Palm oil companies behind Singapore smog: Greenpeace

AFP 22 Jun 13;

AFP - Fires on Indonesia's Sumatra, which have cloaked Singapore in record-breaking smog, are raging on palm oil plantations owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies, environmental activist group Greenpeace International said.

"NASA hotspot data in Sumatra over the past 10 days (11-21 June) has revealed hundreds of fire hotspots in palm oil concessions that are owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies," the group said in a statement received by AFP.

Singapore's smog index hit the critical 400 level on Friday, making it potentially life-threatening to the ill and elderly, a government monitoring site said. On Saturday morning, the reading was at 323, still in the "hazardous" zone.

Parts of Malaysia close to Singapore have also been severely affected by the smog this week.

"Fires across Sumatra are wreaking havoc for millions of people in the region and destroying the climate. Palm oil producers must immediately deploy fire crews to extinguish these fires. But really cleaning up their act starts with adopting a zero deforestation policy," said Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace Indonesia's forest campaign.

The Indonesian environment minister Balthasar Kambuaya said Friday that a team has investigated eight companies suspected to be behind the fires and promised to reveal the companies' names after the probe.

A senior presidential aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said Friday that the fires happened in concession areas belonging to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL).

"It is very clear that the fires are in APP concessions and APRIL. We need to settle this matter," he told reporters while showing the distribution of fires from 1 to 18 June in concession areas in Riau.

APP, the world's third-largest paper producer said in a statement late Friday that "ground verification" detected "only 7 points that are actually forest fire, affecting around 200 hectares of land".

"They are under and being controlled by approximately a thousand fire fighting crews and their team. Our team's preliminary investigation found that 5 of the fires were set by the community to clear land for crops and 2 cases are still under investigation", APP added.

APRIL could not be reached for comment.

Indonesia stepped up its fire-fighting efforts Friday by deploying aircraft to artificially create rain and to water bomb the blaze.

The haze crisis has caused a dramatic escalation in tensions between tiny Singapore and its vast neighbour, with the city-state repeatedly demanding that Jakarta steps up its efforts to put out the fires.

Two NGOs take the lead to expose suspect firms
Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Jakarta - Even as government agencies pleaded that they needed on-the-ground checks before naming suspects behind the haze-producing burning, two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) took on the task of mapping satellite images of hot spots onto land concession maps to identify the companies whose lands were burning.

Over the past two days, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Greenpeace have gone public with these names.

Several companies, however, have said the concession maps are partially inaccurate.

The NGOs agree.

Dr Nigel Sizer, director of WRI's Global Forest Initiative, told The Sunday Times that these discrepancies only show the need for all parties to be more transparent on the issue.

"If companies are saying the data is wrong, they should step up and put their maps on the table, and we'd be able to compare the discrepancy," he said.

"If you want to criticise the data, more accurate and updated data has to be available."

Observers say part of the problem is that discrepancies abound in such items as concession maps and permits, so information at the district level may differ from that in Jakarta.

Fixing this, Dr Sizer said, is a key aspect of preventing fires of this kind in future.

Then there are cases in which even companies that are involved may not be aware of.

For instance, hot spots have been detected on land listed as PT Surya Dumai Agrindo's, which is linked to First Resources.

First Resources has clarified this permit expired "many years ago and was never developed by the group".

However, more up-to-date information WRI has seen shows the company still listed as a palm oil concession in government data.

As Greenpeace South-east Asia's forest campaigner Yuyun Indradi noted: "The lack of government transparency makes it very hard for independent monitoring: concession maps are incomplete, data is lacking and we clearly have weak enforcement of laws."

Zakir Hussain


Plantations say settlers to blame for starting fires
They admit existence of hot spots on their concessions, and claim fires are being put out
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta Straits Times 23 Jun 13;

Major pulp and palm oil companies admit there have been fires in their concession areas in Indonesia, but denied suggestions by officials and watchdogs that they were responsible for them.

They said they followed strict no-burning policies and demanded their contractors do the same.

But fires in neighbouring areas or parts settled by local communities were the issue, they said, adding that they had worked to put these out.

The companies' comments come as Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya, visiting Pekanbaru, identified eight of them, and said they were Malaysian-owned.

"If there is enough evidence, we will take them to court," he added.

At least 14 companies are being investigated, he said, and others may be named in the coming days.

