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APP to work with 500 villages to combat deforestation

  • Forestry giant Asia Pulp & Paper to put $10 million toward agroforestry cooperation with villages in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
  • One NGO worker is cautiously optimistic about the plan.
  • APP has been criticized for its alleged role in last year’s fire and haze disaster, which afflicted 500,000 Indonesians with respiratory problems.

The world’s largest pulp and paper supplier, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), will establish an up to $10 million program to support the economic development of 500 villages in and around its supply chain in Indonesia. The initiative was announced at the UN climate talks in Paris last month, and is another in a growing list of programs by the forestry giant supporting its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) adopted in 2013.

“For the 500 villages program, APP and its pulpwood suppliers are prepared to budget up to $2 million per year for the next five years,” Dewi Bramono, deputy director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement for APP Indonesia, told Mongabay. “The program will involve capacity building for the community, and provision of tools, equipment and/or facilities to develop the agroforestry programs either through loans and/or in-kind donations.”

The program will engage communities in and around APP plantations and holdings, and be modeled after alternative livelihoods projects APP has already established in Sumatra with the aim to foster economic development that keeps Indonesia’s forests intact.

“The first step of the program would be to understand the socio-economic potential for the community and the root cause of the issues in each village since the underlying potential and issues can be differ from one village to another,” Dewi told Mongabay.

Pulp and paper plantation on peatland in Riau. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
A pulpwood plantation on a peatland in Indonesia’s Riau province. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Potentially, APP will provide a variety of assistance, including allowing the use of intercropping, a practice where villagers may plant rice paddies, vegetables, and understory plants – those which can grow in the shade – among plantation trees on APP land.

“Intercropping helps create alternative livelihoods for communities while also reducing weed growth in the tree plantation area,” Dewi said.

In addition, APP plans to provide low-cost, or free, seedlings to farmers, and increase enrollment at their training facilities in Sumatra and Kalimantan where they educate communities in the manufacture of organic fertilizers and the practice of sustainable irrigation.

Further, APP intends to provide loans in the form of money or animals to help individuals start livestock companies. The program would also include continuing support in the form of training and veterinarian consultations, and where appropriate could integrate with nearby oil palm plantations to utilize byproducts such as palm fronds and oil palm cake for livestock feed.

“We are currently in the process of identifying which communities/villages pose higher potential threats to deforestation using information from the social High Conservation Value assessment, social conflict mapping and forest threat mapping,” Dewi said. This information, combined with additional socio-economic assessments will help identify which programs might most effectively help lower the risk of deforestation in a given area.

Erica Pohnan, conservation program manager for Yayasan Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), an NGO, is cautiously optimistic about the plan. For the last six years, ASRI’s 40 staff members have reduced illegal logging through community engagement with 21 villages in West Kalimantan. ASRI develops village-specific projects that address each community’s specific needs through a time-consuming process they call Radical Listening.

“It doesn’t matter if we work in 50 villages or 500,” Pohnan told Mongabay, “as long as we have sufficient time and capacity to listen to every village and make sure that our programs respond to real, articulated local needs.”

Peat forest cleared for pulp and paper in Riau, Sumatra. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Peat forest cleared for pulp and paper in Riau, Sumatra. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Since the adoption of its FCP in 2013, APP has vowed to end contracts with suppliers responsible for deforestation, and has announced several new initiatives including a peatlands restoration program.

However, APP has also been heavily criticized recently for the devastating fires that burned on multiple plantations in its supply chain last year and contributed to Indonesia’s haze disaster, which contaminated the air above the archipelago and neighboring countries, afflicted 500,000 people with respiratory ailments and pumped extraordinary amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Large companies and small farmers alike often clear land with fire because it is cheaper, if generally illegal. APP deployed nearly 3,000 firefighters to combat last year’s blazes, most of which it claims were set by independent operators on the edges of its holdings, although experts like Bambang Hero Saharjo, a professor at the Bogor Agricultural Institute, contest that assertion. The company has also severed ties with with at least two suppliers under investigation by the Indonesian government for haze pollution.

An independent audit of APP’s FCP conducted by the Rainforest Alliance in early 2015 found that although the company had met many of its pledges, in some areas APP had achieved only “moderate” and sometimes “limited” success.

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) commented on the audit, stating “there are hundreds of land and social conflicts remaining in APP’s land bank, and that resolution agreements have only been reached with one community.”

APP is an arm of the giant Sinar Mas Group, owned by one of Indonesia’s wealthiest families, the Widjajas.

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