Amidst the bustle of COP21, Indonesian forests have received some pretty good news. After weeks of devastating fires, APRIL Group and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), two of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies, have made strong reforestation commitments.
APRIL Group — which just this summer announced an end to deforestation as part of a new Sustainable Forest Management Plan — announced this week it would enhance its Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER) project by doubling its size to include 150,000 hectares and investing $100 million over 10 years in peat conservation and restoration activities. The company claims it is the largest investment by a private sector company in a single eco-restoration project in Indonesia.
“This investment indicates our broader business case for restoration, which encompasses the value of the ecosystem services and the need to have an inclusive approach with the community. As we learn and evolve our approach, we continue to deliver environmental benefits, economic opportunity through jobs and infrastructure, as well as social progress for local communities,” said Anderson Tanoto, APRIL Group shareholder and director at Royal Golden Eagle (RGE), the firm that manages APRIL alongside several other resource-based manufacturing companies.
RER was established in partnership with Fauna & Flora International and local NGO Bidara, and supports APRIL’s larger 1-for-1 goal to match conservation and plantation area. In addition to the RER restoration area, APRIL oversees 250,000 hectares of conservation land.
Meanwhile, APP announced several new initiatives over the past week. In addition to its 2014 commitment to coordinate $10 million per year of in-kind and financial support for restoration efforts across Indonesia, APP has now pledged to support the economic development of 500 villages in the landscapes surrounding the company’s supply chain through a series of pilot community agroforestry programs. The programs are intended to reduce the risk of fires by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that do not require the clearance of forest, such as sustainable fruit- and vegetable-gardening techniques and livestock-rearing techniques.
“A key theme of COP21 is to ensure that economic development goes hand-in-hand with environmental protection. We believe that this new agroforestry program will help communities to achieve economic development while protecting Indonesia’s forests,” said Aida Greenbury, Managing Director of Sustainability at APP. “The issues facing Indonesia’s forests need to be managed at the landscape level, and local communities have a very important stake in the forest. Whilst these programs are at an early pilot stage, we will be working to help introduce and spread sustainable farming techniques that are compatible with forest protection.”
In addition, APP established a new independent organization, the Belantara Foundation, to create a new platform that will facilitate public and private sector financing of local forest conservation projects. The funding mechanism will include a monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system to give funders peace of mind that their money is going towards the protection of rainforests. APP is providing the Belantara Foundation with a long-term grant to fund its initial activities, which will include coordinating, supervising, and allocating funds to NGOs, local communities, and other organizations to deliver projects. The Foundation will initially focus on 10 priority landscapes which include wetlands, mangrove forests, peatland, freshwater swamps, lowland rainforests, and heath forests.
“Billions of dollars have been pledged around the globe for forest conservation, but too little of it has made a real impact on the ground,” Greenbury said. “We want to use our leverage and reach as the largest private concession holder in Indonesia to create a platform that will be independent and accountable but which will also provide an effective means of channelling some of this funding to real projects that make a difference in protecting and restoring Indonesia’s rainforests. We will start by investing our own funds in the platform but hope that in a short time others will follow.”
APP also announced it will collaborate with government, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, Zoological Society London, and other stakeholders in the South Sumatra Eco-Region Alliance, a newly announced cross-sector partnership to address deforestation, peatland degradation, wildfires, local livelihoods, and associated climate impacts.