Sime Darby Plantations, whose companies PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati and PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation (PT TMP) are among the eight named, had said it "is unable to exert control over activities beyond its operating areas and where it is occupied by others".

For instance, area residents lived on some 2,474ha of its 13,836ha TMP concession.

Sime Darby spokesman Leela Barrock added that TMP had been telling settlers on its lands not to carry out open burning, but it was ignored.

Last Friday, the World Resources Institute released data indicating that half the fires had begun on timber and oil palm plantations. The largest number of hot spots were in areas belonging to Royal Golden Eagle, of which Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (April) is part, and Sinar Mas Forestry, which supplies to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), it said.

Yesterday, Greenpeace released its analysis, saying there were "hundreds of fire hot spots in palm oil concessions that are owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies".

In a statement, April said these claims were "inaccurate and not consistent with the facts".

Yesterday afternoon, it said there were three fires in its concessions, covering some 20ha, but they had been contained and firefighters were extinguishing them.

"April confirmed that all fires it had detected originally started outside of its concession areas and had spread into its concessions," it said.

APP said ground checks found that only seven of 74 hot spots reported on June 20 in its suppliers' area in Riau were forest fires, affecting 200ha of land. An early investigation found that "five of the fires were set by the community to clear land for crops and two cases are still under investigation".

"We do not practise, and highly condemn, slash and burn activity for its detrimental impact on the environment," managing director Aida Greenbury told The Sunday Times.

Hot spots had also been identified on concessions listed as belonging to Singapore-listed Wilmar and First Resources.

First Resources said permits for some areas had expired many years ago and the land was never developed by the group.

A Wilmar spokesman said it had not been developing any new land in Sumatra.

"Hence the fires could not have been caused by us," he added.

"We have, however, discovered a few small holders with land near our plantations who have been burning to clear their land. We have reported them to the local authorities."

Greenpeace has called on big palm oil companies like Sime Darby and Wilmar to check whether their suppliers are involved in the burning.

Mr Bustar Maitar, who heads its forest campaign in Indonesia, said: "Fine words only go so far, but can these companies guarantee that they are not laundering dirty palm oil onto international markets?"

zakirh@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Lester Kong in Malaysia

Indonesia Names Names as Singapore Air Deteriorates Again
John O'Callaghan and Randy Fabi Jakarta Globe 22 Jun 13;

Singapore’s pollution index climbed back to “hazardous” levels and air quality deteriorated in the Malaysian capital on Saturday as Indonesia came under heavy pressure to bring fires from slash-and-burn land clearing under control.

Indonesia has deployed military planes to fight the blazes on Sumatra island from illegal burning that typically takes place in the June to September dry season to clear space for palm oil plantations. The fires are unusually widespread this year and the smog is the heaviest in Singapore’s history.

Companies behind the fires would find no refuge in Singapore, Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on Saturday, even as he acknowledged limits in international law to deal with firms that operate outside the city-state.

“We will do everything we can,” he told a news conference.

Indonesia blamed eight companies for the fires on Friday, including Jakarta-based PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) and Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL).

The Indonesian government, which said it would take action against anyone responsible for the disaster, is expected to name the rest of the companies on Saturday.

Singapore has warned the “haze” – which has fuelled fears about health problems and raised diplomatic tension in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia – could last for weeks, or even longer.

On the sixth day of the thick smoke, Singapore’s pollution index returned to the “hazardous” zone with readings above 300. It hit a record of 401 on Friday afternoon, a level considered potentially life-threatening for the ill and the elderly.

The smell of burned wood filled the air and visibility was poor, with buildings shrouded in a grey gauze. Streets in the clean and green city-state, which usually enjoys clear skies, were far less crowded than on a typical Saturday when people go out to shop, meet in outdoor cafes and have fun at the park.

The Ministry of Education advised public schools to cancel all activities planned for the holiday month of June.

StarHub Ltd, a cable television and Internet provider, said it was providing a free preview of more than 170 channels over the weekend “as we stay home to escape the unbearable haze”.

The cost of the smog for Singapore, a major financial centre and tourist destination, could end up being hundreds of millions of dollars, brokerage CLSA said in a report.

In Malaysia, the haze spread north. Air quality in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, and in several surrounding areas worsened into the “unhealthy” zone. The air quality was now “unhealthy” in 17 areas of Malaysia and “very unhealthy” in one area.

