APP’s new canal development proposal seen as strange by Govt

(foresthints.news) - In early May this year, the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry exposed the building of new canals of more than 200 km in length - roughly the distance from Bonn to Brussels - by three pulpwood companies operating in the province of South Sumatra under the Asia Pulp and Paper group over 2015 and 2016.

In fact, the Indonesian government banned all new peat development in early November 2015, in the wake of devastating peat fires which greatly damaged the national economy and caused vast losses to the wider public in the same year.

Apparently, however, the construction of new canals by the three APP companies did not end there. Instead, they intend to perpetuate these business-as-usual practices in the years to come.

This intention is clearly evident in the proposals presented by the three APP companies concerned to the ministry last month, requesting that the government allow them to develop new canals in peatlands - despite this practice being explicitly prohibited by Indonesia’s new peat regulations.

The three pulpwood companies in question (PT BAPPT BMH and PT SBAWI) proposed that the ministry permit them to build new canals. Our new peat regulations absolutely forbid us to approve these proposals,” the Ministry’s Secretary General Dr Bambang Hendroyono explained to foresthints.news (Jun 6).

Ironically, the construction of new canals is not only outlawed based on Indonesia’s new peat regulations, but is also not allowed according to APP's own Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), which was declared in early February 2013.

Of further concern is ground level evidence showing that the construction of new canals in peatlands is not only being performed by the three APP companies already implicated in this practice.

Another APP company - in this case PT SPM operating in the Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu landscape, in Sumatra’s Riau Province - was caught red handed by top ministry officials, as shown in the following photos.

In response to its findings, the ministry took immediate action, imposing administrative sanctions on PT SPM which demanded that the APP company close these newly-built canals.

Contradictory proposals

The Secretary General expressed his surprise at the strange proposals made by the three APP companies appealing for the ministry to let them open new canals, in light of the fact that the companies stated that their operations would refer to APP’s FCP - which paradoxically forbids new canal development.

“On one hand they are saying that the operations will refer to APP’s FCP, while on the other hand they are proposing that the ministry authorize the construction of new canals in peatlands. This is really odd because APP’s FCP clearly prohibits the opening of new canals,” said Bambang.

According to Bambang, given that part of APP’s FCP proscribes any new peat development, APP should really be backing Indonesia’s new peat regulations, seeing that these regulations also ban any new peat development including new canal construction.

The unreasonable proposals met with a further sharp response from the Secretary General. “Naturally, I’m wondering what’s wrong with APP’s FCP? Is there a new or revised FCP from APP which now permits the building of new canals in peatlands?”

Observations carried out by foresthints.news, however, indicate that APP has no new FCP, nor has its current version been revised, meaning that any new peat development, encompassing the construction of new canals, remains prohibited.

Violations follow evaluation

The results of an independent evaluation of APP’s FCP implementation by the Rainforest Alliance found no evidence demonstrating that APP’s supply chains had opened new canals in peatlands in the period from early February 2013 to mid-August 2014.

However, after this report was released, violations in APP supply chains were subsequently committed in 2015 and 2016 by the three APP companies - all of which are key suppliers to OKI Pulp and Paper Mills - by constructing in excess of 200 km of new canals.

In effect therefore, the Rainforest Alliance report has no further relevance as a reference source, as its findings differ 180 degrees with the evidence that has emerged over the last two years - which points to APP’s FCP having been continually contravened by new canal development extending to hundreds of kilometres.

The new proposals on the part of the three APP companies seeking permission to open new canals in peatlands place a major question mark over APP’s commitment to peatland and forest preservation, especially bearing in mind that the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is in the process of ending its dissociation with APP.

Questionable claim

APP, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper business groups, has always responded to questions from foresthints.news by declaring that the pulp giant consistently applies the FCP in all its operations.

Unsurprisingly, APP always feels confident in telling the public that the implementation of its FCP remains on track more than four years after its launch.

Nevertheless, this claim has most certainly become questionable ever since the ministry disclosed astonishing legal evidence showing that the three APP companies had actually built over 200 km of new canals over the past two years of the supposed implementation of the FCP.

It is all the more mystifying that these three APP companies - whose concessions were significantly affected by 2015’s extensive peat fires - would propose that the ministry give them the green light for building even more new canals in their concessions, which are located on an expanse of peatland ecosystem spanning more than half a million hectares.