Posts tagged sinar mas

Palm oil giant destroying national park in Borneo

the result of Sinar Mas' operations in Kalimantan © Greenpeace/Dithajohn

Burnt forest: the result of Sinar Mas' operations in Kalimantan © Greenpeace/Dithajohn

The Esperanza is now anchored in Singapore harbour and there will be a few days of ship operations – taking on supplies and fuel, doing essential maintenance, that kind of thing. But all that’s happening without me. I disembarked yesterday and I’m finishing off a few things from a hotel in Little India. After weeks of daily cleaning chores, I have the strange urge to grapple a mop but I think the hotel staff would be bemused to say the least.

I mentioned that there was one final task left to do, however, and that’s to expose once more the environmental crimes of Sinar Mas. Across the South China Sea from here in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, Sinar Mas companies are clearing forests around the Danau Sentarum National Park, a wetland area protected under the international Ramsar convention, in order to expand their palm oil operations. The buffer zone which is being logged is vital to the health and biodiversity of the park, one of south-east Asia’s largest wetland areas and home to a wide range of species including clouded leopards, orang-utans and a large population of proboscis monkeys.

According to reports in the Indonesian press, in August the Indonesian forest ministry revoked the permits of 12 companies operating in the area, seven of which belong to Sinar Mas. The loggers were breaching national conservation and biodiversity laws, but despite having its permits removed, Sinar Mas is still clearing forests around the park, showing a blatant disregard for Indonesian law and international conservation agreements. Sinar Mas is of course the same company behind the palm oil shipment we blocked in Dumai last week.

All of this is happening under the nose of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Sinar Mas is a member of the RSPO and according to the organisation’s criteria for membership, it shouldn’t be cutting down these forests. And yet it is, because its executives know that being an RSPO member doesn’t actually mean anything and they won’t be penalised. Isn’t it time the RSPO started standing by its own principles and kicking out companies like Sinar Mas who obviously don’t care about the impacts their operations are having on the environment.

It’s not just in Kalimantan, either. According to internal documents we’ve had access to, Sinar Mas is planning to ‘develop’ huge areas of the Papuan forests we visited. Large-scale clearance is already underway near Jayapura and up to 2.8 million hectares are ear-marked for palm oil plantations, most of which is on forest and peatland areas.

The RSPO’s annual meeting starts tomorrow in Bali so we’ve released this information now to throw a harsh light on the organisation’s appalling lack of commitment to its own criteria. And a bit further ahead, global climate talks are being held in Poland next month as part of the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol. The protection of forests has to be an essential part of these discussions and the Indonesian government could help lead the way by enforcing a moratorium on deforestation, so one last reminder that you can write to the president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asking him to do just that.

posted by Jamie in Singapore

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Alongside the forest, up against the wall

holding out the banner in the Kampar peninsula © Greenpeace/Novis

Backs against the wall: holding out the banner in the Kampar peninsula © Greenpeace/Novis

I’ve scrubbed and showered but there are still traces of mud sticking to me. It’s my own fault – I guess I shouldn’t have gone tramping around the peatlands here in Riau. But the picture above, that’s us: some of the Esperanza’s crew and several Indonesian volunteers pulling our banner tight against the forest wall, the straight line that separates the thriving ecosystem from the barren areas which have been cleared of trees. In case you’re wondering, I’m at the top of the P in ‘STOP’.

It was an early start and a long drive to get to the site on the Kampar peninsula, chosen because PT Arara Abadi-Siak has permits to set up plantations for acacia trees, used for making pulpwood and paper. The company is a subsidiary of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which is in turn owned by our old friends Sinar Mas – as well as having fingers in pulpwood, Sinar Mas is also one of the largest palm oil producers in Indonesia (not to mention a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), and many of the nearby palm oil plantations have their name above the gate.

Holding on to the banner

Holding on to the banner © Greenpeace/Sharomov

Driving along the road from Sungai Pakning was deceptively pleasant – elegant wooden houses were nestled amongst lush green foliage, and kids were cycling to school. But after crossing the Siak river on the ferry, we were deep into plantation country. Rows of oil palms lined the way with their shaggy coats of ferns, and bunches of palm fruit lay by the roadside. Along one stretch, intact forest sprawled to the right while regiments of young oil palms were springing up on the left, the forest wall a thick blue line on the horizon, and a pipeline followed us all the way from ferry.

The chosen spot was a few hundred metres from the dusty, potholed road so we had to clamber over some rough terrain to get there. Dead tree stumps and rutted ground lay in our path, not to mention the swampy bogs I fell into more than once. By the time we’d finished, most of us were covered up to our knees and beyond in thick black mud. Amongst all this, acacia saplings were growing in place of the forest that once stood there.

Manoeuvring a banner of that size (40m by 20m) is no mean feat, and it took 20 of us to unroll it and pull it into shape. While we were waiting for the photos to be taken, I had a proper look around. The forest wall was just 20 metres behind me, a dense jungle of bark and foliage. I really hoped I’d get the chance to wander in, even just for a few minutes – sadly, it wasn’t to be but the whooping cries of birds and the endless insect thrum carried across the wasteland. The peatlands are a fantastic place for wildlife with one of the highest rates of biodiversity in Indonesia, and some of it came to visit us by the banner. Long, slender dragonflies and giant butterflies swoop over canvas, and a swarm of lazy green beetles seemed particularly attracted to me. It must have been the sweat dripping from me (no really, they probably drink the stuff).

