Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), one of the many companies operating under the Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) corporate group headed by Sukanto Tanoto, has embraced a zero-burn policy on its wood pulp-producing plantation lands in Indonesia since its inception in the mid-1990s. Following Mr. Tanoto’s direction, all of RGE Group’s natural resources manufacturing companies strive to implement best practices in conservation and land use. In APRIL’s case, this has involved extensive cooperation on fire management with government agencies, local communities, and non-governmental organizations focused on environmental issues. In addition, APRIL has implemented wide-ranging policies and procedures that have proven their usefulness in reducing and eliminating fires throughout its home base in Riau Province on the island of Sumatra.
Taking a 360-degree view of the situation, APRIL has instituted high-level fire-detection systems, community education and awareness programs, and an innovative incentive pilot project designed to reward villages successful in preventing and containing fires. In addition, through the blog APRIL Dialog, the company works to demonstrate transparency in addressing issues of concern to local populations living near its lands and to the larger environmental community.
Unchecked fires on plantation lands have presented serious health, safety, and environmental hazards for decades in Indonesia. In addition, when the haze from those fires spreads across borders into Singapore and Malaysia, it presents a situation that the United Nations has elevated to the level of a world crisis. APRIL has made significant strides in addressing the problem through an investment of $6 million to provide an aggressive response to fires on lands bordering its own, realizing that containing the spread of fire is the responsibility of all stakeholders.
In addition, in November 2014, APRIL once again took a leading role by participating as both a sponsor and an exhibitor at Singapore’s first public exhibit to focus on the problem of haze. The exhibit was named “Haze: Know it. Stop it.” and sought to educate citizens about the causes that contribute to pollutant haze in the country.
PT Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper, or RAPP, has initiated a new fire management program in the Pelalawan Regency of Riau Province, in cooperation with local government agencies that manage forest lands, enforce environmental protections, and deliver disaster response. RAPP selected four villages to participate in a pilot program to curb forest and land fires. Through this “Fire Care Village” program, a village that managed to avoid fires completely from July to September would be awarded a special bonus of 100 million Indonesian rupiah in assistance, the equivalent of more than $8,000 USD. Villages in which fires affected less than 1 hectare of land, and in which residents controlled the blaze within 24 hours, would receive 50 million rupiah.
RAPP, a subsidiary of APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Limited), is among the constituent companies of the RGE Group, the $15 billion corporation established by Indonesian entrepreneur Sukanto Tanoto. As such, RAPP takes its responsibilities as a corporate citizen seriously. Following Mr. Tanoto’s business philosophy based on keeping the needs of company, community, and the planet equally in mind, the APRIL concessions in Riau practice a zero-burn policy and strive to maintain compliance with all applicable regulations and environmental best practices. Innovating to find new ways of crisis management (in this way is forest fire) is also part of the important criteria of a successful entrepreneur.
RAPP’s Fire Care Village program came in response to extensive forest and land fires that occurred in Riau in the spring of 2014. The situation became so dire that the Indonesian government declared a state of emergency. RAPP executives noted local village residents might need added incentives to take an active role in fire management.
International environmental organizations viewed the spring fires with concern. One group listed more than 3,000 verified fire alerts on Sumatra for the period from late February to mid-March. June through September is typically Indonesia’s dry season, and the country saw very few fires during the early spring of 2013. The spring 2014 figures are far higher than those during a June 2013 fire and haze crisis on the island. Experts believe that unusual drought conditions in Sumatra in the early part of 2014 contributed to the problem, with the majority of the fires occurring in Riau.
Environmental organizations admit difficulties in gathering accurate data on exactly which concession boundaries any particular fire has affected. The situation is a complex one, and the solutions will require better communication between government agencies and companies, as well as better monitoring systems on the ground. RAPP continues to look for ways to take a leading role in fighting this shared problem.
As a successful entrepreneur owning large corporations, it is important to receive certifications from trustworthy third parties to ensure your credibility in quality and practices. It may not be an easy or fast process but it is a required step to ensure your accountability to the stakeholders. Asian Agri, one of the natural resources production companies under the direction of the RGE Group and its founder, Indonesian businessman Sukanto Tanoto, operates with a production capacity of 1 million tons of palm oil annually. Asian Agri, which is among the world’s largest manufacturers in its market sector, has committed its efforts to sourcing only legally obtained palm oil product. The company has recently placed an emphasis on requiring legal certification regarding the provenance of all freshly harvest fruit product from each third-party supplier and wholly independent farmer with whom it conducts transactions.
As part of its partnership with the local communities with whom it does business, Asian Agri has provided close to 29,000 smallholder families who farm its lands on Sumatra with a wide range of social and economic benefits. Of the company’s 160,000 hectares of total land area, some 60,000 are developed in cooperation with smallholding families who participate in its Plasma/KKPA programs. Mr. Tanoto remains highly engaged with the day-to-day operations of his companies and has charged each of them with maintaining a high level of transparency and responsiveness to their smallholders and to the public.
Asian Agri has stepped up its focus on environmental good stewardship through increased attention to the problem of illegal palm oil entering the market. Through stringent attention to documenting that the produce it acquires is completely legal, the company hopes to build increased sustainability into the supply chain. Asian Agri also advocates for the closure of illegal palm oil plantations and for added efforts to protect forest land in the regions where it operates.
Illegal palm oil production and sales in Indonesia have created an economic system that will not be easy to eradicate. Several non-governmental organizations have expressed concern about the fact that some illegal palm oil continues to seep into the products of a number of high-profile manufacturers. Yet Asian Agri and several of its fellow palm oil producers plan to dedicate continued efforts to prevent deforestation, illicit land use, and environmental degradation.