APP’s business transformation not substantial, monitoring finds

(foresthints.news) - Ground-based monitoring by Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment and Forestry has revealed that two pulpwood companies under the control of Asia Pulp and Paper have been replanting acacia in parts of their concessions designated as no-go areas according to APP and the ministry’s maps.

Based on legal documents of the APP companies concerned, these no-go areas which have been replanted with acacia are peat domes which form part of 2015’s burned peat areas. This means that they are among the areas in which the replanting of new acacia has been prohibited by the ministry.

Furthermore, the peat domes, whose presence has been acknowledged by the companies themselves, are actually all potential high conservation value areas (HCV 3 / PEAT), as identified by TFT - APP’s technical partner in implementing its Forest Conservation Policy.

What’s more, it has been proposed to the ministry that most of these potential HCV areas be designated as peat protection zones. This notwithstanding, the facts show that parts of the areas which should be reserved as ‘no-go areas’ have instead been replanted with acacia by the two APP companies.

The two APP companies in question are PT BAP and PT SBA, both of which operate in South Sumatra’s Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) regency and are key suppliers to OKI Pulp and Paper Mills.

“APP has clearly committed a grave violation. They have been proven to be replanting acacia in these peat areas which they have admitted themselves to be legally-recognized peat domes (HCV areas) and which were seriously burned in 2015’s peat fires. This demonstrates that APP is yet to undertake any real business transformation.”

This substantive statement was delivered by San Afri Awang, Senior Advisor to Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, in a presentation on the results of the ministry’s monitoring of these two APP pulpwood concessions (Aug 10) at the ministry building.

“APP’s business transformation is simply not substantial. They are still carrying out many peat violations,” lamented San Afri, who is also a professor at Gadjah Mada University.

Below are the photographs shown by San Afri during his presentation that disclose the replanting of acacia in peat domes which form part of 2015's burned peat areas and are in potential HCV areas of the two APP concessions.

Compounding matters, the companies have proposed to the ministry that these recently acacia-replanted areas form part of peat protection zones in both APP concessions.

Strangely, San Afri explained, the operational staff of the APP companies told the ministry monitoring team (Jul 13) that the acacia plantations seen in the photos above consist of wild-growing acacia trees, not replanted ones.

“If the facts have been proven, don’t make matters worse by providing deceptive explanations to the ministry. How is it possible for acacia to grow wild with such regular and well-arranged spacing?” he asked disbelievingly.

APP’s commitment questioned

San Afri Awang, who currently remains in charge of peat restoration monitoring at the ministry, questioned the level of APP’s commitment in carrying out its Forest Conservation Policy.

“APP’s Forest Conservation Policy is clearly just jargon,” he declared.

Almost all of the potential HCV areas in the two APP concessions, which were also burned in 2015’s fires, have been the subject of proposals to the ministry to be classified as peat protection zones.

“Can you imagine that the APP companies are replanting acacia in their HCV areas, and then proposing to the ministry that these areas be designated as peat protection zones? This is obviously very manipulative. It's like there's no monitoring of the implementation of APP's Forest Conservation Policy,” he explained.

“Where are the supporters of APP’s Forest Conservation Policy now? Are they just turning a blind eye to these facts?” San Afri chided.

San Afri went further still, presenting photos depicting bad practices on the part of the two APP concessions in terms of canal management. “We have found lots of canals managed in this way in the APP concessions, especially in Sumatra,” Afri added.

“APP’s Forest Conservation Policy is no more than a serious investment in image making,” asserted the senior advisor to the minister.

San Afri kept up his criticism of the pulp and paper giant: “Even when it comes to managing canals, APP fails to meet the standards of best practices. This makes it clear that APP prefers portraying an image of itself to the global market rather than investing money into improved operations on the ground level.”

APP has made recent claims that the implementation of its Forest Conservation Policy remains on track four years after the policy was announced. These claims come in the wake of 2015’s widespread peat fires which ravaged hundreds of thousands of hectares of its pulpwood concessions.

It should be noted that the ministry's monitoring team found many facts on the ground indicating that almost all of the burned areas scattered among the peatland ecosystems in APP’s concessions in Sumatra are acacia plantation blocks in which harvesting has been completed.

APP often makes dubious statements, declaring, for example, that it is continuing to ensure compliance both with Indonesia's laws and regulations as well as with its own Forest Conservation Policy across its supply chains.