On 24th February 2017, PM.Haze was invited by APP to visit their operations and conservation area in Riau. Based on the visit, personal communication with APP employees and secondary information from the internet, we have written a report (See full report on Visit to APP in Riau[PDF]).
Our overall assessment and recommendations are:
APP deserves commendation for being proactive in reaching out to local communities in and around its concessions to turn conflict into collaboration via the DMPA programme. It also seems to have an advanced fire detection and suppression system. Transparency is at a high level, while traceability and verification is also being done and will be further strengthened when FSC certification has been completed.
APP deserves commendation for its zero deforestation policy and its implementation, as well as attempts to conserve forest landscapes. Nevertheless, forest conservation remains a challenge with more attention needed to provide wildlife corridors that reduce fragmentation of conservation areas as well as measures to reduce illegal encroachment. Such illegal encroachment is often associated with fires and clearing of forests which pose a significant fire risk.
The main haze-related risk however is likely to be the challenges in peat management by APP. During dry season, when fire risk is highest, APP’s peat water management systems are incapable of maintaining water table at the target level. In areas such as South Sumatra which suffer from extended dry season, the water levels are at high risk of dropping to dangerous levels. In 2015 fires destroyed 37% of APP’s concessions in South Sumatra. APP therefore needs to focus on minimum rather than mean water levels in its plantations on peat and put in place necessary mitigation measures including rewetting and reforestation of fire-prone peatlands.
Given the risk associated with peatland drainage, we feel more resources should be spent on research of alternative species for peat-friendly cultivation. A single trial site of 200 ha and 4 species is unlikely to provide sufficient variability in conditions to identify the optimal conditions for alternative species to grow. The current tree species such as Acacia Magnium were identified after experimentation with various tree species (130 species were being tested at one point) over a hundred years in Malaysia.
The continued peat drainage coupled with the lack of full disclosure regarding the 2015 fires leads us to feel that there remains a high risk of widespread fire in a severe dry season on APP’s concessions, especially in South Sumatra.
In order to regain the trusts of consumers in Singapore, APP needs to put in place an ambitious timeframe to rewet its peat concessions especially in high fire risk areas.
(Read full report on Visit to APP in Riau[PDF])