Hadi Daryanto, the general secretary of Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry, said a team led by Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan was now in Riau province on Sumatra “to find out the exact locations of the hotspots”.

“But we have to be very careful in any legal action,” he said. “We have to really find out what happened, why the fires happened and so on. This could be due to negligence, too.”

Indonesia has earmarked around 200 billion rupiah ($20 million) to handle the disaster. Seven military aircraft were deployed for water bombings and cloud seeding.

“The majority of hotspots in Riau are inside APRIL and Sinar Mas concessions,” senior presidential aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto told Reuters on Friday.

An APRIL statement said it and third-party suppliers had a “strict no-burn policy” for all concessions in Indonesia.

An analysis of satellite maps and government data by Reuters and the think-tank World Resources Institute also revealed spot fires on land licensed to Singapore-listed First Resources Ltd and Indonesia’s Provident Agro. The analysis did not reveal the cause of the fires or who was at fault.

A spokeswoman for Golden Agri Resources, SMART’s Singapore-listed parent, said it knew of no hotspots on its concessions.

Despite the “zero burning” policies, the environmental group Greenpeace said many producers and traders drive deforestation and destruction of peatland by buying palm oil from third-party suppliers or on the open market.

“Fine words only go so far but can these companies guarantee that they are not laundering dirty palm oil on to international markets?” Greenpeace said in a statement.

“The lack of government transparency makes it very hard for independent monitoring: concession maps are incomplete, data is lacking and we clearly have weak enforcement of laws.”

Sime Darby: No fires in our operating areas in Indonesia
The Star 23 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: Sime Darby Plan­tation has clarified that there are no fires in any of its operating areas in Indonesia.

In a statement, the company said it strictly abided by its zero burning policy in its operations.

Among the hot spots reported in Riau, where the peat and forest fires are raging, is an area within a Sime Darby Plantation company, PT Tung­gal Mitra Plantation’s (PT TMP) concession area.

The company said the total concession area of PT TMP was 13,836ha, with 2,474ha occupied by local communities.

“PT TMP is unable to exert control over activities beyond its operating areas and where it is occupied by others.

“Nevertheless, PT TMP will continue to monitor the situation, cooperate with local authorities and assist with its fire prevention teams to ensure that any hazards are managed appropriately,” it said.

Meanwhile, Asia News Network (ANN) reported that the big companies which Indonesian officials and watchdogs said might be responsible for the fires behind the haze had rejected these claims, saying they did not square with facts on the ground.

The rebuttals came as Indonesia’s Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said in Pekanbaru, Riau, yesterday that 14 companies were being investigated – up from eight on Friday.

He said they would be named, adding that some were from Malaysia.

Golden Agri-Resources, SMART, say no fires in their concessions
Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources and its Indonesian subsidiary PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) on Saturday said that there were no hotspots or fires in the concessions they hold.

They also said they welcomed inspection by authorised parties of all their operating areas, and that they will cooperate in any such inspection.

In a statement released on Saturday, the two companies also reiterated that they were absolutely against burning.

Golden Agri-Resources and SMART said they were deploying all their resources and working closely with the Indonesian government and other relevant parties to put out fires.

These relevant parties include civil society organisations, local communities and other growers.

The two firms said they were committed to a multi-stakeholder approach to find solutions for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Their contractors who clear land must also comply with their zero burning policy, said the firms.

Golden Agri-Resources and SMART also said that they will release the coordinates and locations of their estates in Sumatra in due course.

They are currently preparing the details.

- CNA/jc

Three companies rebut haze claims
S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Three companies -- Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL), Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), and Sime Darby -- have issued rebuttals after being named by Indonesia's Senior Presidential Aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto as being among several responsible for fire hotspots in Riau Province.

In a statement released to the media, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) said Indonesia's accusation requires verification.

"They do not correspond with intensive monitoring on-the-ground conducted by APRIL in its own concessions over the past several weeks nor with information on Friday from Indonesia's official national body for Meteorology, Climate and Geophysiccs, which identified 13 hotspots in Riau, none of which are on APRIL's concessions," APRIL said in a statement.

The company said the Director General of the Ministry of Forestry, Bambang Hendroyono, had confirmed Friday the fires causing the haze were mostly occurring on community land, not forestry concessions.

APRIL said it had maintained a "strict no-burn policy in its concessions" since it began operations in 1994.

It added the small number of fires within its concessions over the past three weeks were spread from those that began outside its concessions and were extinguished by its fire fighting teams.

