Overwhelming evidence of APRIL’s forest destruction in Indonesia

Excavators actively clearing natural forest in Sumatran peatlands. 11/08/2014 © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace

The case against Indonesia’s largest forest destroyer, APRIL, grows stronger by the day. Indonesian NGOs have found even more evidence that the company and its suppliers are trashing rainforests and are about to put endangered orangutans at even greater risk.

At the start of the year, APRIL announced a new sustainable forest management policy. But instead of protecting forests, it allows APRIL to keep pulping rainforest trees for five more years.

APRIL’s new policy doesn’t protect peatlands, even though draining these carbon-storing swamps is a major cause of forest fires. Nor does it apply to the other pulp companies associated with the Royal Golden Eagle group, of which APRIL is a member.

Yet even though its policies are too weak, NGOs in Indonesia have caught APRIL breaking its commitments.

APRIL agreed to have its concessions checked and any high conservation value (HCV) forest identified and protected. It also committed to have its HCV assessments checked by the HCV Resource Network (HCVRN). APRIL agreed that it would not clear any forest until each of those conditions had been met. Even then, it would only develop land that was not HCV forest.

Yet in May, WWF and the coalition Eyes on the Forest found an APRIL supplier, PT Adindo Hutani Lestari (PT AHL), destroying peatland rainforest in North Kalimantan. A month later Greenpeace caught APRIL destroying forested peatland on Pulau Padang, a small island off the coast of Sumatra. Yet the HCVRN had not looked at the assessments for either site. It had only reviewed two out of 40 concessions supplying APRIL.

This isn’t splitting hairs – it’s a serious breach of APRIL’s new policy. APRIL has done shoddy HCV reports in the past. Without the HCVRN’s oversight, there’s no way to tell if the HCV reports APRIL had had done were fit for purpose or a whitewash.

As it turned out, there was something fishy going on with the HCV assessments for APRIL’s North Kalimantan supplier. Eyes on the Forest managed to get hold of the HCV maps, and discovered that PT AHL was clearing forest clearly marked as HCV. APRIL claimed the report – which had only been finished in January – was out of date. It produced a new map showing the HCV forest now marked in a new location over a kilometre away.

Neither of these HCV reports has been made available to the public. So it’s still unclear why the protected forest was moved. The first map might have been incorrect, or the first assessment might been done badly and the map had to have been redrawn. But it all looks deeply suspicious. And if APRIL had done what it promised and had the HCVRN check its homework, it wouldn’t find itself in such a mess.

It gets worse. In November, Eyes on the Forest published its investigation into Pulau Padang, the island where we’d found clearance earlier in the year. Yet again, the HCV assessments had not been properly peer-reviewed. And APRIL was again accused of clearing HCV forest that it was supposed to be protecting. The new Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited the region last month, including flying over APRIL’s concession on Pulau Padang. Having seen the devastation for himself, he ordered his ministers to investigate – and if necessary, close – a nearby concession operated by one of APRIL’s suppliers.

President Joko Widodo Visits Sungai Tohor Community in Riau. 11/27/2014 © Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace

Unfortunately for Indonesia and its forests, the future looks just as bad. Last month, another Indonesian NGO, Greenomics, found serious problems at PT Mayawana Persada, a future APRIL supplier in West Kalimantan.

This time, APRIL had asked the HCVRN to look at its HCV assessment. They found that 40,000 hectares of forest, dominated by orangutan habitat, was identified as HCV but had not been earmarked for protection. The supplier had already started clearing in the area to make way for a port facilities and plantation roads.

President Jokowi has already taken a stand against forest destruction. He and his ministers should look closely at companies like APRIL and stop them destroying any more of Indonesia’s environment.

APRIL has spent the last year proving that it is not serious about stopping forest destruction. Even the limited commitments it has made have been broken repeatedly. This is not a company to do business with. Anyone financing or buying from APRIL has more than enough proof to warrant taking their business elsewhere.

Zulfahmi is Forest Campaign Team Leader with Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

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