In a major turnaround, APP is taking a lead with its forest protection and restoration initiative
Campaigners have hailed a new commitment by Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) to restore and conserve a million hectares of Indonesian rainforest, saying it sets a benchmark for operators around the world.
APP, which until only 18 months ago was the subject of intense criticism from activists for its rampant deforestation in the region over the past three decades, has worked with those same groups, including WWF, Greenpeace and The Forest Trust (TFT), since 2013.
In February 2013, APP announced an immediate and permanent cessation of natural forest clearance across its supply chain.
The new scheme, involving many stakeholders from government to communities and national parks, focuses on protection and restoration of an area roughly equal to the area of plantation from which APP sourced pulp fibre in 2013.
It will start with the natural forest in the 30 Hills landscape in Jambi, Sumatra, a vital habitat for tigers and elephants, before the identification of other “priority landscapes” in which APP and its suppliers operate.
Scott Poynton, founder and executive director of TFT, says the plan sets “a terrific precedent”.
“APP has said not only will [it] seek to protect what remains, but it will also actually heal and restore some lands damaged in the past. I think it’s brilliant – we encourage it, we applaud it, we celebrate it.”
Poynton admits implementation will not be easy in the face of widespread encroachment and an often complex situation involving palm oil, rubber and plywood companies, as well as communities previously forced off their land by APP.
However, he is encouraged by APP’s determination to build a broad stakeholder base. And given time, forest restoration is “more a social problem than a technical one”, he says.
Aida Greenbury, APP’s managing director of sustainability, says detailed assessment and wide participation would be key to the plan’s success. “We are trying to establish a new benchmark in restoration, and the figure of 1m hectares was arrived at after consultation on what we could realistically do,” she says.
The precise mix of restoration and/or protection will be mapped out in the coming months. Greenbury says: “Ultimately protection is more urgent than restoration. A lot of forest is under threat from encroachment or fire [for clearance]. If communities are living within our concessions it is our responsibility to come up with something for them. If they are outside, they also need some kind of certainty too.”
The state of flagship species such as the Sumatran tiger is a good barometer of the condition of the forest, Greenbury adds.
Zul Fahmi, a Greenpeace forest campaigner based in south-east Asia, says APP’s actions should go a long way to address its deforestation legacy, sending a clear message for conservation in Indonesia and beyond.
“APP’s approach contrasts strongly with Indonesia’s other major pulp and paper producer, April/RGE. Earlier this year April admitted it will continue to rely on rainforest clearance for at least another six years,” Fahmi says.
April and other pulp companies in the RGE group must now follow APP’s lead and commit to an immediate moratorium on all forest clearance, Fahmi argues.
Greenbury, a former forester who has been with APP for 10 years, admits the campaigns by the likes of Greenpeace had been effective. “In the past it was hard for us to swallow what they were saying but we felt the need to listen more. Now we are determined to take a leadership position.”
May 2015, Singapore
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