Largest NGO says APP peat fires deliberately set for replanting purposes

(foresthints.news) - Indonesia’s largest environmental NGO, WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), has emphatically stated that last year's widespread peat fires in Asia Pulp and Paper (APP)'s pulpwood concessions were intentional. Proof of this, WALHI asserts, lies in the fact that these burned peatlands have now been replanted with acacia by the giant pulp company.

According to the leading NGO, the use of burned peatlands for the replanting of acacia is a move aimed at pursuing targets, given that the acacia yielded from this replanting will later become a source of fiber supply for the new APP company, PT OKI Pulp and Paper Mills. This new mill, which has begun operations, is located in the vicinity of the burned peatlands in the APP concessions, major parts of which were burned last year.

This damning opinion was delivered by the Executive Director of WALHI South Sumatra, Hadi Jatmiko, to foresthints.news on Friday (Nov 18) when asked for his reaction to the results of monitoring performed recently by Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry.

The monitoring clearly shows that the APP concessions operating in Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) regency, in South Sumatra province, have replanted burned peatlands in direct contravention to a ministerial regulation issued in mid-December last year.

Hadi expressed his gratitude for the ministry’s actions in the form of on-the-ground monitoring, which demonstrated the extent of incompliance on the part of the APP companies, to the point where they have brazenly replanted acacia in burned peatlands in clear violation of existing regulations.

“We appreciate the monitoring conducted by the ministry. However, we also urge the ministry to apply maximum law enforcement efforts so that these types of practices are never repeated. This is even more important considering that the burned peatlands in the APP concessions are dominated by peat domes.”

The following photos, which were taken from video footage which formed part of the ministry’s monitoring of the APP concession PT BMH, illustrate ongoing business-as-usual practices in the burned peatlands. In August this year, the High Court of Palembang declared that this company had committed an unlawful act with respect to peat fires in 2014.

Peat agency criticized

Hadi argued that the blatant replanting of acacia in burned peatlands located in APP concessions exemplified the fact that the monitoring function of the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) was not operating.

“The case of these APP companies replanting burned peatlands reveals that the BRG is not performing proper monitoring, and therefore not fulfilling its function.”

According to WALHI data, 400 thousand hectares of peatlands were burned in 2015 in South Sumatra province, the vast majority of which were in concession areas. APP pulpwood concessions made up a significant proportion of these.

“The BRG’s monitoring is not clear. Its peat restoration focus is also unclear. The agency doesn’t appear to be focusing its peat restoration efforts in concession areas. This has actually emboldened APP and other companies to carry out replanting of burned peatlands and drained peat domes,” Hadi lamented.

Considering that the majority of APP concessions situated in peatlands in South Sumatra are found in peat domes, and that these have already been mapped as peat restoration target areas, Hadi made a vociferous appeal for the ministry and BRG to provide full protection to the peat domes concerned, using legal means which involve communities in their management.

He also asked the ministry to review the permits of the APP companies in question, bearing in mind that most of the APP concessions in these peatlands are located in peat domes and deep peat.

“This request of ours is consistent with both existing regulations as well as the government’s current commitment to protecting peat domes, including deep peat,” Hadi explained.

As previously reported by foresthints.news, President Joko Widodo has consistently reasserted his position that the government will not back down in carrying out law enforcement against any party which commits peatland-related violations.