Deforestation Pledge Gives Hope for Orangutans in Indonesia, Malaysia

August 19, 2013

One of the world’s largest paper and packaging producers has committed to ending operations that over decades have wiped out the forest homes of many thousands of critically endangered orangutans in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP), a subsidiary of the Sinar Mas agribusiness conglomerate, announced a new forest conservation policy early in 2013 following a decade of public pressure and the loss of some of the world’s largest brands as clients.

“Momentum is starting to build in favor of the forests and the people and animals who live in them,” says Dr. Amy Moas, senior forest campaigner at Greenpeace, one of the world’s leading advocates against destruction of Indonesia’s rain forests.

“But vast deforestation continues, and there’s still a lot of work to do to truly clean the supply chains of global companies and to monitor the activities of APP and others, which have been devastating for orangutans and other endangered wildlife.”

Since 1996, the rate of forest loss in Indonesia has doubled to an average of nearly 5 million acres per year from about 2.5 million acres annually during the 1980s, mostly due to production of paper and palm oil—the latter used in many processed foods, soaps, and cosmetics.

Populations of wild orangutan on the island of Sumatra have declined by more than 80 percent in the last 75 years, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the number of Borneo orangutans has fallen by more than 50 percent, leaving an estimated 45,000 to 69,000 in the wild.

In addition to orangutans, Indonesia’s rainforests support as much as 15 percent of all known species of flora and fauna, including elephants, tigers, and more than 1,500 species of birds.

While figures were unavailable as to the scale of high conservation value (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS) forestland to be protected, APP committed itself to undergoing independent assessments of any prospective concessions to identify and exclude such protected areas.

KFC, National Geographic, Xerox, and Mondi suspended contracts with APP in 2012 and introduced policies requiring that suppliers source their raw material exclusively from “sustainably managed forests.”

More than 100 companies took action related to sourcing timber products from APP, including Adidas, Kraft, Mattel, Hasbro, Nestlé, Carrefour, Staples, and Unilever, after the long-term Greenpeace campaign.

APP’s policy commits it to support for Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emission cuts, consultation and cooperation with the community, respect for human rights, and a promise to ensure that all fiber products are derived through well-managed forestry.

A two-year logging freeze, introduced by the government of Indonesia in 2011, was intended to open the way for a broad assessment of the country’s forestland, strengthen forest governance, and enable solutions to be found for the use of forest resources by local communities.

However, according to environmentalists, in spite of the moratorium’s extension in 2013, illegal logging, corruption, and land grabs have led to ongoing forest destruction and continue to take a heavy toll on orangutan populations in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo.

“We had great hopes when the 2011 moratorium was put in place, but we continue to see the homes and food sources of fragile orangutan populations destroyed and individuals and families displaced, leaving them stranded,” says Moas.

Also in 2012, a Global Witness report into logging and plantation operations in Malaysian Borneo by companies financed by the British bank HSBC led to a commitment by the bank to drop clients not meeting its forest-related policies.

HSBC now requires that its forestry clients be at least 70 percent compliant with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which sets standards for responsible forest management around the world.

Global Witness’s investigations showed that none of the four companies in its report held a single FSC or equivalent certificate.

Also in Malaysian Borneo, in the northeast province of Sabah, 183,000 hectares of forest were given protected status in 2012. This land includes orangutan habitat that was previously heavily exploited for timber.

Over the past decade Malaysia’s government has extended protection to several key areas, increasing protected forest from 15 to 20 percent of Sabah’s territory in 2012.

The government’s action followed a pivotal advocacy effort by the HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme and Land Empowerment Animals People that has engaged Sabah’s wildlife and forestry departments, local communities, research institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and others in partnerships over the last 15 years.

While more than 60 percent of the province’s estimated 11,000 orangutans lived in unprotected forests early in the last decade, HUTAN’s work in 2012 showed that due  to the increase in protected areas more than 65 percent of Sabah’s orangutans now live in protected forests.

But with up to 3,800 individuals still living outside these areas, HUTAN is looking at how orangutans cope with timber exploitation and with agro-industrial landscapes such as palm oil and pulp-and-paper plantations.

“We’ve found evidence that orangutan survival in these man-made landscapes depends on the availability of mixed-use forests as vital corridors between protected areas that support larger populations,” says HUTAN co-founder and wildlife veterinarian Dr. Marc Ancrenaz.

“Our results and recommendations will be able to guide smallholders and bigger producers in practices that will help the orangutan to survive in a changing environment.”