This guest blog comes to us from Isnadi Esman, the elected Secretary General of the Riau Network of Peatland Communities (JMGR), a community based organization dedicated to securing land rights and improving livelihoods of communities living in the peatland landscapes of the Indonesian province of Riau in Sumatra. Riau province is ground zero for the conversion of peatlands and displacement of peatland communities by the pulp and paper industry. Isandi is from a community on the island of Pulau Padang that has been struggling with APRIL, Indonesia’s biggest forest destroyer and part of the Royal Golden Eagle Group cartel, for almost a decade to prevent conversion of their native sago gardens and forests to pulp plantations and secure rights to their traditional lands. RAN’s Protect an Acre program has provided support to JMGR.
It’s been one year since Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) launched its Sustainable Forest Management Policy (SFMP). APRIL’s commitment promised to both protect remaining high conservation value forests and peatlands and to resolve land conflicts with local communities.
However based on the assessment of the Jaringan Masyarakat Gambut Riau (JMGR), the SFMP has not been implemented. In fact, land conflicts are still ongoing in many villages where APRIL operates.
As part of its commitment, APRIL pledged a moratorium on further development in its concession areas. But on my island of Pulau Padang, land clearing and canal building continues to cause forest and peat destruction, undermine community livelihoods and cause conflict.
Current findings of JMGR reveal that on February 2014 PT. RAPP (APRIL group) was found clearing natural forest, building canals, and was implicated in theft of community land. PT. RAPP cleared peatland in Bagan Melibur village on Pulau Padang in Riau province despite the village having been clearly excluded from APRIL’s concession area under APRIL’s permits (SK. 180/Menhut-II/2013). This is a clear contradiction between the Sustainable Forest Management Policy and the reality for villagers and local communities on the ground.
Although a multi-stakeholder team of government, community and company representatives was formed to resolve the conflict, PT RAPP was not affected and continued to clear forest and drain peatlands. PT RAPP enlisted outside security contractors from Mobile Brigade (Brimob) to intimidate community members and prevent them from using their lands on Saturday, 17 May 2014, escalating the conflict between villagers and the company. This careless escalation ended with a community being targeted by Mobile brigade officers when residents protested PT RAPP’s operations in Bagan Melibur. The incident resulted in use of force by Brimob officers, and injuries were reported by at least one resident of Teluk Belitung village after being struck in the head by a Brimob officer.
In response to the protest, the multi-stakeholder team conducted a field visit together with representative from District government Mayang Sari and Lukit villages, and from PT. RAPP. On investigation, PT RAPP insisted that the cleared forest is part of their concession despite the lack of permitting for the area. Similar conflicts have also been reported by the community of Teluk Belitung Kelurahan/village also in Pulau Padang.
Left: This photo shows the condition of the forest at the Bagan Melibur village's border in Pulau Padang while Kepulaun Meranti district government and district Parliament officials visited the site. It is a forest.
Right: A villager from Bagan Melibur shows the same village border marker after the forest has been destroyed by PT RAPP. (Photo: JMGR)
APRIL’s commitment to stop sourcing Mixed Tropical Hardwood (MTH) by the end of 2019 is also another sign of weakness in the commitment. The majority of the natural rain-forests or MTH remaining in Riau province is currently either in concession areas or already protected. If APRIL continues its MTH logging in Riau until 2019, we predict there will no longer be any forest to protect by the time the company stops using it.
With regards to social responsibility, APRIL has failed to ensure its company and suppliers meet thier obligations and promises. This is demonstrated by what has happened with PT RAPP in the Pelalawan district of Riau province in Sumatra. The “Trees for Community” (Tanaman Kehidupan) program in several villages including Pulau Muda, Teluk Meranti, Teluk Binjai, and Petodaan has not been implemented and has failed to result in promised changes. PT RAPP continues to enjoy all the profit of harvesting local forests, but denies their social responsibility to the communities which are impacted and upon whose lands they operate.
These are not isolated incidents: similar experiences are being reported in many other peatland villages in the Siak district of Riau province including Muara Bungkal village, Penyengat, and Lubuk Jering village; where villages did not receive any significant benefits due to the company’s presence. Moreover, PT RAPP’s destruction of Sialang trees at the Lubuk Jering village has caused the loss of livelihood for a significant portion of the community. A large portion of the community makes their living by harvesting honey produced by bee colonies in the Sialang trees which were destroyed. PT RAPP has taken and destroyed the community’s livelihood while at the same time ignoring their own commitments to the community.
Based on these facts and findings, JMGR affirms that the sustainability commitment made by APRIL does not deliver improved livelihoods or sustainability for communities and forests as they promised, but only for the sustainability of the company and its profits. Nothing has changed in the way APRIL and its suppliers operate even one year after the SMFP has been launched. APRIL remains focused on increasing capacity of production rather than making sure that the social, economic, and environmental well being of communities are properly considered in their operations.
As further proof of PT RAPP’s pursuit of profit despite community protest, it is known that PT. RAPP possesses concession areas of 338.536 hectares. 53 percent or 179.000 ha of these concesstions are located in peatlands. This area has the production capacity for 820,000 tons of paper and 2.8 million tons a year for pulp. In 2015 PT RAPP aims to increase their export market from 75 countries to 85 countries. including Europe. With this ambitious target we doubt the issue of peat destruction, social conflict and land disputes will be resolved.
Because of this, we urge APRIL to evaluate implementation of its SMFP commitment, to involve stakeholders and to respect local community rights.
We also urge government to take on the important role in monitoring and ensuring these principles are properly implemented before issuing further permits for any company and go further by reviewing the permits that have already been issued, particularly in peatland areas.
For further information please contact:
Isnadi Esman; Secretary General JMGR firstname.lastname@example.org