APP again blames others for fires, NGOs refute

EoF News / 17 September 2015

EoF News (PEKANBARU) -- Eyes on the Forest found two Landsat images showing fires in and around concessions of four Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) suppliers in peat areas in Jambi and South Sumatra provinces and heavy smokes from them.

The companies are PT. Tri Pupajaya, PT. Rimba Hutani Mas, PT. Bumi Andalas Permai and PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau. In Maps 1 and below, Landsat images show visible fires (bright pink dots and areas), indicated by yellow circles. Dark red brown areas are burned peat soil.

"The majority of the fires - more than 90 per cent - come from outside the concessions," Ms Aida Greenbury, APP's managing director of sustainability, told The Straits Times (15 September 2015). "If the rest of the landscape do whatever they want, build whatever drainage canals and burn lands wherever they want, we will be affected. And that's why we have so many hot spots in our operations."

“Although what APP [Aida] claimed might be true in certain cases, they cannot deny the fact that four APP suppliers in Riau have been named suspects of setting fires and under investigation by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau in South Sumatra was also just named a suspect by the police this week,” says Woro Supartinah, Coordinator of Jikalahari.

“We think that the investigators who managed to bring these cases to court have proven scientific evidence why the company should be punished in conviction of setting fires,” she added.

Blaming outsiders for fires in their concessions simply reaffirms APP’s failure on zero burning commitment and on legal compliance for fire prevention as reported by UKP4’s report. “And it does not make sense if APP suppliers do not prevent fires from entering their concession area, no matter where the fires started from. Companies are legally responsible to protect their concessions from any kind of illegalities,” she added.

EoF analyzed Landsat images and NASA Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) data for this year to observe development of fire around PT. Rimba Hutani Mas (Map 3). Hotspots with high confidence values started to show up inside concessions since July. At least for this concession, the truth seems to be the other way around – fires spread from inside APP supplier’s concession to outside.

The fires burned APP’s own conservation set asides where Landsat images show illegal logging starting by May 2015. “As Rainforest Alliance pointed out in February this year, APP continues to be unsuccessful to stop illegal logging of forests they committed to protect,” said Woro.

“Many acknowledge that there are economic motives behind fires incident in concession areas. In some case, burning the land is believed to reduce operational cost, to add fertilizer to the soil, reason to claim insurance fee. These are something that public should aware of,” she added.

Cause destruction

“APP and other companies are also partly responsible for fires outside the concessions, as draining of peat to manage their own plantations affect the adjacent peat areas. Take a look at Giam Siak Kecil and Senepis peat landscapes in Riau province where APP’s peat development have caused destruction and repeating peat fire,” says Riko Kurniawan, Director Executive of WALHI Riau.

“It is ridiculous we all suffer every year because of their continuing business as usual but they continue to excuse themselves each time by blaming others,” Riko added.  

“On top of that, probably a lot of these areas were deep peat and protected by law from development in the first place, for the exact reason that such ecosystem is vulnerable, Riko said. “In Riau province alone, many concessions on peat were obtained through corruption to ignore such laws. We ask the government for review of these concessions and completely protect peatlands from exploitation.”

EoF and Riau NGOs found that there are 56 timber suppliers of APP and APRIL that detected having  fire hotspots during January – August 2015.

While there are 38 palm oil plantations that recorded having hotspots in the same period. Riau NGOs would file reports to the police of alleged involvement of PT Ruas Utama Jaya and PT Arara Abadi (APP) and PT Sumatera Riang Lestari (APRIL) in setting fires.

“APP recently announced a new program to improve peat management. They should seriously re-consider the issues of plantation development on peat soil,” says Nursamsu, EoF National Coordinator.

“APP had already committed to 1 million hectares conservation and restoration and these concessions are part of landscapes they selected. It is time for APP to put the two together to really make efforts into true restoration of these peat ecosystems to help Sumatra reduce annual peat fires and haze.”

President Joko Widodo said Wednesday that the executives, owners and directors of companies involved in setting fires should be blacklisted and banned from doing business.

** For fire data, we used standard / science quality version (MCD14ML) and only showed hotspots with a brightness value greater than or equal to 330 Kelvin and a confidence value greater than or equal to 30%. The data is produced by the University of Maryland and provided by NASA FIRMS operated by NASA/GSFC/ESDIS with funding provided by NASA/HQ, available on-line