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) also said it does not practise, and "highly condemns" the slash and burn activity for its detrimental impact on the environment.

The company said it is deeply concerned about the forest fires and resulting haze in Riau, Sumatra, and is urging others to support it in implementing "zero burning and zero deforestation practices".

APP said its fire fighting crews and community members have been working to control the fires in its suppliers' concessions.

"The task is very complex because of the combination between strong wind, high temperature and the fact that the fire has reached peat land," APP said in its statement.

APP added that it welcomes opportunities to work with NGOs, companies, communities and governments to address the haze problem.

Malaysian plantation giant Sime Darby, which runs PT Tunggal Mitra, has also denied reports of any fires on its property.

Sime Darby Plantation said there were no fires in any of its operating areas in Indonesia, and that it strictly adheres to a zero burning policy in its operations.

Tunggal Mitra Plantation covers almost 14-thousand hectares, the majority of which is used for planting and development.

Sime Darby said there are some parts occupied by local communities, and that it is unable to exert control over those areas.

- CNA/ac/jc

Haze update: Companies reject claims they were behind fires
Zakir Hussain, Indonesia Bureau Chief in Jakarta Straits Times 22 Jun 13;

THE big companies who officials and watchdogs say may be responsible for fires behind the haze have rejected these claims, saying they do not square with facts on the ground.

The rebuttals come as Indonesia's Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said in Pekanbaru, Riau on Saturday morning that 14 companies are now being investigated - up from eight on Friday.

He had said they would be named on Saturday, adding that some of the eight are from Malaysia.

One of his deputies, Mr Arief Yuwono, added that the presumption of innocence until proven guilty still applied, Antara News Agency reported.

Such claims, a spokesman for Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) told The Straits Times on Saturday, "require verification".

"They do not correspond with intensive monitoring on-the-ground conducted by APRIL in its own concessions over the past several weeks nor with information on Friday from Indonesia's official national body for Meteorology, Climate and Geophysics (BKMG)," she said in a statement.

A spokesman for Golden Agri-Resources, which is part of the Sinar Mas conglomerate but run separately, said there were currently no hotspots on its concessions.

"Only mechanical means such as excavators and bulldozers are used in our land preparation," it said.

Officials and non-governmental watchdogs had on Friday said the majority of the hot spots in Riau province from June 12-20 were inside concessions belonging to companies affiliated to Royal Golden Eagle, of which APRIL is part, and Sinar Mas Forestry, which supplies to Asia Pulp and Paper.

There were also fires on concessions listed as belonging to Malaysia's Sime Darby and Klau River, as well as Singapore-listed Wilmar and First Resources.

On Saturday, Greenpeace International released its analysis of Nasa hotspot data over June 11-21, saying this revealed "hundreds of fire hotspots in palm oil concessions that are owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean companies".

But several of these companies named said that they followed strict no-burning policies, demanded their contractors do the same, and in fact worked to put out fires in neighbouring areas.

And while the permits for lands may be listed as belonging to them, they were not conducting activities on these concessions.

First Resources said permits for some areas identified had expired many years ago and the land was never developed by the group.

Sime Darby Plantations said it had no control over activities beyond its operating areas, where the land may be occupied by others.

It noted that reports of hot spots in Riau included an area within its company PT Tunggal Mitra Plantation's (PT TMP) concession area, but of the 13,836ha concession, some 2,474 ha are occupied by local communities.

"PT TMP is unable to exert control over activities beyond its operating areas and where it is occupied by others," it said. But it will help manage hazards, it added.

APRIL had also cited comments by forestry officials over the past two days, who said hot spots were mostly occurring on community land, not forestry concessions.

It admitted there had been "a small number of fires" within its concessions over the past three weeks, but said they were all spread from fires that began outside these concessions and quickly extinguished by its fire fighting teams.

Greenpeace, however, called on big palm oil companies like Sime Darby and Wilmar to check whether their suppliers are involved in the burning.

Many big palm oil producers and traders are driving deforestation and peatland destruction by purchasing palm oil from third-party suppliers or on the open market, it said.

Mr Bustar Maitar, who heads its forest campaign here, said: "Fine words only go so far, but can these companies guarantee that they are not laundering dirty palm oil onto international markets?"

The NGO however admitted that lacking and inaccurate data posed a challenge, citing incomplete concession maps.


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