May 21, 2018

Peat agency calls for APP immediate restoration measures

(foresthints.news) - Recent field-based evidence has emerged of a company controlled by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP)PT BMH, developing a peat ecosystem to expand its acacia plantations in parts of Indonesia’s targeted peat restoration areas lying in one of the country’s four peat restoration priority regencies.

In light of this, the country’s Peat Restoration Agency Chief Nazir Foead conducted a ground-check (May 19) to verify the evidence in question.

During his field inspection, Nazir asked the APP company representatives present at the location to immediately block the relevant newly-developed canals, which were built intensively since mid-2017 until early May this year, especially those which are causing the peat ecosystem to drain.

“The peat ecosystem development (in the PT BMH concession), in particular the construction of new canals resulting in the drainage of the peat ecosystem, must be stopped without delay,” he demanded.

The APP company has carried out this peat ecosystem development to extend its acacia plantations under a forestry partnership scheme with the community of Riding village, situated in South Sumatra’s OKI regency, among whose aims are the development of an agroforestry program and creation of new rice fields.

As such, the peat agency chief appealed for the company to accelerate agroforestry development. “The pulpwood company should bring about the agroforestry program for the community as soon as possible. This does not require new canal construction that causes peat ecosystem drainage,” Nazir asserted. 

In a legal sense, this demand is in line with the agency’s peat restoration mission, given that OKI regency encompasses one of the largest landscapes in Sumatra to be afflicted by 2015’s catastrophic peat fires.

These photos show the latest situation (May 19) with regard to the new acacia plantation development, which has drained parts of the local peat ecosystem in the forestry partnership site. This has led the peat agency chief to ask the APP company to refrain from any further operations that cause new drainage of the area’s peat ecosystem.

Site to be re-checked

Nazir cautioned that he will return to the forestry partnership location to see the extent to which peat ecosystem management and restoration efforts have been implemented there, considering that the newly-drained peat ecosystem in the PT BMH concession covers parts of the peat agency’s targeted peat restoration areas.

The following photos depict the degree to which the peat ecosystem in the PT BMH concession has been converted into new acacia plantations, as documented during the field inspection by the peat agency chief.

In an earlier exposé by foresthints.news (May 15), it was pointed out that around 500 hectares of the local peat ecosystem (delineated in black) with more than 37 kilometres of new canals were developed on the PT BMH site from 2017 at least until early May 2018, as seen in the following USGS Landsat 8 and ESA Sentinel-2 images analyzed by the foresthints.news  spatial team.

As also previously reported by this news portal (May 17), Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry peat monitoring member Professor San Afri Awang affirmed that APP has exploited social forestry as a strategy to expand its new acacia plantations and disguise destructive peat ecosystem practices.

Recent responses

In her response to the issue to foresthints.news (May 18), APP’s Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement Director Elim Sritaba suggested that a number of dialogues be held concerning this case, most notably with the Environment and Forestry Ministry and involving HaKI, a South Sumatra-based NGO which has been facilitating the PT BMH-community forestry partnership.

In his written statement to foresthints.news (May 21), HaKI chairman Aidil Fitri said that he supports the peat agency's recommendations concerning its findings at the PT BMH-community forestry partnership site.

Whatever the circumstances, he continued, APP must continue to comply with the newly-revised government regulation signed by President Joko Widodo and enacted in early December 2016, which bans any new peat development.

“APP has to fulfill its obligations immediately in the Riding village agroforestry location. This will serve as an indicator of APP's compliance, or lack thereof, with the implementation of the conflict resolution deal to which it has agreed,” Aidil explained.

Meanwhile, the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s Secretary General Bambang Hendroyono told foresthints.news in writing (May 18) that the case is being reviewed by two of the ministry's authorized directorate generals, primarily from a technical and legal perspective.

No need for doubt

The accusation that the APP-controlled company has flagrantly been committing peat violations by developing the local peat ecosystem was echoed by Hairul Sobri, new executive director of independent environmental organization WALHI South Sumatra.

“Not only does this new evidence prove that PT BMH has violated Indonesia's new peat regulations, but it is also 100% clear that the company has contravened APP's own Forest Conservation Policy. There is no reason to doubt this conclusion,” he stressed in an interview with foresthints.news at his office in Palembang (May 20).

Sobri went on to explain that his organization has rejected the company-community forestry partnership from its inception, because such initiatives are often used by the corporate sector merely as a means to continue its land-based expansion.

Walhi concluded by singling out APP and the company it controls PT BMH  for their ulterior motive in engaging in social forestry. “The most obvious example is what is happening in this PT BMH concession. The reality is that this APP company is only concerned about expanding its new acacia plantations while pretending to care about the interests of local communities.”