Pulpwood firm urged to meet Indonesian rules on peatlands

Acacia plantations in Sumatra. The expedited process of shifting plantation firms off deep peat has unsettled some firms because of uncertainty over the availability of new land and the disruption to harvest cycles.
Acacia plantations in Sumatra. The expedited process of shifting plantation firms off deep peat has unsettled some firms because of uncertainty over the availability of new land and the disruption to harvest cycles.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Singapore-based firm says it did not violate Indonesian laws, needs more time to comply

Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister yesterday urged Singapore-based pulpwood company April to meet stricter rules aimed at protecting fragile, flammable peatlands, a major source of choking annual haze.

April, or Asia Pacific Resources International Limited, is Indonesia's second-largest pulp and paper company. It manages a plantation area of 480,000ha of fast-growing pulpwood trees, such as acacia. More than half of this area is planted on peatlands, which the Indonesian government has been stepping up efforts to protect to prevent fires.

The ministry last week rejected PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper's (Rapp) revised 10-year work plan covering a concession area of 400,000ha in Riau, Sumatra, saying it did not meet tougher peatland protection laws. That is more than five times the size of Singapore. Rapp is the operating arm of April.

Plantation firms must submit a work plan that outlines their operations on their concessions, and the ministry must approve these or suggest revisions. Failure to get approval means shutting down operations on affected concessions.

Rapp said last week it needed more time to comply with the laws, particularly in discussing land swops with the government to shift plantations to non-peatlands. It also felt that a rushed departure off peatlands could leave them vulnerable to encroachment by others.

The decision would also mean job losses, with 4,600 Rapp forestry staff progressively placed on home leave from last Friday. Thousands of other workers also faced an uncertain future, it said.

A spokesman for April told The Straits Times that Rapp immediately complied with the cancellation of the long-term work plan, "suspending nursery, harvesting, planting and transportation activities on its concession area".

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said yesterday that Rapp breached a deadline when they needed to adjust their work plan to the existing regulation, and opted to follow their own version of the law.

"I invite Rapp to be a compliant company that follows the regulations in this country like all the other HTI plantation companies whose business work plan had no problem and have been approved," she said, referring to pulpwood companies.

The minister said the compliance of HTI firms that operate on peatland was crucial as cleared and drained peatlands have been a major source of fires for over 20 years.

At the heart of the dispute is a decree issued in February this year. The law, aimed at encouraging plantation firms to shift off deep peatlands, said companies with plantations on deep peat cannot replant on their concession lands after the next harvest. Instead, they must work with the ministry to negotiate land swaps to replant on non-peatlands.

The expedited process of shifting plantation firms off deep peat has unsettled some companies because of uncertainty over the availability of new land and the disruption to the five-to seven-year harvest cycles of pulpwood plantations.

In a statement to The Straits Times yesterday, April said at no time had the company violated any of the country's laws, challenging a story published by The Jakarta Post last Friday that accused the company of peatland violations.

A spokesman for April told The Straits Times that Rapp immediately complied with the cancellation of the long-term work plan, "suspending nursery, harvesting, planting and transportation activities on its concession area".

The ministry deemed that Rapp did not meet the current ministerial decree on peatland forests.

The April spokesman said: "Complying with this regulation requires PT Rapp to immediately designate a significant part of its current plantations into protection (peatland ecosystem function) areas, resulting in the loss of more than 50 per cent of its fibre supply."

The spokesman added that over a period of months, Rapp has proposed a gradual transition linked to the ministry's offer of a land swop that is clean and clear. "By this, we mean areas that are environmentally and technologically suited for forestry operations and free of any potential risk of community conflict or competing claims."

The ministry said it hoped to meet Rapp today to discuss the dispute.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'Pulpwood firm urged to meet Indonesian rules on peatlands'. Print Edition | Subscribe