A graveyard of roots

A graveyard of roots © Greenpeace/Sharomov

In front of me, it was a different story. A wasteland of greys and browns, with root systems upturned and exposed to the air, and buttress roots abandoned by the trunks they used to support. In the distance, another forest wall rose up, a small island of green hedged in between the road and the wasteland, but who knows how long it will survive. Both that tiny wedge and the forest you see in the image above also fall within PT Arara Abadi-Siak’s concession; they just haven’t been destroyed yet.

The name Jikalahari which appears on the banner alongside Greenpeace belongs to an umbrella network of various organisations dedicated to sustainable forest management in Riau, interwoven with the rights of local and indigenous people. Greenpeace campaigners in Indonesia have worked closely with Jikalahari and yesterday we held a joint press conference on the ship. The purpose of this was to reiterate our demand for a nationwide moratorium on deforestation, and support someone who’s already trying to put on in place.

Wan Abubakar, the governor of Riau, has made a decree for just such a moratorium in his province. It needs the national government to formalise it before it can be enforced, and both Greenpeace and Jikalahari are trying to make it a reality by mapping out the forests and plantations of the Kampar peninsula, which is what many of our recent helicopter flights have been in aid of. With these maps, we can establish which areas need protecting and which could potentially be restored, and of course a moratorium in Riau would lend extra pressure to a similar one across the country.

Carrying the banner alongside a canal draining water from the peatlands

Carrying the banner alongside a canal draining water from the peatlands © Greenpeace/Sharomov

But back in the field, we had the banner rolled up and halfway back to the road before the company security guards caught up with us. They weren’t keen on having their photos taken, but of course had their camera phones trained on us the whole time. After some skilful negotiation on the part of our campaigners, we were escorted out of the plantation and headed back to the ship, grubby, tried and happy.

But I still can’t help thinking about the wall of forest which towered behind me, and how long it has left.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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Palm oil: it’s covered in greenwash

The handiwork of Sinar Mas, an RSPO member © Greenpeace/Rante

The handiwork of Sinar Mas, an RSPO member © Greenpeace/Rante

Jakarta is already a hazy blot on the horizon and we’re now sailing towards Sumatra, the sixth largest island in the world and home to highly endangered species such as Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos and of course orang-utans. It’s extremely unlikely we’ll stumble across any of those but there’s no doubting what we will see – extensive areas of oil palm and pulpwood plantations where the forests and peatlands used to be.

And we cross the equator tomorrow morning. Given the experience of pollywogs on previous Greenpeace expeditions which have crossed the line, I’m a little apprehensive about what lies in store…

Speaking of palm oil, you may have already heard of an organisation called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and from the name, you might think that the whole problem with palm oil was, if not sorted, then at least in hand. Of course, if that were the case we wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of bringing the Esperanza to Indonesia to protest about the ongoing destruction of the forests at the hands of the palm oil industry.

Established in 2001, the RSPO was designed to set clear ethical and ecological standards for producing palm oil, so no one would have their land stolen from them or have their forests demolished. The RSPO’s own website lays out the problem:

“…there is serious concern that not all palm oil is being produced sustainably at present. Development of new plantations has resulted in the conversion of large areas of forests with high conservation value and has threatened the rich biodiversity in these ecosystems… The expansion of oil palm plantations have also given rise to social conflicts between the local communities and project proponents in many instances.”

Over the years, the list of members has grown so it now includes familiar global brand names such as Unilever, Nestle, Tesco, and Cadbury’s as well as other less well-known companies – Cargill, ADM, Duta Palma, Sinar Mas, Asian Agri and other palm oil producers and traders. Their annual meeting is being held in a few weeks’ time in Bali.

So if within the palm oil industry there’s all this awareness of the potential damage they could cause to both people and the environment, why are we still finding evidence of wholesale forest destruction? Just a couple of weeks ago, we found bulldozers belonging to Sinar Mas clearing huge tracts near Jayapura in Papua, and yet Sinar Mas is an RSPO member. There’s obviously something wrong somewhere.

That something is the basic set-up of the RSPO itself. As it currently exists, its standards and principles are too vague and weak to really do any good and, as we’ve seen, some of its members are happily chewing their way through rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands. There’s no danger of actually being penalised in any way by the RSPO, even though they’re supposed to abide by the code of conduct (pdf) which states “it is fundamental to the integrity, credibility and continued progress of the RSPO that every member supports, promotes and works towards the production, procurement and use of sustainable palm oil.” What kind of “integrity” or “credibility” does the RSPO have if it turns a blind eye when its members are clearing huge areas of forest or draining and burning peatlands?

It gets worse. The first shipments of palm oil which have been certified as ‘sustainable’ by the RSPO are due to arrive in Europe later this month from Malaysia’s United Plantations. Because the RSPO is handing out these certificates while at the same time tolerating the forest-trashing activities of Sinar Mas and friends, the organisation is really just a thick coat of greenwash for its members to coat themselves in.

We’ve been taking a good hard look behind the greenwash and there’s enough evidence in the two reports we’ve published in the last year – Cooking The Climate and Burning Up Borneo – to show the RSPO isn’t working. We also made good headway earlier this year to convince companies like Unilever that they need to do more. Never the less, part of our time in Sumatra will be spent gathering yet more evidence to show that something drastic needs to be done, like an immediate moratorium on all deforestation in Indonesia while there’s still some forest worth saving.

The Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is the only one who can put this moratorium in action – write to him now and tell him what he needs to do.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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