Tackling new mills a key way to stop the haze at source

Today Online 23 Apr 16;

A dozen environmental groups have published a report questioning Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) regarding the source of pulpwood for its giant mill under construction in South Sumatra (“APP’s new mill puts its green promise back in spotlight”; April 21).

And since it publicised its plans for the mill in 2013, the number of hot spots in APP’s concessions in Sumatra has increased.

Peatland drainage, for the cultivation of oil palm and the acacia tree (for paper), results in highly flammable dry peatland, where fires are difficult to put out.

Although concession companies have committed to zero-deforestation and peatland conservation, that new mills are being constructed without clear statements made about where their commodity supply will be sourced is what drives land clearance and fires.

This is regardless of whether the clearance is legal or who sets the fire.

Such problems can be resolved if a new mill can identify, before construction, that its raw materials are from existing plantations with increased yields or from expansion into non-forest and non-peat areas, for example.

With increasing pressure from non-governmental organisations and the public, companies tend to be more careful now on their plantations. Unfortunately, the opacity of the plantations of third-party suppliers gives room for illegal activities and fires.

We should not complain only when the haze hits; putting out fires early is necessary but does not address the root causes. We should aim to prevent fires and mitigate fire-prone conditions.

Tackling the mills, especially new mills, may be the most effective solution. For existing mills, most lands may have already been cleared for commercial crops prior to the mill begins operations. Nevertheless, influencing companies is still a challenge.

Will APP suspend the mill construction until it announces its source of deforestation-free and peat-free or peat-friendly pulpwood supply? Will companies ensure no sourcing of illegal commodities, even before the mills are built, to minimise the fire risk?

Will financial institutions request detailed plans for deforestation-free and peat-free or peat-friendly commodity sourcing prior to any investment deal or loan for mill-construction projects?

Will the Singapore Exchange request its listed companies in the agriculture and forestry sectors to publish information on their commodity sourcing in their sustainable reports?

Will local organisations that buy paper and palm oil demand the same level of information from their suppliers? These are tough questions. We will probably need stronger advocacy to demand such transparency.

In the past week, many fires in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo occurred on peatland. Some had been around for weeks. We need people’s voices to end the haze.

APP committed to stopping haze and zero deforestation
Today Online 27 Apr 16;

We refer to the letter “Tackling new mills a key way to stop the haze at source” (April 23). We thank Mr Chris Cheng Chin Hsien for his views.

The haze, which blanketed the region last year, was a catastrophe for the environment, the economy and, most importantly, people’s lives.

As a company, we were deeply affected by the events last year, and have intensified our efforts to do whatever we can to ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated.

Forest fires are complex and rooted in a number of economic, social and political causes.

Above all, what is required is a multi-stakeholder approach towards seeking solutions.

We recognise the link between land clearance and the production of forest commodities. That is why Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Group has been bound by a strict zero-deforestation commitment enshrined in our Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) since February 2013.

The policy includes a number of key pillars. Among them are that there be no further clearance of natural forests, including peat forests, and the adoption of peatland management best practices by all our pulpwood suppliers.

Over the past three years, we have worked hard to develop a reliable supply of 100 per cent plantation wood for our mills.

While the new mill at OKI in South Sumatra significantly increases APP’s production capacity, we are absolutely clear that our FCP commitments come first, over and above maximising our production. Any future increase in production will be subject to the availability of raw materials from our suppliers.

To ensure that our new mill can reach optimum levels of production while fully respecting our commitments made in the FCP, we are taking the following steps:

First, increasing productivity and yield in our plantations by working on improved control of pests and diseases, reducing mortality and wastage as well as increasing efficiency in our harvesting methods by using mechanisation techniques.

Second, research into new species in partnership with engineering and development consultancy firm Euroconsult Mott MacDonald to identify alternative plant species that can provide better yields and thrive in wetter peatland conditions.

Third, embracing community forestry into our supply chain according to government regulations and guidelines to adopt local wisdom, reduce poverty and enhance the alternative livelihoods of communities living in and around our concessions through agroforestry.

Fourth, sourcing woodchips from global suppliers if the measures above still prove insufficient, but only from suppliers that meet our Responsible Fiber Procurement and Processing Policy requirements.

The commitments we made in the FCP come first. The OKI mill entering into production will not affect our commitment.

In the meantime, we remain committed to working with all affected stakeholders to do everything we can to ensure last year’s events are not repeated.