses and improperly granted concessions is a recurring problem in Indonesia, worsening environmental problems and even sometimes sparking violent conflict between competing land claimants. While the forestry institution reform process currently underway in Indonesia aims to resolve this issue through a single consolidated map of concessions, land use, and ownership — data that has been historically guarded by the country’s various institutions — the investigation underscores the depth of the problem.

In this specific case, the issue of overlapping licenses was first brought to the attention of the government in 2009, but hasn’t yet been resolved, according to TFT’s report.

Aida Greenbury, APP’s Managing Director of Sustainability, said the findings show the need for better governance.

“It is clear that there must be greater precision in governance,” she said in a statement. “Currently, APP and TFT are mapping all overlapping areas in our suppliers’ concessions. Once we have all the details, we will adopt a strategy to resolve this and protect the integrity of the natural forests in the areas, together with other stakeholders, national government and provincial legislatures. We urge other forest dependent businesses, communities and NGOs to join us in helping to make this happen.”

The report from TFT did however reveal one potential issue for Asia Tani Persada’s compliance with APP’s commitment — it was found to have constructed a one-kilometer-long canal to access timber felled prior to the February 1, 2013 cut-off under the forest conservation policy. While small, the canal’s construction would seem to be inconsistent with APP’s policy on peat management, according to Elfian Effendi of Greenomics, an Indonesian environmental group. Drainage of peatlands is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia.

“Digging peatlands within the Asia Tani Persada (ATP) concession for canal construction up to 1 km to be used for logs transportation after the February 1, 2013 [deadline] is a clear example of the violation of APP’s policy commitment,” he told “The canal construction — although to be used for logs transportation — is part of the infrastructure activities within the peatland landscape in the concession area.”

“In the case of the most of the forested peatlands in the ATP concession block have been cleared, the digging of non-forested peatlands should not be undertaken until HCVF assessments — including input from peat experts — has been completed.”

Courtesy of the Kalimantan Forest Monitoring Volunteers (RPHK)

TFT’s report comes just two days after Eyes on the Forest (EoF), a coalition of NGOs in Sumatra, where the bulk of APP’s activities — and environmental transgressions have taken place — released a highly critical report on APP’s forest conservation policy. The report noted that APP appears to have cleared all but 5,000 hectares of forest within concessions in Sumatra. It says that the large-scale clearing may be the reason it was willing to make the zero deforestation commitment in February.

“[APP’s] policy protects at most 5,000 hectares of natural forest,” said EoF-affiliate WWF in a statement on its web site. “This compares to the deforestation of more than 2 million hectares caused by the operation of APP’s Sumatra pulp mills over the past three decades.”

The notable lack of forest protected in Sumatra by APP’s policy was earlier highlighted in a report from Greenomics. However, analysis by Greenpeace suggests that the policy safeguards more than 100,000 ha of forest in Indonesian Borneo. Further, because it applies to all APP and APP supplier concessions, future expansion would also have to avoid deforestation.

Still Greenpeace, which led an aggressive and highly-damaging campaign against APP for more than three years, hasn’t given the green light to customers to start buying APP products yet. The activist group is instead taking a wait-and-see approach to determine whether APP will live up to the agreement. Environmentalists won’t easily forget that APP broke three previous commitments — including one it signed with WWF — to end logging in natural forest areas (2004, 2007, and 2009).

Other groups — including WWF, Eyes on the Forest, and Greenomics — have since upped the ante, calling for reparations in the form of forest restoration for past transgressions.

“The company is asking for a grand amnesty, for the ‘past to be forgotten’, leaving our country to deal with devastated ecosystems, social conflicts, on-going greenhouse gas emissions and critically endangered species who lost their habitat,” Aditya Bayunanda, pulp and paper manager for WWF-Indonesia, said in a statement. “That is not acceptable, Indonesian NGOs are calling on APP to restore selected peatlands and forests lost in protected, High Conservation Value areas and to mitigate the damage its operations caused to surrounding natural forests, peat soils, and wildlife.”

“WWF recommends that paper buyers do not rush into doing business with APP”, added Rod Taylor, Director of Forests at WWF International. “APP cannot be regarded as a responsible producer without redressing the harm caused by its past operations and removing any doubt that wood linked to forest clearing can enter its mills.”

APP is apparently considering the restoration demand, according to recent comments provided by APP’s Greenbury to

“We have never stated that the past is unimportant, and we recognize the importance of the issue of restoration of certain areas in which natural
forest was cleared,” said Greenbury. “That issue remains on the table, but our immediate priority is ensuring that our global supply base implements the moratorium we have announced and the ambitious goals of our Forest Conservation Policy. This is no small undertaking.”

“Our key focus, and one encouraged by a number of NGOs during extensive recent local consultations in several locations in Indonesia, is to adhere to the High Conservation Value (HCV) assessments, findings and recommendations.”

Greenbury added that APP has established a complaint process for potential breaches of its policy by its member companies or its suppliers.

“We committed to full transparency and to independent investigation through our Grievance Protocol of any alleged breach in our moratorium on natural forest clearance,” Greenbury said in a statement. “Where there are concerns, we urge communities and NGOs to bring them to our attention and we promise we will be thorough in our investigation, as we have been in this case. We also reiterate the fact that if a supplier were found to be in breach of our Forest Conservation Policy, we would not hesitate to take swift action.”

Courtesy of the Kalimantan Forest Monitoring Volunteers (RPHK)

Given the controversies surrounding APP’s past, there is little doubt the paper giant’s compliance will be closely monitored by both its partners — whose reputations are on the line — and its adversaries in the environmental NGO community, whose credibility is also at stake. Should the commitment hold, it could have substantial ramifications for efforts to reduce deforestation in Indonesia, which has one of the highest rates of forest loss in the world.

As one of Indonesia’s largest and most prominent forest products brands, APP and its parent Sinar Mas are a powerful force in Indonesian politics (Sinar Mas also owns Golden Agri Resources, one of Indonesia’s largest palm oil companies, which in 2011 adopted a similar forest conservation policy). APP is a dominant voice in Indonesia’s pulp and paper industry association, APKI, which lobbies lawmakers on forest policy and influences the forestry department and its appetite for law enforcement. The company’s move could force other operators — most obviously Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd (APRIL), another paper giant much maligned by environmentalists — into adopting similar policies. As importantly, movement by APP could eventually trigger broader reform within the institutions that control the fate of Indonesia’s fast-dwindling forests and peatlands.

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