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A practitioner’s view on forestry conservation

The beginning of February marked three years since Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP) started implementing our landmark Forest Conservation Policy (FCP).

In 2013 when we started, we had no blueprint. Looking back now it is clear we did not fully realise how challenging it would be and how many people it would affect.

What has become apparent now is that in embarking on the FCP we were setting out not only to transform our own business but the way Indonesia manages its natural resources. The ripple effects of our FCP have not only been felt across the rest of the industry, other sectors, provincial government, national government – it’s changed the way people in Indonesia view forests.

There are three pillars of APP’s approach to conservation which have changed the rules of the game in terms of forest management in Indonesia, and these are what I want to cover:

  1. Landscape approach
  2. Peatland management
  3. Communities as partners

Landscape approach

The most important thing to understand about our conservation efforts is the principle that deforestation does not respect concession boundaries. Indeed, forest conservation cannot be undertaken by individual actors but requires all stakeholders to work together.

The landscape approach means bringing together central and local government, companies operating in different sectors in a given landscape, civil society actors and local communities. This is the basis of our FCP and the approach we have adopted across our conservation areas, for example in South Sumatra, where we are working not only with the Governor but in a multi-stakeholder coalition that includes local and international NGOs which are active in the area as well as other companies and communities.

Best practice in peatland management

Peat forms another critical pillar of our conservation strategy. This is another area where APP has pioneered a new approach for the rest of the industry – based on science and global best practice – and where we have taken steps no private company has ever taken before in order to protect peatland. This includes:

  1. Retiring 7,000 hectares of producing plantation areas that are deemed to be doing damage to surrounding peatlands. This is the first time a private company has shut down a working plantation for environmental reasons.
  2. Wide-scale re-wetting programme. As part of an extensive programme designed to restore peatlands and prevent forest fires we have constructed over 5,000 dams and blocked thousands of drainage canals across Indonesia in less than a year. This is as far as I know the largest peatland canal blocking program so far.
  3. Developing alternative species for use in peatland plantations that are less environmentally damaging. We have been working to identify and to plant flood-tolerant tree species so that water levels can be raised substantially – this is important to maintain the health of peatland forests.
  4. So all in all peatland protection is a major part of our FCP. We hope we have set out a blueprint that will be adopted by the rest of the industry. And we hope that some of the principles, science and best practice we have developed will also be of use to the new Peatland Restoration Agency as they come up with a national plan to protect Indonesia’s peatlands. We look forward to working with them on this.

Communities

Last but by no means least the FCP is about communities. What we’ve achieved over the last three years is to use elements of the FCP as the building blocks to achieve the creation of a new business model which allows us to increase productivity while protecting forests and embracing the community as an integral part of our supply chain. We hope this business model can be the basis for securing better livelihoods for future generations whilst protecting forests at the same time.

Our biggest achievement as part of this process is also the biggest challenge. This is the missing ingredient the importance of which neither we nor other programs funded by government (including REDD+) had realized before, and that is that the fates of private companies and local communities in the landscape are intertwined. The private sector and local communities are the two groups with the biggest stake in ensuring the sustainability of forest landscapes.

For the private sector, the landscape is our investment, and we have the most to lose if it is degraded. So it is in our interests to be responsible stewards. Secondly, for communities, the problem to date is that they have been treated more and less as objects. What APP wants to do differently is to treat communities as our partners and to embrace them as an integral part of our supply chain. We recognize that our own productivity and wellbeing and that of the communities living in and around our concessions are linked. So that is why we have launched our integrated agroforestry and farming program, to provide alternative livelihoods and decrease the threat of forest destruction.

I’ve set out what I think are the three main building blocks of our FCP which I think have the potential to change the way Indonesia manages its forests and create a sustainable business model that is both commercially viable but also good for the environment, for the economy, and for our communities.

Of course, a transformation of this scale does not take place overnight, and that’s why we’re committed to continue putting in the hours until we get this right. What you’ll see from APP over the next years is hard work, transparency and a multi-stakeholder approach.

We want everyone who shares our vision to partner with us. I look forward to working with you all over the coming years.

 


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