For any business, making a commitment to biodiversity and to protecting forest landscapes means that sustainable production and protection must go hand in hand. APRIL Group, a leading producer of pulp and paper, is leading the way by committing to conserve one hectare of forest for every hectare of its commercial plantations.
As of December 2020, the company conserves, restores and protects 364,462 hectares of forest. This includes approximately 150,693 hectares of peat swamp forest in Indonesia’s Riau Province covered by its ecosystem restoration program Restorasi Ekosistem Riau (RER).
Textile Exchange spoke to Brad Sanders, the program’s Head of Operations, about the production-protection approach that the APRIL Group employs to guide its management of the landscape.
Textile Exchange: Can you start by sharing a bit of background on the RER program?
Brad: The RER program consists of five ecosystem restoration concessions granted by the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) for a 60-year period spread across two ecologically diverse landscapes in the Riau Province, Sumatra. The first is located on the Kampar Peninsula, and the other is on Padang Island.
The RER area is part of broader Kampar Peninsula and Padang Island landscapes that also include APRIL Group-managed fiber plantations. APRIL provides financial support, leadership, operational resources and technical expertise to the program.
Textile Exchange: Why is ecosystem restoration important for APRIL Group?
Brad: APRIL Group has the financial and technical capabilities to restore the forest because it has a successful business and experienced land and forest managers. These projects contribute to the overall health of our business, at a landscape level and community level as well.
Since protecting high conservation value forest areas is something we’ve done from the beginning of our plantation development, the RER program was easily integrated into our landscape management model.
Textile Exchange: What are the highlights from your work over the past year?
Brad: Some of the highlights of the RER program in 2020 include a further increase in the number of newly identified plant and animal species and continued research into the area’s biodiversity.
A total of 823 plant and animal species have now been identified inside the area as of December 2020, up from 797 at the end of the previous year. This included 76 mammal species, 308 bird species, 101 species of herpetofauna and 192 species of plants. Many of these are of conservation concern, with 66 listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as being vulnerable (39), endangered (17) or critically endangered (10).
A major landmark, in December 2020, was the release back into the wild, after nine months of rehabilitation and recovery, of a female Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) through collaborative efforts led by MoEF.
Textile Exchange: What do you think are the biggest challenges for producers and suppliers in protecting wildlife and native habitat?
Brad: The main threats to a conservation landscape like the RER and to the biodiversity it contains are illegal encroachment, poaching and fire. To address these challenges, while also managing the needs of stakeholders, APRIL Group employs an integrated production-protection approach to guide its management of the landscape.
This approach is based on the productive fiber plantations being located on the perimeter of RER area, which work to protect the interior peat swamp forest and peat domes. These productive Acacia plantations create a buffer zone that reduces human encroachment, illegal logging and fires.
The plantation ring also provides a renewable fiber resource to produce value-added products such as pulp, paper and viscose that generate economic returns and provide employment opportunities. This has proven to be a reliable, consistent and effective approach to support restoration in Indonesia, especially given the significant financial and technical resources required to maintain the program over time.
Textile Exchange: How does APRIL Group engage local communities in its biodiversity initiatives?
Brad: The RER program works with the surrounding communities and landscape managers who utilize the forest as part of its restoration program. Together with APRIL Group, RER collaborates with communities to use the forest in ecologically friendly ways through education and training, while at the same time improving livelihood opportunities to reduce potential threats to the forest.
The program operates in tandem with the managers of neighboring government conservation forests and other fiber plantation concession owners, acknowledging that biodiversity and wildlife don’t always respect man-made boundaries, to safeguard the integrity of the broader landscape. It participates in joint activities with the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BBKSDA Riau) to mitigate risk of wildlife poaching through joint patrol or snare sweeping as well as community briefings on anti-wildlife poaching.
Textile Exchange: How does the RER program fit into APRIL Group’s wider sustainability commitments?
Brad: The program is aligned with the APRIL Group’s Sustainable Forest Management Policy 2.0 commitments to forest conservation at a landscape level and the responsible management of forests, as well as contributing to the company’s commitment to conserve one hectare of forest for every hectare of commercial plantation forest. This is in line with the IUCN’s target to protect and conserve at least 30% of the planet’s land, sea and freshwater ecosystems by 2030, as well as the thinking behind movements like Nature Needs Half.
APRIL Group’s commitment to conservation is further underpinned by its APRIL2030 strategy, which includes specific targets related to Thriving Landscapes; namely, to ensure net zero loss of conservation and restoration area and to support our investment in landscape conservation through funding of 1USD per tonne of plantation fiber supply per year.
Textile Exchange: How have you brought your suppliers on board to support your biodiversity targets?
Brad: In 2018, the Conservation Forest Management Framework was developed by APRIL Group to create a standardized process for forest conservation across our owned and supplier concessions.
Through this approach, the framework profiles areas for conservation intervention and provides guidance modules and capacity development for estate-based environment teams. It also helps communities outside concession areas to better understand the importance of conservation and to assist in their conservation management and monitoring.
Textile Exchange: What other opportunities do you think there are in the sector? Are you seeing any trends emerge?
Brad: There is an opportunity and necessity for continued collaboration between the public and private sectors, NGOs and communities to achieve positive change. Collaboration at the landscape level is key to realizing a production-protection compact among actors on the ground.
Emerging economy governments and businesses are becoming open to new ways of investing in biodiversity protection, forest conservation and restoration, and to solve problems through partnerships with a common goal. The RER program is just one example of how different stakeholders can achieve positive impacts in landscape management through collaboration.