02 August, 2011

Sumatra - Paper/Tiger

Foreign Correspondent - ABC, Broadcast: 02/08/2011

One respected authority who’s seen it first-hand doesn’t mince his words. The rate and scale of forest clearing in Sumatra by big paper producers approaches ecological Armageddon.

“I thought I’d seen, you know, impressive deforestation in the Amazon and parts of Africa. But what’s happening there (Sumatra) on a large industrial scale is pretty daunting …some of the worst forest destruction I’ve ever seen anywhere.” BILL LAURANCE Forest Scientist

Riau province in Sumatra is home to the world’s biggest paper plant. It’s owned and run by Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd, better known by the more disarming acronym APRIL. The company has embarked on a massive land clearing project, removing natural stands of timber and replanting fast-growing acacia trees and when it’s done it says the plantation timber alone will feed the plant. APRIL describes this program as sustainable and certainly preferable to the ad hoc land clearing and burning which blights so much of the Indonesia archipelago.

“We’re doing it in a responsible way in line with what the Indonesian government wants to promote as part of developing forestry and if we don’t do it the way we’re doing it, it can be even worse.” DAVID KERR Director of Operations, APRIL

As the carbon debate rages in Australia, Indonesia correspondent Matt Brown ventures into the rapidly diminishing Sumatran jungle, destruction adding dramatically to Indonesia’s greenhouse gas outputs and catapulting the nation high up the list of the world’s worst emitters.

Foreign Correspondent focuses on the activities of APRIL in Riau province where its gargantuan development has led to a bustling town of 250,000 people, many working for and benefitting from APRIL’s plantation and factory. It produces office paper sold by some of Australia’s largest retailers.

But our team explores beyond what APRIL proffers as a model development, to investigate claims of corruption in a nearby area where logging companies appear to have bribed their way into operation. An APRIL subsidiary has been implicated in a paper trail leading to a powerful local political figure now in jail for accepting bribes in return for production permits.

And we investigate the implications of major plantation and milling development on Sumatra’s sensitive and carbon-loaded peat beds. As the bulldozers move through the peat beds, peat dries in the sun and enormous clouds of greenhouse gas are expelled into the atmosphere.

Environmentalists and many villagers worry about the dramatic changes reshaping the land and also about the plight of residents who’ve been there a lot longer than most - like the Sumatran tiger.

“It breaks my heart because they have a right to live here and they’re even here before us, but people just keep taking so much from them. I feel really sorry for the tigers because there will be more forests destroyed.” KARMILA PARAKKASIA WWF

Further Information

As part of our investigation we sought input from two major companies who sell and distribute APRIL paper in Australia. We asked Officeworks and Fuji Xerox to answer a number of questions. Officeworks hasn’t responded, but here’s what Fuji Xerox had to say.

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