Finding that 77% of the group’s South Sumatra concession area is on high-carbon peatlands, the report questions whether APP’s plantations will be able to sustain intensive pulpwood production over the long term. When drained to establish plantations, these peatlands become highly susceptible to fire. Over time, many areas will also face flooding problems, as draining peatlands causes subsidence, which gradually lowers the ground surface level and can result in prolonged flooding. A 2015 study on peatland plantations on the Kampar Peninsula, also in Sumatra, showed that subsidence and associated flooding would make many pulpwood and palm oil plantations unviable within decades, resulting in degraded landscapes with little or no economic use.
“Peatlands in South Sumatra are generally shallower then on the Kampar peninsula, and APP’s plantations will therefore subside to flooding levels much quicker. In fact, flooding during the wet season is already happening in parts of the plantations, raising critical questions about how long OKI’s plantation base can remain productive if peatland drainage continues,” said Marcel Silvius, a peat expert at Wetlands International.
APP has, by its own count, several hundred conflicts with local communities whose lands overlap with the company’s pulpwood concessions in five provinces. Land conflicts, as well as damaging community livelihoods, can undermine plantation productivity by causing disruption of operations, damage or destruction of planted areas, loss of concession area, and in some cases, violence. For the last three years, APP has committed to negotiating with communities to resolve conflicts, but the process has only resulted in partial agreements with three communities, according to the report.
“It is essential that APP respect community land tenure and use rights to address the legacy of harm and conflict caused by its plantations,” said Aidil Fitri, of Hutan Kita Institute, an NGO from South Sumatra that has worked closely with communities in conflict with APP supplier plantations. “We are concerned that the pressure to secure wood for the OKI mill will push APP to expand its plantations without following proper procedures for the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities.”
APP has pulped timber from more than two million hectares of natural forest to feed its two existing mills in Sumatra, according to Eyes on the Forest. For many years, the group has been criticized for destroying forest ecosystems, displacing rural communities from customary lands, and contributing to global warming by developing high-carbon peatlands. But APP’s sustainability commitments in 2013 neutralized a global campaign against the company and provided a supportive environment during which it built its new mill. However, there is growing concern that OKI’s mega-scale pulp mill will lock- in a much more expansive resource footprint than APP has had until now.
“In evaluating purchasing and investment options, buyers and investors should require truly independent assessments to verify APP’s sustainability performance and fiber supply plan,” said WWF’s Bayunanda. “Without verifying sustainable operations through such assessments, there is a risk that buyers will be associated with the next wave of deforestation in Indonesia,” he emphasized.
Co-authors: Koalisi Anti Mafia Hutan, Woods & Wayside International, Hutan Kita Institute, WWF, WALHI, Wetlands International, Eyes on the Forest, Auriga, Forest Peoples Program, Jikalahari, Elsam, Rainforest Action Network.
Syahrul Fitra, AURIGA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Aidil Fitri, Hutan Kita Institute (+62 81271 10385)
Nur Maliki Arifiandi, WWF-Indonesia (+62 8151660736)